Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight strikers Stephen Thompson and Jorge Masvidal will square off this Saturday (Nov 4, 2017) at UFC 217 inside Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.
Thompson lit the world on fire until he stepped into the cage with Tyron Woodley. He very arguably won the last fight, but it was so uneventful that everyone already forgot, and now Thompson has to start working his way back into the mix. Meanwhile, a three-fight win streak from Masvidal saw him climb into the 170-pound title mix, but — what else? — a split-decision loss to Demian Maia cooled those talks a bit. Still, he’s an intriguing stylistic match up for the champion fighting the division’s No. 2 contender, so Masvidal isn’t all that far off himself.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each fighter:
Key Wins: Rory MacDonald (UFC Fight Night 89), Johny Hendricks (UFC Fight Night 82), Jake Ellenberger (TUF 21 Finale), Robert Whittaker (UFC 178)
Key Losses: Tyron Woodley (UFC 211), Matt Brown (UFC 145)
Keys to Victory: Thompson is an excellent karateka and among the best strikers in the sport. He manages range beautifully with lots of lateral movement and hard kicks, then punishes his opponent with brutally hard counter punches when they attempt to push forward.
This fight is something of a specialist vs. generalist match up. Thompson largely fights the same in each bout. He may have pressured a bit against Woodley, but he still fought from long distance, looking to kickbox and land counters.
Win or lose, it’s what he does.
That gives him an advantage here. Masvidal can do it all, but he cannot strike from range at the level of Thompson. Few can, and it’s going to be difficult for Masvidal to force Thompson out of his game. For Thompson, this is just another fight where he needs to implement his game. Keep the feet moving, stay off the fence, land hard kicks, and punish Masvidal for any overly-aggressive attempts to get close.
Key Wins: Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 23), Jake Ellenberger (TUF 24 Finale), Cezar Ferreira (TUF 21 Finale), Tim Means (UFC on FOX 7), James Krause (UFC 178)
Key Losses: Demian Maia (UFC 211), Lorenz Larkin (UFC Fight Night 88), Benson Henderson (UFC Fight Night 79)
Keys to Victory: With Thompson filling the role of specialist, Masvidal is the fighter who is pretty darn great everywhere. Masvidal is a smooth boxer who applies smart pressure, has some crafty jiu-jitsu, and is remarkably difficult to take down despite standing fairly tall.
In this bout, Masvidal’s ability to pressure will be key. He doesn’t want to get stuck at range with the Karate specialist. He has to force Thompson out of his comfort zone ... and pressure is how he gets it done.
Ideally, Masvidal wants this bout in one of two places: on the mat or in the boxing range. To get there, Masvidal needs to walk Thompson down and cut off the cage, looking to trap Thompson along the fence. If he can pin Thompson down, it will be far easy to land combinations or initiate a takedown.
On another note, Masvidal needs to be looking to counter Thompson’s counter punches. Getting hit is a part of pressuring, but if Masvidal can score himself after getting touched, it will make Thompson more hesitant and encourage him to back away from exchanges.
Bottom Line: It’s a huge bout for the Welterweight division.
There is no clear No. 1 contender at 170 pounds. It could be Colby Covington after his controversial-but-dominant victory a couple days ago. The winner of Rafael dos Anjos vs. Robbie Lawler has a reasonable claim as well. None of those arguments are ironclad, though, so one great performance can abruptly shake things up.
For Thompson, he’s not going to get a title shot against Woodley any time soon. That said, if Woodley comes up short, he is an exciting striker UFC would love to have competing for the title, so staying in the win column is imperative. In Masvidal’s case, there is a chance he earns a title shot here. He’s an exciting fighter near the top of the division, so a top five win puts him in talk for a title shot.
With the top of the division uncertain, defeat is a clear loss of opportunity. In six months, there might be three guys with a deserving case for a title shot rather than zero, and that equates to a lot of hard work for the loser.
At UFC 217, Stephen Thompson and Jorge Masvidal will face off. Which fighter will return to the win column?