Stephen Thompson said before his UFC Fight Night welterweight main event with Geoff Neal that he was nobody's stepping stone. Words are one thing, actions are another, and Thompson's actions backed up his statement Saturday night as he picked apart Neal on the way to winning a wide unanimous decision at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
From early in the fight, it was clear that Thompson was on top of his game, skillfully sliding around the ring in his trademark karate stance and popping Neal with strikes from a variety of angles. As Neal would try to adjust to Thompson's flashy kicks, Thompson would switch to jabs and straight right hands. When Neal would look to push forward to initiate his own brand of power striking, Thompson would use his footwork to move out of danger, reset and pop off strikes before Neal could adjust.
Late in the first round, the two fighters stepped forward simultaneously, leading to a clash of heads that opened cuts over the eyes of both men. While the lacerations appeared a threat to stop the fight, both men were able to continue forward, even as the cuts would continue to bleed throughout.
The bout fell into a clear pattern, with Neal looking for perfect opportunities to unload, while Thompson simply took what was available, picking and popping with his straight punches and landing clean, winning seemingly every exchange.
But the easy night of work would get far more difficult after Round 4, when Thompson walked back to his corner and indicated that he had injured his knee.
"[Fighting through the knee injury was] very difficult, I couldn't straighten it out for some reason," Thompson said after the fight. "It just felt really tight. I tried to kick with it. He did hit me with a good knee, that could have been it. I thought it was from a spin technique I missed and trying to recover. But [Neal landing a knee] probably could have been the injury I have with my right knee, for sure. Geoff is a tough, tough opponent. Just rock solid. Every punch I hit him with, he just kept on coming."
With his movement hampered, Thompson was caught with more clean punches by Neal in the fifth round than in any of the four rounds prior. Still, Thompson just was too skillful and managed to win the round despite being on the receiving end of some powerful Neal punches.
In the end, the judges' scorecards all read 50-45 for Thompson, giving him a clean sweep.
The fight was much like Thompson's prior battle, a November 2019 fight with Vicente Luque where Thompson again outpointed a rising welterweight. In Thompson's eyes, the time for fighting rising prospects is over and he has his eye on a potential fight with Jorge Masvidal as the next step to his much bigger goal for 2021.
"Wonderboy is still here, baby," Thompson said. "That title? 2021 is going to me mine, brother. You watch and see."
CBS Sports was with you the entire way on Saturday bringing you all the results and highlights from the UFC Fight Night card. Read on for recaps and highlights of all the night's action.
UFC Fight Night card and results
- Stephen Thompson def. Geoff Neal via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 50-45)
- Jose Aldo def. Marlon Vera via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Michel Pereira def. Khaos Williams via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Rob Font def. Marlon Moraes via first-round TKO (punches)
- Marcin Tybura def. Greg Hardy via second-round TKO (punches)
- Anthony Pettis def. Alex Morono via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Pannie Kianzad def. Sijara Eubanks via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Deron Winn def. Antonio Arroyo via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
- Talia Santos def. Gillian Robertson via unanimous decision (30-26, 30-26, 29-28)