White says welterweight could become ‘very marketable’
Stephen Thompson probably shouldn’t get used to playing the roll of curtain jerker.
The welterweight, making his UFC debut on Saturday, opened the card at UFC 143 with an early candidate for Knockout of the Year. Perhaps 1,000 people already were in their seats at the Mandalay Bay Events Center – and that would be a generous estimate.
Even UFC president Dana White missed the night’s biggest highlight – Thompson’s Knockout of the Night head kick of Daniel Stittgen in the first round, a kick that lived up to the hype behind “Wonderboy” and his legendary kickboxing pedigree.
“I missed that fight, but I saw it on tape,” White told HeavyMMA after the post-fight press conference. “Joe Rogan has been talking about this guy in his sleep. Every time I talked to Rogan, he was going crazy about this kid. And then for him to come in and pull off a kick like that was awesome.”
Thompson (6-0, 1-0 UFC) made his UFC debut with just five MMA wins – but with a reported pro and amateur kickboxing record of 57-0 with 40 knockouts. The South Carolina-based fighter started working his kicks early against Stittgen, who also was making his UFC debut. But just over four minutes into the first round, Thompson faked a jab and followed immediately with a right head kick that Stittgen never saw coming.
Thompson floored Stittgen with the kick, and his MMA career instantly jumped up several steps on the ladder. After the fight, he said the move was one he’s used successfully in the past – but this time obviously was his new favorite.
“Fighting in the UFC and knocking my opponent out in that fashion, I definitely rank this top of the list,” Thompson said. “I’ve knocked people out with that same combination – the jab-cross roundhouse. We call it ‘The moneymaker.’ But this is definitely the top because this is the UFC. It was fun.”
The hype behind Thompson extended beyond just Rogan. Acclaimed trainer Firas Zahabi, head coach for UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, is on record calling Thompson the best striker he’s ever seen. That’s saying something.
“No words can describe how I feel right now,” Thompson said. “I’m beyond happy to have this win. It’s my first win in the UFC, and I can’t wait to get back out there and do it again. I took my time and felt him out. GSP is my training buddy, and before the fight he gave me some words of encouragement and told me to focus on what I’m going to do and block everything else out. That was amazing advice, and exactly what I did.”
If Thompson can make kicks like Saturday’s a habit, he’ll also become a regular at the post-fight press conferences. And he’ll probably make Knockout of the Night bonus checks a habit, too. Thompson made $12,000 for his win – $6,000 to show and $6,000 to win. But his Knockout of the Night bonus was $65,000. Not bad for his first fight out of the gate.
“This is the biggest stage in the world and the biggest promotion in the world,” Thompson said. “And coming from a small town in South Carolina, this is huge. I’ve never done a press conference before. It’s a dream come true.”
Thompson took virtually no damage in the fight, and in theory could get trotted out again fairly quickly. White told HeavyMMA that in the UFC’s suddenly in-flux welterweight division, a fighter like Thompson could prove to be a marketable commodity.
“You keep doing (stuff) like that and you’re going to be very marketable,” White said. “People are going to love to watch you fight.”
But for now, Thompson said he just hopes he’ll get another call from the promotion.
“I’m just going to go back and train harder and hopefully I’ll be able to fight again with the UFC,” Thompson said.
That’s probably a pretty safe bet.