UFC Nashville's Stephen Thompson has renewed hopes for title with Kamaru Usman as champion

NASHVILLE – Stephen Thompson is the contender who has arguably benefited most from Kamaru Usman taking the UFC welterweight title away from Tyron Woodley.

Thompson (14-3-1 MMA, 9-3-1 UFC), who returns from a 10-month layoff to fight Anthony Pettis (21-8 MMA, 8-7 UFC) in Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 6 headliner, believes a win wouldn’t put him far away from title consideration at 170 pounds. He twice failed to capture the gold from Woodley, but now that the belt has changed hands, his spirit is uplifted.

“Having a new champion, I knew it was going to be better for my career,” Thompson told MMA Junkie. “Nobody wants to see Thompson vs. Woodley 3, and I kind of understood that. I would have to have two or three more fights before I even get that shot again. This, now that we’ve got a new champion, is going to be a faster way up.

“The division has changed dramatically since the last time I fought. Got a new champion, Darren Till got knocked out by a guy that I’ve already beat. It’s up in the air. I’m ranked No. 4 right now, so any one of us could be fighting for that title again.”

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UFC on ESPN+ 6 takes place at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. The entire card streams on ESPN+.

Thompson hasn’t fought since losing a competitive decision to Darren Till at UFC Fight Night 130 in May. He suffered a knee injury in the bout and has been working toward a comeback following surgery. Thompson wanted to fight sooner, but said he couldn’t find an opponent to accept a bout with him. That’s when ex-lightweight titleholder Pettis made a surprising callout of “Wonderboy,” and the matchup quickly materialized from there.

“I just couldn’t get (a fight),” Thompson said. “I tried to fight Robbie Lawler, it didn’t happen. (Santiago) Ponzinibbio, Leon Edwards and nothing came to fruition. I was headed to Denver, Colo., for a snowboarding trip, and I took my phone off airplane mode and my phone was blowing up and I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ I saw Anthony Pettis called me out. I’m like, ‘Wow. Let’s get this thing happening.’

“I’ve always been a fan of Anthony Pettis because we have similar styles. I think this is going to be a fun fight. Definitely a fight for the fans.”

On paper, the matchup with Pettis looks like it has serious potential for entertainment. Both men come from striking backgrounds and are highly diverse on the feet. Thompson said he thinks it will meet expectations.

“This is definitely going to be a straight-up ninja fight,” Thompson said. “He’s very flashy, and I like to throw different angles and different kicks, too. So it’s going to be whoever is the best ninja that night.

“I know he’s very crafty. He’s got good jiu-jitsu, good wrestling, and I’m prepared wherever the fight goes. I’m expecting and the fans are expecting just a barnburner, and that’s what we’re going to give them.”

If Thompson wins at UFC on ESPN+ 6, he said he will be on the short list of potential title challengers. All signs point to Colby Covington getting the next shot at champ Usman, then the likes of Woodley and Ben Askren could be in the mix, as well.

All those fighters come from wrestling backgrounds, and as a striking-based fighter, Thompson likes how he matches up with the best.

“A lot of these guys have been wrestlers, and it’s something I’m used to,” Thompson said. “I do have a better striking game than any one of those guys. My goal is to be better all around, just be a better MMA fighter – not just be a better striker, but be an MMA fighter. So we’ve been working hard on my wrestling and jiu-jitsu, and especially my wrestling defense, to keep the fight standing to where I want it. I know these guys are high-level wrestlers, but it doesn’t bother me.”

Although the belt is on his mind, Thompson already sees his next step after UFC on ESPN+ 6: a fight in his hometown of Greenville, S.C., where the UFC will visit for the first time on June 22 with UFC on ESPN+ 11. Having Thompson headline the card seems like a natural fit, and he’s hoping he can come out of the fight with Pettis unscathed so he can make the quick turn.

“I hope I’m coming out of this fight uninjured, no hurt feet or hands or anything like that, and be able to fight again three months later,” Thompson said. “I got some guys in mind I’ve been wanting to fight for a long time. Lawler, RDA; I think that would be a good fight for my hometown.”

For more on UFC on ESPN+ 6, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie

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