Unbeaten welterweight eyes a future in the UFC
Wrestlers transitioning from the college and international mats into the world of mixed martial arts has become the norm. We’ve even seen several former football players — both collegiate and professional — make the move into the cage as well.
Recently, a number of elite kickboxers have started making the move to MMA as well. That includes Stephen Thompson.
“I’ve actually been in the martial arts my entire life; I started at the age of three,” detailed the fighter known as “Wonderboy,” speaking to Heavy MMA over the weekend. “I have two brothers and two sisters, and we all started — my dad owns a school here in Simpsonville, South Carloina, so growing up we didn’t have any say so.
“My dad was a kickboxer, and my older sister before me, so I kind of looked up to them. I started my full-contact training at the age of 12, but I didn’t have my first fight until I was 15. My dad kind of threw me to the dogs on that one. I was 15, and I fought a guy who 20-0; I think he was 26-years-old. I ended up winning a unanimous decision, and after that, I was like, `This is what I want to do.’ All my buddies were playing football and other sports, and I was like, `This is it.’ I fell in love with it.”
After a 37-0 run as an amateur that included a collection of accolades too numerous to list, Thompson turned pro at 21 and amassed a 56-0 record, adding a world championship and a stop in Chuck Norris’ World Combat League (WCL) — amongst other places — to his resume. It was an injury he sustained fighting in the WCL that eventually led Thompson to MMA.
“I ended up injuring my left knee. I tore every ligament in my left leg, and I was out for about three years, had total knee reconstruction. With that time, after two surgeries and three years to kind of sit back and look at the whole scheme of things, I was seeing more MMA, and that’s where the fight sports were going.
“My goal is to be the best fighter in the world, and I couldn’t do that at kickboxing. I wanted to try my hand at the rest of the stuff that I’ve been doing since I was young — the jiu-jitsu, and the wrestling — and I wanted to be able to get out there and put that together.”
While his kickboxing credentials are what catch most people’s eyes — and rightfully so — Thompson is more than just a striker.
“My background is actually Kenpo karate, and in our system, it’s more of an MMA style anyway. We do the stand-up, and I’ve been doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu since I was 12. I’ve always been diverse in the striking, the wrestling, the jiu-jitsu, especially when you have a brother-in-law — my brother-in-law is actually Carlos Machado; he married my sister about ten years ago — he’s my jiu-jitsu instructor, and we get together a lot. He’s the man; he’s awesome.”
Machado is the nephew of the late Carlos Gracie, one of the founders of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and one of the foremost BJJ instructors in the world. Working with his brother-in-law on a regular basis allows Thompson to be extremely comfortable on the ground, especially considering that is where most of his opponents aim to take the fight.
“Right now, everybody knows that I’m a kickboxer and I’m a striker, and that’s how I’d like to keep it. Everybody wants to see a good knockout. I like to stay on my feet — I feel comfortable there — but a whole lot of people, they don’t know that I like it on the ground as well. They don’t know that I have those skills on the ground, which has been good for me so far.
“My last four MMA fights, every one of them has been trying to take me down, but that’s where my wrestling comes in. They think all I have is my stand-up skills, which is helpful for every fight because for every fight, I can train for the same thing. I know this guy is going to shoot in and try and take me down.
“I know in my head, later on everybody is going to figure out that I have these ground skills, that I have these wrestling skills. It’s going to become a little more difficult, which is why I keep training my wrestling every day, my jiu-jitsu every day. Carlos is coming in, I’m flying there all the time to make myself better. I don’t want to be known as just a good striker. I mean, I do and that’s great, but I want everybody to respect me on the ground and in my wrestling skills.”
Thompson made his MMA debut in February 2010, earning a second-round technical knockout of Jeremy Joles. He’s posted three more victories since then, and steps into the cage again Saturday night to face Patrick Mandio under the Fight Party MMA banner. After that, Thompson has his sights set on a trip across the Atlantic, and then the UFC.
“I’ve signed with Alchemist (Management) and I feel very comfortable there. They have talked to BAMMA; we’ve talked to them, and they’ve shown some interest in having me on December 10 when Nate Marquardt is fighting on their show. BAMMA is known for their strikers and that’s what I am, but the caliber of fighters is a step up from what I’m doing right now. That’s where I want to be, and I’ll probably end up staying there for a few fights, just to where I feel comfortable to make that step up to the UFC.”
In addition to his impressive credentials in the kickboxing world and his familial ties to Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Thompson has spent the last handful of years training with some of the UFC’s elite talent, including welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and Rashad Evans.
“A few years back, before I injured my knee, I fought in Montreal. I had a manager named Vic Theriault; he’s the younger brother of the legendary kickboxer Jean-Yves Theriault. When I was working with him, he got me a fight in Montreal, and the guy I was fighting had done some training with GSP and Firas Zahabi. I knocked him out in the fifth round, and after, Firas went up to my dad, they got to know each other, exchanged others, and wanted to have me up there to work with Georges and some of their guys on their striking.
“I’ve been going there for three or four years now, training up there with Georges. While training there, Rashad had his fight with Lyoto Machida, and my style with my karate background is a similar fighting style. Georges said, `I’ve got this guy. He’s similar to Lyoto; he quick, he’s got that karate background.’ Rashad called my dad, and we got put there to do some training with him for that fight.
“That’s how I ended up meeting Nate Marquardt and Keith Jardine. We exchanged numbers from there, and I got to go to Denver to do some training with Nate, and I’ve been doing it ever since. After this fight, I’m going to be spending two or three weeks up in Montreal with Georges to help him get ready for this next fight coming up.”
A decorated kickboxer with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu legend for a brother-in-law and a collection of UFC stars for training partners?
“The Adventures of Wonderboy” is definitely an MMA journey worth keeping tabs on.