Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight knockout artists Stephen Thompson and Geoff Neal will clash TONIGHT (Sat., Dec. 19, 2020) at UFC Vegas 17 inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Thompson believes UFC is trying to sideline him as a gatekeeper, and he isn’t wrong. He’s been handed a dangerous opponent, one who has a real chance at catching his chin. Yet, Neal is ranked fairly far behind “Wonderboy,” meaning that while a win would be great, it’s unlikely to move him closer to the title ... unless he really dominates. Undefeated in five trips to the Octagon, Neal has been simply dominant in his short UFC career. Heavy-handed, athletic and well-coached, “Handz of Steel” will look to break into the title mix in his first main event opportunity.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Rory MacDonald (UFC Fight Night 89), Johny Hendricks (UFC Fight Night 82), Jorge Masvidal (UFC 217), Robert Whittaker (UFC 178), Vicente Luque (UFC 244)
Key Losses: Tyron Woodley (UFC 211), Anthony Pettis (UFC Fight Night 148), Darren Till (UFC Fight Night 130), Matt Brown (UFC 145)
Keys to Victory: Thompson is a tremendously tricky striker. He moves very well, yet any time opponents push hard to chase him down, they’re met with stiff push kicks and heavy counter punches. If they hang back, Thompson will go to work with a wide array of kicks.
Against Neal, the great danger is speed. “Wonderboy” is the superior range kicker, and his counter punching is sharp enough to pick off Neal’s left hand, but that doesn’t matter if Neal’s punches crash into him before he sees them coming.
Therefore, slowing down his opponent is a priority. Thompson’s stabbing side kick is a considerable weapon, and it’s one that should be touching the mid-section often. In addition, Thompson cannot let his opponent win the round kick battle: punt Neal right back in the belly!
Alternatively, I’d like to see Thompson fight from Southpaw rather than switch opposite of his opponent. Neal’s style is built around fighting Orthodox opponents, so dealing with the Karateka acting as a leftie could really throw him off.
Key Wins: Belal Muhammad (UFC Fight Night 143), Niko Price (UFC 240), Mike Perry (UFC 245), Frank Camacho (UFC 228)
Key Losses: Kevin Holland (Xtreme Knockout 34)
Keys to Victory: Neal is an explosive striker who makes great use of the classic Southpaw double threat. He’s dangerous at range, on the counter, and in close exchanges along the fence.
He’s stopped 10 of his 13 opponents.
Neal is faced with the same dilemma as all “Wonderboy” opponents: sure, the guy is standing just a couple feet away, but how does one actually hit him? If it all it took were speed and athleticism, athletes like Jake Ellenberger, Jorge Masvidal, and Johny Hendricks would tracked him down and landed hard.
Instead, Neal has to take something like the Darren Till approach, as walking straight at Thompson does not work. He has to fight from distance, carefully trying to keep up with Thompson with kicks and distance jabs. Then, whenever those brief windows of opportunity do arise where Thompson is near the fence, it’s time for Neal to explode into a big combination that knocks his foe flat ... or at least sways the judges.
This is a very high-level striking battle with title implications.
As mentioned, Thompson is looking to shed the gatekeeper label. The only way he can achieve that goal is to continue dispatching hot prospects like Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal. At a certain point, UFC will be forced to give him a name ranked above him, particularly if “Wonderboy” can make a real statement in victory.
At 37 years of age, there’s no time to tread water if Thompson has one last title run in him.
As for Neal, he’s one of the most exciting young talents at 170 pounds. The man seems special, a technical and athletic striker with real killer instinct. He’s the type of fighter UFC wants to promote, and as such, a big main event win over an established elite like Thompson will propel him into the immediate title mix.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 17 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.
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At UFC Vegas 17, Stephen Thompson and Geoff Neal will go to war. Which man will earn the victory?