Stephen Thompson knows what's coming at UFC 264, wouldn't have it any other way

·Combat columnist
·5 min read

LAS VEGAS — Stephen Thompson isn’t Raymond Daniels’ manager, but the UFC’s fourth-ranked welterweight contender feels like he should get a cut of Daniels’ sparring pay for all the work he’s given him.

Daniels is a Bellator fighter and an accomplished kickboxer with a karate style. Thompson also comes from a karate background, excelled in kickboxing and is now an MMA fighter.

Because Thompson’s style is so unique and tricky to figure out, several of Thompson’s UFC opponents have hired Daniels to spar with them.

The latest is second-ranked Gilbert Burns, who will fight Thompson in the co-main event of UFC 264 Saturday at a sold-out T-Mobile Arena.

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“I feel like I deserve some of whatever these guys are paying him because, what was it, Rory MacDonald brought him in, Tyron Woodley brought him in and now Gilbert Burns,” Thompson said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “I’m like, ‘C’mon man, I’m helping you out.’ I should get a percentage of what they’re paying him. He’s one of the best to do karate.

“Now, we have different styles; completely different styles. I don’t mind him going up there to help [Burns] out. Sure, go help him out, but it’s not going to help him come Saturday.”

Thompson exuded confidence as he spoke about the sport, his career and the fight for 20 minutes on Wednesday. He’s a slight favorite over Burns — Thompson is -165 at BetMGM, while Burns is +135 — and feels that even at 38, he’s the best he’s been.

He joked that every camp is the same for him, because he’s so dominant as a striker that the way to defeat him is to take him down. But that’s not an easy task as opponent after opponent has failed to put him on his back. None of his last four opponents have even bothered to attempt a takedown. The last one to try was Jorge Masvidal, who was 0-for-2 when they fought on Nov. 4, 2017. Woodley was 1-for-2 in takedown attempts against Thompson on March 4, 2017, the last time he was taken down.

So he knows what’s coming. Guys are going to try to find a way to get him off his feet, but he drills so hard at preventing that, they often get discouraged and don’t try.

“That’s my whole game plan with my opponents, to try to pull them out of their comfort zone, make them frustrated and capitalize on that,” Thompson said. “But for me going into this fight, I feel like Gilbert Burns has learned from his last mistakes. I think I’ll get the best mindset, the best Burns come this Saturday. I know he wants to get that win back from Kamaru Usman.

“I know it’s devastating, because I’ve been there. For me, I feel like I’m going to get the best Gilbert Burns, man. I wouldn’t want anything else but that.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 02: (R-L) Stephen Thompson punches Vicente Luque of Brazil in their welterweight bout during the UFC 244 event at Madison Square Garden on November 02, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Stephen Thompson (16-4-1, 7 KOs) is 3-2 in his last five fights with not one of those opponents landing a takedown against him. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Thompson got a first-hand look at the most devastating result in the UFC this year. The record books will show that Uriah Hall scored a 17-second first-round TKO of Chris Weidman at UFC 261 on April 24.

But Weidman threw a kick and his right leg basically snapped in two. Thompson, whose brother is married to Weidman’s sister, was in Weidman’s corner that night. Kicks are a critical component of his attack, but he said seeing what happened to Weidman up close won’t impact him even though the Burns fight is the first for Thompson since Weidman’s injury.

“It was devastating, because I was there in his corner when it happened,” Thompson said. “I felt sick for Chris, but he’s in good spirits now. For me, it didn’t bother me at all. Things like this happen in our sport. It’s only happened three times and he’s been part of two of them. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. But it didn’t bother me at all, especially getting ready for this fight.

“I know I’m fully prepared for the fight, in my condition, mentally, physically and emotionally. Whatever happens out there, I’m fine with it. I’ve already lost. I’ve been knocked out. Those were two big fears for me when I was undefeated for such a long time. Now, it doesn’t bother me and I know I can just go out and fight and have fun. That’s shown my last few fights.”

It’s a lot more fun to win, and Thompson has done his share of that.

It’s most fun, though, to win when it matters most. The stakes are huge on Saturday, and Thompson is primed to be at his best.

“How can it get any better than this, fighting an incredible opponent like Gilbert on a Conor McGregor card with the arena filled with fans going nuts?” Thompson said. “I mean, when you are a kid thinking of being a fighter, this is how you see it in your dreams.”

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