On December 16, Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thomspon will look to climb back into the welterweight title picture as he is set to square off with undefeated division standout Shavkat Rakhmonov.
Thompson will step back into the Octagon five months removed from his previously scheduled scrap with Michel Pereira at UFC 291 in July. Sadly, Thompson never actually stepped inside the Octagon that night after Pereira hit the scale well over the welterweight limit. ‘Wonderboy’ opted to bow out of the fight, a decision that many fight fans quickly vilified him for.
Recently, UFC CEO Dana White announced that Thompson would return at UFC 296 this December to take on Shavkat Rakhmonov in a high-stakes welterweight fight that could have serious title implications.
The news caught many fans off guard as Thompson had seemed hell-bent on making a fight with former 170-pound champ Kamaru Usman happen.
Speaking with James Lynch in a MiddleEasy exclusive interview, ‘Wonderboy’ was asked to address accusations that he had been forced to take the fight with Rakhmonov after the Usman bout seemingly fell through and with him also declining an offer to fight fast-rising Irish star Ian Garry.
“Nobody was forced to take this fight. It is something that I wanted,” Thompson said. “I just wanted to fight somebody ranked above me and of course, when Kamaru Usman calls you out, why not try to go for that? I know Ian Garry and these guys were calling me out, but they’re ranked behind me, and the only guy that makes sense at this point if I can’t get Usman… Somebody just as tough. Undefeated. Guys are afraid to fight Shavkat Rakhmonov. But yeah, nobody was forced to take that bout. I don’t understand where they got that from.
“It just makes sense for me at this point in my career. To make another title run. He’s a tough guy. A future champion in Shavkat. This is to show the UFC and the fans that I’m ready for that shot. Let’s beat this guy and then we’ll get after it.”
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The fight announcement comes weeks removed from Thompson’s canceled matchup with Michel Pereira at UFC 291. After refusing to accept a catchweight with Pereira, who came in three pounds over the welterweight non-title limit, fans were quick to slam ‘Wonderboy’ despite the fact that he did his job and showed up on point.
Thompson admitted that the entire situation was quite frustrating, but it was important for him to stand up for what he believes in and not let Pereira off the hook by accepting the fight. Even if it made him look like the bad guy.
“It was definitely a frustrating situation, especially during fight week,” Thompson admitted. “Him not making weight and the whole weekend. The fight’s gonna happen, it’s not gonna happen… And then I just end up not taking the fight which is the same scenario when I fought Darren Till. At some point, you’re just not mentally ready to step out there anymore and I wanted to make a stand for those guys because you’re starting to see this more and more.
“People not making weight. Taking the fight anyway and it’s frustrating for the guys who do what they said they were gonna do and make weight. And hopefully, you’ll have more people standing up to that because it almost feels like, especially from the fans’ standpoint, it makes us, the guy who does everything right, seem like the bad guy and not the guy who doesn’t make weight.
“It was frustrating, but at the same time, I signed that contract for a reason. I said I was going to be this weight. You should do the same.”
Before being booked for his fight with Shavkat Rakhmonov, ‘Wonderboy’ revealed that the promotion had contacted him the very night Irish standout Ian Garry called him out for a meeting in Madison Square Garden this winter.
“Literally the night he called me out, I got a phone call from them,” Thompson revealed. “‘Hey, how about you fight Ian Garry at MSG?’ I’m like, look, Kamaru Usman called me out. Let’s try to make this fight happen.”
As ‘Wonderboy’ tells it, the promotion has other plans for Kamaru Usman leaving only one man left for Thompson to meet before the end of the year.
‘Wonderboy’ is Ready for a Gritty War with Shavkat Rakhmonov
Stephen Thompson vs. Shavkat Rakhmonov is a fight worth getting excited over. Thus far, ‘Nomad’ has secured 17 straight victories in his mixed martial arts career, five of them coming under the UFC banner. After Rakhmonov’s stunning performance against Geoff Neal in March, ‘Wonderboy’ feels like a logical progression up the ladder for the Kazakh.
“I think it’s a good one,” Thompson said of the impending matchup. “He’s not afraid to stand up and bang with you, as you saw when he fought Geoff Neal. There were a lot of good exchanges in that fight, but he’s not afraid to shoot for the legs. He’s not afraid to go out there and do that. His wrestling accolades and his jiu-jitsu accolades are really high, but every fight starts standing up so I do feel at some point he’s going to shoot, but I’m going to be ready for it.
Making the walk for his 25th career fight, the 40-year-old ‘Wonderboy’ is still feeling good at welterweight and has no intentions of moving up or down a weight class before hanging up his gloves for good.
“I have had some rough ones,” Thompson said when asked about cutting to 170 as he gets older. “Coming into camp or coming into fight week a little heavy has made it fairly difficult, but let me tell you. This last fight, I feel like I literally had the best weight cut ever. I came in on point. I started my weight cut at the beginning of the camp. Just working my way down slowly so that week it’s not as detrimental to my body. I think keeping that mindset and doing exactly what I did last time is definitely going to help me get down to the weight for this fight a lot easier.”
He continued, “A lot of people want me to go up to 185 to fight Izzy or [Sean] Strickland, but those are big boys, man. And when I’m training with a 185’er and him throwing me around like a ragdoll, it’s like maybe I shouldn’t move up.
As for his prediction when he steps back into the Octagon against Shavkat Rakhmonov, ‘Wonderboy’ expects a gritty fight against ‘Nomad’ but believes he will see his hand raised so long as he stays prepared for anything Rakhmonov can throw at him.
“I know this is going to be a tough fight. I’m just prepared for a gritty fight and I think preparing for a gritty fight and it happens, you’re more apt to being used to it and being able to deal with it. When you step out there and you think the fight’s going to be easy and it ends up being gritty, it can mess with you mentally.
“I know he’s tough. He’s going to be very hard to put away so the goal is just to go out there and play it smart and adapt to whatever he’s got. The guy is always evolving and getting better. He’s one of those guys if you’ve seen him fight, you’ve seen him fight 100 times. He’s always getting better. The level where he’s at is to the point where any little tiny movement this guy makes, I’ve got to be ready for it.”
Watch the full interview below: