It’s not often the UFC allows number-one contenders to run it back so quickly after challenging for a title, but in the case of Stephen Thompson, many would argue he more than earned that right after his performance at UFC 205 against Tyron Woodley.
Back at the UFC’s debut show in Madison Square Garden, Thompson squared off with the welterweight champion Woodley, and the two went the distance in what was an engrossing five rounds. After 25 minutes of scintillating action and shifting momentum, the bout was determined a majority draw after two of the three cageside judges scored the contest 47-47 and the other, judge Glenn Trowbridge, a 48-47 victory for Woodley.
Immediately after the bout, fans, media, and Thompson himself called for a rematch, and while Woodley wasn’t so keen at first, he eventually relented and signed the contract to set the table for another UFC welterweight title showdown, this time at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, March 4 at UFC 209.
How the rematch came together
Speaking exclusively to FloCombat, Thompson recalled the series of events that led to the rematch being booked and how he feared for a short period that Woodley wouldn’t put pen to paper.
“Oh, man, I was actually sent the contract early December,” Thompson said. “I signed it and sent it right back to them to be honest with you. I know right about when they sent the contracts out he was talking about fighting me again and I just sent it right back to them to be honest.
“There was talk for a while about him fighting other fighters like Conor McGregor or even going up a weight class to fight [UFC middleweight champion Michael] Bisping, but they weren’t going to fight. We ended up signing the contract and poking him a little bit on social media. We put up a picture of both of us having our hands raised and with my contract signed and it saying, ‘I’m just waiting on you pal.' Maybe that fired him up a little bit and he ended up signing the contract.”
Building size for the rematch
Having now had time to reflect on the loss, Thompson realizes he must increase his size diligently and increase his walk-around, rehydrated weight so that he can better compete with Woodley in the grappling exchanges in the rematch.
“You know what, I’ve kinda kept the same diet, [but] I did hire a strength and conditioning coach, which is something I haven’t been using,” Thompson said. “I’ve been kinda doing my own thing, and so yeah man...
“I’m back up to 190, 195 and just kinda staying around there. [It's] nothing too crazy, it’s the weight I used to walk around at anyway. I think in my last three or four fights I was walking around at about 185 because that’s an easier cut for me. But you know what? Maybe these bigger cuts before are just something you got to do against a big strong guy like Tyron.”
Stamping his authority on the contest in the rematch
While he’s already making changes to his pre-fight preparations, Thompson knows he must also make some big adjustments inside the Octagon when he faces Woodley again. On March 4, he’s planning on making the fight a lot more about his own style and not being so tentative to assert authority on the contest himself.
“I’m basically just going to go out there and do something I didn’t do the last time, and that’s just let my hands go and fight the way I want to fight,” Thompson said. “I was very hesitant in my last fight. I’m not really certain why, if it was just the big hype up because it was my first title fight or because it was in Madison Square Garden—I don’t know.
“I just didn’t let my hands go and my feet go. I didn’t switch sides and didn’t work the angles that I normally do. You’ll be seeing a whole lot [more of that] in this next fight.”
Pain turns into motivation
Despite being proud of the performance at UFC 205, Thompson admitted that his arrival back home in Simpsonville, South Carolina, wasn’t quite as sweet as he’d imagined. Moving forward, he said he would use it as motivation for the second fight.
“Yeah, man, you know, I was obviously disappointed at the way I performed and not bringing that belt back home,” Thompson said. “That just fuels me and fires me up to get back out there to do it again for the next fight. I can’t leave it up to the judges this time.
“Obviously, everybody wants a spectacular knockout, and in a title fight, that would be awesome. But, you know, I’m not going to go out there looking for it. I’m just going to visualize my hand being raised and that belt around my waist. If the knockout happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m going to be ready for a five-round war.”
Righting the wrongs
Having admitted the size of the occasion at UFC 205 may have played a role in the way the first fight played out, Thompson now says he’s going to be better prepared for dealing with all the added pressures of a title fight. With the rematch headlining what many would call the UFC’s biggest card of the year so far, Thompson feels confident he will feel right at home under the bright lights at the T-Mobile Arena.
“I’ve fought most of my fights in Vegas, so I’m used to being comfortable fighting there,” Thompson said. “The pressure is still there too, I mean, it’s a title fight. But my head is on right, I’ve experienced that before with my last fight in New York City.
“I’ve taken Tyron’s best shots and I’ve taken the best Tyron [for] five, five-minute rounds. I guess that gives me my confidence to go back out there and do it again and this time bring the title back home.”
Listen to the full interview with Thompson in the video embedded above.