Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson tells Kevin Iole how he's approaching his fight Saturday at UFC 264 against No. 2 ranked welterweight Gilbert Burns and if a title shot is next.
KEVIN IOLE: Hey folks. I am Kevin Iole. Welcome to Yahoo Sports. My guest now is Stephen Wonderboy Thompson. As I was just saying to him before we started recording, in contention for the nicest guy in MMA week. I don't want to say the nicest because I'm going to have a couple of other guys like Gilbert Burns and Vicente Luque coming after me. But Stephen Thompson is definitely up there in the top two or three for the nicest guy. Stephen, how are you?
STEPHEN THOMPSON: Doing great, my friend. Glad to be on with you and ready to rock and roll Saturday night. I'm excited.
KEVIN IOLE: You're gonna rock and roll with the aforementioned Gilbert Burns. That is going to be some big fight. He's ranked number two in the welterweight division. You are ranked number four. Is this the fight you think that'll finally get you back to where you want to be? Back to the promised of a title shot. Do you think beating Gilbert Burns does that for you?
STEPHEN THOMPSON: I think so, 100%. I think going out there and being the number two ranked guy, a guy who just fought for the title. With a good win over him, they got to give me that title shot. And there's a few guys that they're looking at Colby Covington, even Leon Edwards-- which I think is more deserving of a title shot than Colby Covington. But it is what it is. And I think, like I said, with a good win over him, they got to give me that title shot, man.
KEVIN IOLE: I know you drive yourself crazy if you think of all these what ifs. But you know you guys, it's your livelihood. Do you pay attention to social media? And did you see when Nate Diaz and Usman just recently were discussing fighting each other and Usman said, hey. Bring it on if you want to do it. Like, what does that do to you when you see that kind of thing?
STEPHEN THOMPSON: You know, you see these guys who are very popular in the division, such as Nate Diaz. I mean, it kind of makes sense. I mean he's a big draw. But at the same time, it's like man, these guys back here working their behinds off to get this title shot. And look at Leon. He's won nine fights in a row and still hasn't fought for the title. So I think there's a little something wrong with that.
But at the same time, Kamaru Usman has definitely settled himself for one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world. So he can kind of do what he wants at this point and fight who he wants to fight. But if it was me man, get that Leon Edwards a shot. Give me another shot. Somebody who hasn't fought for it yet. And that's it. I think I'm the worst match-up for him.
KEVIN IOLE: Well he fought. So he's basically fought everybody but you. And if you consider himself in the top five, and you being number four ranked, so the fifth guy-- he's fought everybody else but you. So if you give a good performance against Gilbert Burns, you have an argument to make there.
STEPHEN THOMPSON: Exactly. Exactly. Good win over him and it really depends on how I beat Gilbert Burns, for sure. I got to go out there and I got to put on-- I got to do what I know I can do out there as an athlete. So yeah, man. So I'm not looking past Gilbert at all. I mean, he's the guy I'm going to be standing in front of come Saturday. And I've known a lot of people to look past opponents and then get taken out. So I cannot do that.
KEVIN IOLE: I talked to him about this and I made the point that I thought you might have the best footwork in MMA. And certainly the best work of anybody he has seen. And you know, it kind of reminds me of when Dominick Cruz was on a roll. Guys fighting Dominick Cruz and they had difficulty hitting him because of how good his feet were in the angles he created and everything. Do you feel like he's talking about all the kick-boxers he's brought into camp and everything? Do you think in one training camp, a guy that has been largely a grafter for most of his career, can adjust and be ready for the kind of footwork and the intricacies of your game that you bring?
STEPHEN THOMPSON: You know what, that's a good question. I would find it very, very difficult. I know that Gilbert Burns-- he's an intelligent guy and he's smart. He's got to go to work on it and he's going to have some key plans out there to look for. But I don't think he's going to stand there and bang it out with me. I think he's going definitely look to get the fight to the ground.
KEVIN IOLE: Right.
STEPHEN THOMPSON: And most like everybody does. That's the thing about for me, you know, I pretty much prepare everybody the same way. Because everybody at some point wants to get me down and everybody starts standing up. So but, you know, somebody like Gilbert, I think it's just an honor to step out there with him. And one of the best-- at 155, one of the best of 170's. And I'm just glad that he's given me the opportunity to do it because there's a lot of guys in the top five who were like, no, I'm not fighting this guy. I'm like, I'm just sitting here waiting on people. So I'm just excited to step out there, man.
KEVIN IOLE: I want to ask you this. This is your first fight since your brother-in-law, Chris Weidman, broke his leg in a horrible tragedy. One of the things nobody wanted to see. You never want to see anybody get injured like that. I know you guys are close and Chris is walking, which is great to see. He was even in the gym a couple of days. But you know, in your mind, given how close Chris is to you, is there any hurdles to get over knowing what happened to him? Like does that give you any case of the willies or anything, because you know what can happen and you [AUDIO OUT] a family member?
STEPHEN THOMPSON: You know what, it was devastating because I was there in his corner when it happened, man. It was devastating for Chris but he's in good spirits now. And for me, it didn't bother me at all. I mean, things like this happen in our sport. It's only happened three times. And he's been a part of two of them, which I can't wrap my head around. That was like, what the heck.
But it didn't bother me at all. I mean, especially getting ready for this fight. I know that I am going to be full-- I'm fully prepared for this fight. Conditioned mentally, physically, emotionally. And whatever happens, happens out there. I'm fine with. I've already lost. I've been knocked out, which was a big fear for me. Those are two big fears when I was undefeated for such a long time, for many years. And now it doesn't bother me. Like I know I can just go out there and fight now and have fun. And I think it's shown my last few fights that I feel a little bit more free whenever I step out there in that cage. So it doesn't bother me at all.
KEVIN IOLE: Is that-- when you say it doesn't bother you, I know you have that human empathy for another person. But is it just from being in the cage for so long, in the fight game for so long, that you understand it? Because I think most people look at it they go, I don't know if I ever want to kick anybody else again when I see that happen.
STEPHEN THOMPSON: Yeah. Yeah, man. You know I've been in the game for so long and so has Chris and a lot of these other fighters out here. You know, you see something like that and you kind of-- course, after it's said and done, you kind of put that in the back of your head. You don't bring it up again.
And it's just because you know that you're going to be stepping out there at some point in time. And you can't let something like that mess with you mentally. Especially for somebody like me. If I let that bother me, it enables me to throw my kicks as hard as I can out there, that's going to mess with my game. My whole game. So somethings you can control and some things you can't control out there. And those were just one of those things that he just had no control over.
KEVIN IOLE: Anderson Silva came back and won fights after having had that happen, which most people, when they-- I saw him wheeled across the stretcher right in front of me and the pain was on his face. It was just like I wanted to cry for the guy, right. And he came back and won a fight. Do you feel Chris can do the same thing? I mean, you're around him, you talk to him, you're married to his sister. So what is the situation then?
STEPHEN THOMPSON: So that's just it. Like Chris Weidman is the type of fighter who can never throw a kick again and still win fights. He's not known for his kicks. Now for somebody like me on the other hand, that's a different story. So for someone like Chris you could definitely come back and still beat and still win fights and still beat guys. The majority of the guys in his division I still believe he can beat coming back after this injury.
But it's funny that everybody thinks that I'm [AUDIO OUT] Chris' sister is actually. So I would say he's really-- I mean, he's my brother for sure. But my brother married his sister.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Everybody does that. It's OK. You're not the person, won't be the last.
KEVIN IOLE: So I stand corrected on that. I'm sorry about that.
STEPHEN THOMPSON: It's all good.
KEVIN IOLE: What will it mean to you if you can be in his corner when he comes back to win a fight after something like that?
STEPHEN THOMPSON: That would be amazing. That would be amazing. I've been in his corner twice. I'm in his corner every time, but actually in his corner twice. The fight where he fought Kevin Gastelum and this most recent one where he injured himself. So it would be-- it would be amazing for me to be in his corner and him go out there for his first win back.
This guy has been there for me since-- man, for over eight years. Helped me improve and become a better, not just a martial artist, but a better human being. Watching him have that fighter mentality and then had that father mentality at home. You know, know how to separate that.
KEVIN IOLE: Right.
STEPHEN THOMPSON: And I think that's special, man. That's really cool.
KEVIN IOLE: That is awesome. You know you have had, as we mentioned, TWO cracks at the championship. What did you learn from those two fights you had-- A really close loss and a draw with Tyron Woodley, that you will bring into, not only your past fights, but this fighting going forward if you do get that championship. How are you going to be different than you were when you fought Woodley before?
STEPHEN THOMPSON: Well the thing is, when I fought those two fights, it led me to believe that you have to give it all you got out there. You can't leave it in the judge's eyes in order to win a fight. You got to go in it. So not just going out there and doing what you can to just barely come up with the wind, you've got to be this guy. You've got to beat him mentally, physically, and emotionally out there. And that's how I've been ever since.
So that's probably the biggest thing that I've learned. And the fact that I can be put in a guillotine where my head's about to rip off and not give up. But that has a lot to do with just being on the grind all the time, man. Being put in uncomfortable situations and being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
KEVIN IOLE: You know, there's a fine line that you guys have to walk because on one hand, it's like a batter is trying to hit a home run. Or if you try to hit a home run, you usually don't hit the home run, right. And it's the same thing. You want to make something happen in the fight and you want to get the big punch and you want to get the big kick or whatever it is that you're trying to accomplish in the fight. So you want to make it happen, but you also can't be too-- you know. So can you discuss like, sort of the difficulty of pushing too much as opposed to holding back too much?
STEPHEN THOMPSON: Yeah, man. You kind of have to find that happy medium. Because if you push too hard, you end up running into something or getting taken down. So you have to find that happy medium. And that really relies on what your opponent's doing.
If your opponent's really aggressive, maybe you'll react differently for somebody who backs away like Tyron did. Tyron just kind of backed up and backed up. And that's when I should have been a little bit more aggressive instead of waiting on him. And that comes with experience. That comes with a lot of sparring sessions, a lot of training sessions to learn to try and find that happy medium.
KEVIN IOLE: Interesting I want to ask you this before I let you go then. So talking to Gilbert today, he said that he really struggled for about a month after losing to Usman because he didn't understand what had happened to him. That he felt like he had put all this time in, all the effort and that he had a perfect plan and it happened. But he did say that he took solace in the fact that, when he stuck to the plan early in the fight, it was working. It was just when he went away from the plan, it didn't. Can you relate to what he was saying and you feel like you know how he's going to be going into this fight, given you were kind of in a similar situation after Woodley?
STEPHEN THOMPSON: Yeah. 100%, man. Especially the mindset. And I know exactly what that feels like. Like why did I not perform the way I wanted to perform? But sometimes you can be drawn into a fight or your opponents fight and not make it your own, right. And I believe that Kamaru Usman drew him into Kamaru's fight instead of the other way around. And you got to be careful of that. You've got to stick to what--
And also I think at some point in time, his mindset changed a little bit. He was going out there and he was thinking about what he was going to do to Tyron. And at some point in time, when he didn't knock him out, when he didn't finish him, he was more worried about what Kamaru Usman was doing to him.
KEVIN IOLE: Yeah.
STEPHEN THOMPSON: You know what I'm saying. So that's a big difference. That's a big difference in mindset, for sure.
KEVIN IOLE: Well, I'll tell you what. Everybody's excited about the main event at UFC 264. But I've said it a million times, do not sleep on this co-main event between Wonderboy Thompson and Gilbert Burns. It's going to be a fun one.
Stephen, I appreciate you, brother. Thank you so much. Good to talk to you again. All the best on Saturday.
STEPHEN THOMPSON: Thank you, my friend. I appreciate you and definitely enjoyed it. Have a good one, sir.
KEVIN IOLE: You too. Bye.