Stephen Thompson expects the welterweight title to change hands at UFC 261 – or, at least he hopes so.
Champion Kamaru Usman rematches Jorge Masvidal in the main event on April 24, a matchup that “Wonderboy” will certainly have his eye on.
Usman (18-1 MMA, 13-0 UFC) out-grappled Masvidal (35-14 MMA, 14-8 UFC) in their first fight last July, sweeping two of the three judges’ scorecards. But Thompson thinks the short-notice factor impacted Masvidal’s performance. “Gamebred” lived up to his name by stepping in on just six days’ notice to face Usman in Abu Dhabi, but the champion proved to be too much for him on the night.
However, now that Masvidal will have a full training camp to prepare, Thompson (16-4-1 MMA, 11-4-1 UFC) expects the rematch to pan out differently.
“If you go back and watch the last fight that these guys had, Jorge Masvidal was doing fairly well stuffing the takedowns, keeping the fight standing until he started to get tired late fourth and fifth round, he started to get taken down,” Thompson told Submission Radio. “So, I think with a full training camp, I do believe that Jorge Masvidal will put up a harder and better fight. …
“I’m leaning a little towards Jorge Masvidal for this one.”
Thompson has incentive for Masvidal winning. He holds a win over him when the pair fought in 2017, and Masvidal expressed interest in running things back down the line. So if Masvidal wins, Thompson thinks his chance of getting a title shot would increase.
“I think it’s just because I really want to see him win the fight,” Thompson said. “And, you know, I’m kind of biased a little bit, obviously. I kind of gave you my thoughts on that. But I do believe that it can go either way. Like, before, I had Usman winning. Like, he was definitely gonna win. What was it, a two-week training camp, or short notice for Jorge Masvidal? So, I knew Usman had it, because that guy is always in shape, man.
“But now that (Masvidal’s) got a training camp, and on top of that, he’s faced him before, so he knows what he’s gonna bring to the table. I don’t know, man, it’s hard to kind of put him out. Like, he does some crazy stuff. Like, everybody knew that Ben Askren was gonna beat him, right? And then you saw what he did in the first round. I mean, he pulls stuff out like that out of his hat on the (regular), and you don’t know what’s gonna happen, and it’s scary facing a guy like that.”
While Usman has impressed by using his striking to take out the likes of Colby Covington and Gilbert Burns, Thompson still thinks Masvidal brings more of an element of unpredictability, which makes him more dangerous.
“I think it’s great for Jorge Masvidal, because he’s faced the guy, he knows what he’s gonna do if he goes out there with the same game plan. And you don’t really see, I mean, I think that’s what you expect from this guy. He’s gonna wanna get him to the ground,” Thompson said. “You don’t see a tremendous amount of improvements from Usman. I know his striking has improved, but you don’t see anything crazy. He doesn’t do anything that surprises you, like spin kicks, or doing anything wow like flying knees like Jorge Masvidal brings to the game. Like, you gotta worry about that. Like, what Jorge Masvidal’s gonna bring to this fight.”
Prior to the Usman vs. Masvidal 2 booking, “Wonderboy” was campaigning for a title shot. Thompson is coming off back-to-back wins over Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal, snapping the winning streaks of two surging contenders.
But Thompson understands why the UFC opted to go with Masvidal, who has proven to be one of the promotion’s top stars, reportedly drawing an impressive 1.3 million pay-per-view buys in his first outing with Usman.
“I was definitely disappointed to hear that I wouldn’t be getting it,” Thompson said. “I mean, it was a long shot. You know, there’s a lot of guys that are ranked above me that are looking for that shot, and Colby Covington and a lot of these guys have already faced him. Of course, I was pushing. I was the only guy he hadn’t fought, so I thought that would be interesting.
“But then again, I think about it, Jorge Masvidal has been in the limelight for a long time, he’s one of the most popular guys in the UFC, and the fact that he mentioned that if he got the title, he would want to run it back with me. So, I’m not too disappointed. Hopefully he goes out there and gets the W, Jorge Masvidal. So that way I can face him, man. I know he showed interest in the past. His last fight when he fought Usman, he wanted to run it back with me. So, hopefully he still wants to. Keeping my fingers crossed.”