Stephen Thompson is always rounding out his MMA game, but do not expect the karate specialist to shoot for many takedowns this weekend. Thompson takes on Kevin Holland in the main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday in the hopes of presenting a delightful striking encounter for the fighters, fans and -- interestingly -- UFC management.
Thompson re-entered the welterweight title picture following a Fight of the Night against brawler Vicente Luque and a Performance of the Night victory against heavy-handed Geoff Neal. His momentum was stifled by jiu-jitsu ace Gilbert Burns and overwhelming wrestler Belal Muhammad. Drawing Holland's name was a relief for Thompson despite a ranked number absent from his name.
"What always goes in my head is that I want to be as exciting as possible," Thompson told CBS Sports while promoting his FightCamp at-home online training program featuring road work, sparring, grappling, strength, conditioning and bag work over four weeks. "I want to put on a show for the fans and the UFC. When I get somebody like Belal or even Gilbert Burns, it's not exciting for me because I just feel like it would be a boring fight. It's just the guy shooting at your legs the whole time and just trying to control you on the ground. It's not very fun.
"But when you got guys like Vicente Luque or Geoff Neal or Jorge Masvidal who are going to go out there and really put on a good fight -- and of course, Kevin Holland -- that puts a smile on my face. I think that's really exciting for me. Not just for me, but for the people watching."
Check out the full interview with Stephen Thompson below.
Thompson's reputation as a premier karate fighter, one capable of delivering highlight-reel knockouts and spinning kicks, is what brought him to the dance. The amateur karate champion debuted in the UFC with a highlight reel head kick. A subsequent loss to Matt Brown, who landed five takedowns and compiled more than eight minutes of control time, compelled Thompson to round out his game for MMA. A wrestling-heavy decision win over Nah-Shon Burrell was a validation of his overall improvements but was supposedly shunned by UFC brass.
"I think it was after my third fight in the UFC. I outwrestled my opponent," Thompson said. "It wasn't the most exciting fight, but I remember afterwards someone in the UFC came up to me and said, ''Wonderboy,' it wasn't your wrestling that got you here.' So I'm like, 'Alright, point. I'm picking up what you're putting down.' But that's what the fans want to see and that's what I'm known for, my striking."
Thompson appears to have taken that feedback to heart. He has shot for the odd takedown here or there but has only completed five takedowns in 18 UFC fights, the most recent coming against Jake Ellenberger in 2015. A win over Holland on Saturday likely won't elevate him in the rankings but should steady him at No. 6 in the welterweight division as he looks to re-enter the title picture.