Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson will try to solidify his spot in the UFC’s welterweight top five when he takes on rising contender Geoff Neal later tonight (Sat., Dec. 19, 2020) at UFC Vegas 17 live on ESPN+ from inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Despite his UFC track record and previous attempts at 170-pound gold, Thompson is still going to have to prove himself heading into 2021. UFC is currently having a fire sale of expensive veterans who aren’t winning as much as they used to and Thompson has gone just 2-3 in his last five. The time is now for Thompson to go for the kill and make one last run at the title. The 37-year-old simply doesn’t have a lot of time left.
Luckily, Thompson will have a prime opportunity to prove he’s still a legit title threat when he meets Neal at UFC Vegas 17. Neal has been on an absolute tear since making his UFC debut nearly three years ago, compiling a 5-0 record with four finishes along the way. With a nickname like “Handz of Steel” it’s obvious that Neal has some serious striking chops, but Thompson believes the welterweight will turn to his ground game once “Wonderboy” unveils his puzzling standup.
“At some point, I think he’s gonna use his wrestling,” Thompson told MMA Junkie. “He’s gonna use his strength against me, maybe get me up against the cage, use the cage to try and take me down or to use his dirty boxing. So I got great guys to help me prepare for this fight. Wherever the fight goes, I’m gonna be ready.”
Thompson has been facing killers for the past five years so he’s been well prepared for the situation. “Wonderboy” fought former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley twice and “Chosen One” has one of the most respected wrestling games in welterweight history. It’s safe to say Thompson will know what to do if Neal pushes the action up close.
That said, “Wonderboy” doesn’t like to leave any stone unturned. For this camp, Thompson utilized the help of former UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman yet again. Weidman has been a key training partner for Thompson for years and offered more preparation for this fight just in case Neal delivers something new.
“To have him in my corner, who’s just a massive 185’er to begin with and such a high-level wrestler, it’s just amazing to have him really right up the street,” Thompson said. “He lives in South Carolina now, right up the road, so I get him whenever I want him now. So it’s great just to be able to have him wrestle me and me trying to get back up.
“In sparring, going from striking to wrestling with him, (it’s) just extra confidence because that could be how the fight goes with Geoff Neal. I know he’s looking for that. I know he’s looking for a takedown at some point so like I said, it’s great to have him out here, and I’m ready wherever the fight goes.”
Thompson, who is coming off an impressive decision win over Vicente Luque roughly one year ago, would set himself up pretty nicely entering the new year if he’s able to hand Neal his first UFC loss. Thompson will be fighting for the first time in Vegas since 2017 and the first time ever in front of no crowd so “Wonderboy” will surely have his work cut out for him.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 17 fight card RIGHT HERE, 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.