Back in November, in the co-main event of UFC 205, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson stepped into the Octagon with welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. Unfortunately for Thompson and his team, this attempt to unseat Woodley ended with a majority draw. With this result, Woodley hung onto the welterweight title (though surely not in the fashion he’d hoped), Thompson returned to his South Carolina home with nothing but a paycheck and some bruises, and the question of who the best welterweight on earth really was remained unanswered.
In an effort to provide an answer to this question, the UFC opted to pair Woodley and Thompson together in an immediate rematch. That rematch occurred last Saturday, in the main event of UFC 209, and just like the pair’s first encounter, it was incredible close.
Close as it was, however, Thompson once again failed to capture gold, as Woodley was awarded a contentious majority decision win. With this outcome, Thompson now finds himself on treacherous terrain, as an undeniably talented fighter, but one who has lost twice to the reigning champion, and as such, one who will have to do some serious work to earn a third shot at the title.
So, where does Stephen Thompson go from here? Well, as is so often the case when discussing fighters of his caliber, he’s got some very interesting options on the menu. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone
One compelling option for Thompson at this new and unfamiliar juncture is Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. It wasn’t all that long ago that Cowboy was hot on the trail of his own welterweight title shot. Unfortunately for the beloved gunslinger and his fans, he was then shut off by a series of Jorge Masvidal punches, putting an end to his much discussed shot at welterweight gold.
Having lost to Masvidal, Cowboy will soon be looking for the opportunity to get back on the horse—just like Thompson. Given the fact that he and Thompson are both members of the welterweight top-10, this fight makes sense from a rankings standpoint. Given the pair’s shared propensity for spectacular finishes, it makes sense from an entertainment vantage point too.
Then again, Thompson’s two battles with Woodley were incredibly close. As such, he may be given a higher-ranked foe than Cowboy. Which brings us to his next option…
While Cowboy currently holds the number eight position in the UFC welterweight rankings, Magny currently holds the number five spot, which makes him a more logical next step for the number-one ranked Thompson. Given that Magny is currently riding high off a close but impressive defeat of former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks, he also seems to be ready for another big step up in competition, which Thompson would absolutely represent.
Without any intention of disparaging Magny’s skill, however, he doesn’t seem to have quite the name value that you’d expect of Stephen Thompson’s next opponent. Thompson is, after all, one of the most popular and recognizable fighters in the division. Given this, we can expect him to be matched up with one of the division’s biggest stars.
Carlos Condit is absolutely one of the biggest names at welterweight. As the division’s number-four ranked fighter, he’s one if its most dangerous competitors too. Because he recently lost to Demian Maia, pairing him with Thompson would also satisfy the UFC’s primary matchmaking formula, which tends to pair fighters riding losses with other fighters riding losses, and winning fighters with winning fighters.
That said, the main appeal of a Thompson-Condit booking is the near certainty of entertainment that the fight would produce. Thompson is one of the flashiest strikers in the division. Condit, meanwhile, is known for is unorthodox attacks and cement chin. Pairing them together would all but guarantee excitement.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for the barricades to this matchup to become clear. Condit was considering retirement before his loss to Maia. After his decisive loss to Maia, his choosing to hang up the gloves seems like an even more likely possibility. Luckily, Thompson’s options don’t end there.
It is very possible that Robbie Lawler is the most exciting option available to Thompson at this juncture. Though Lawler has not been seen in action since he lost the welterweight title to Tyron Woodley, we’ve recently been given reason to believe he’s poised for a return to the cage.
For a time, the most popular option for Lawler’s return seemed to be Cowboy. Given that Cowboy was just knocked senseless by Masvidal, however, the timing for this matchup no longer seems to make sense. A Thompson-Lawler fight would make an excellent consolation prize. In fact, it might be an even better option for both men.
Thompson and Lawler currently hold the number one and two spots in the UFC welterweight rankings. They’re both known for their jaw-dropping knockouts—though the skills they use to earn these knockouts could not be more different. They’ve both recently come up short to Tyron Woodley, but could conceivably earn another shot at the champ with a few convincing wins. Really, the reasons not to book this fight are incredibly sparse. It makes sense for both fighters, and it makes sense for the fans.
Check out these related stories:
The Mixed Martial Arts of Victorian London
Before BJJ, there was Bartitsu.
Jonathan Maicelo: The Last Inca
Peru's up-and-coming boxing star.
Kron Gracie on Jiu-Jitsu, Skateboarding, Older Brothers, and Famous Fathers
The ties that bind are strong.
Joel Tudor on the Art of Surfing, Fighting, and Style
A surf icon helps MMA keep its sense of tradition.
Japan's Karate Kid: Kyoji Horiguchi
Japan's brightest MMA prospect.