Written by @NickRiznerMMA
Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is set to take on former champion and #2 ranked welterweight Johny Hendricks in the main event of UFC Fight Night 82.
After a pair of injuries erased a would be pay-per-view title fight between Cain Velasquez & Fabricio Werdum, the card was moved to FOX Sports 1, and Hendricks vs. Thompson was bumped up to a five round main event. The stakes are high in this clash of welterweights, as the winner will be thrust into the running for a shot at the title.
To categorize this as a matchup between a striker and a grappler would be to insult the well-rounded skillset of all parties involved.
True, Thompson – the “striker” in the analogy above – is unquestionably elite when it comes to kickboxing and karate. In fact, he may be one of the best strikers to ever step foot inside the Octagon. Hook kicks thrown with the speed and precision of a jab. Side kicks to maintain range and deal damage to the body. Quick hands made to look even quicker with his ability to dart in and out. He’s got it all.
His combination of head movement and footwork make him extremely difficult to track down and almost impossible to put away, while his unpredictability and creative striking leave opponents flat footed and hesitant. He’s lethal from the outside and a master at maintaining said distance.
And yet, for every one of Wonderboy’s advantages, the “grappler” has an answer. Johny Hendricks is one of the best active wrestlers on the UFC roster. He is excellent at closing distance and smothering his opponents with dirty boxing from the clinch.
When he takes things to the mat, his ability to control his weight and land short elbows and rabbit punches make him a dangerous fighter from any position on the ground. The ability to grind out an opponent, although not utilized much in recent fights, is always in his back pocket and could definitely be leaned on in a pinch.
This is a great matchup.
The strengths are apparent. The weaknesses less so. The winner of this bout comes down to who can better excel in their opponent’s wheelhouse. Can Hendricks hang on the feet long enough to take advantage of a rare opening and land a haymaker or a takedown? Can Wonderboy use his ever-improving wrestling and jiu jitsu to catch Hendricks in a submission or keep the fight standing?
Whoever does it best will be the one getting their hand raised. The one knocking on the door to a title shot. The one who makes a statement on February 6th. The other? Forced to climb back up to the top once more.
All questions will be answered on Saturday. And I, for one, cannot wait.