Stephen Thompson has the look of a champion in waiting. Well mannered, all class and a surgeon inside the Octagon, his clinical dissection over five rounds in the headline bout of UFC Fight 89 at Ottawa’s TD Place Arena has solidified his position as the No1 contender at 170lbs.
Not too long ago though, that same sentiment was canvassed in Rory MacDonald’s direction.
Now, he wears the look of a man heading for the exit, not UFC gold.
The contrasting altitudes of these two top welterweight’s career trajectories was as clear as the gulf in class yesterday.
While ‘Wonderboy’s’ career continues to reach new heights – he now owns a seven-fight win streak in one of the most competitive divisions – MacDonald is simply left to wonder what his next step is. The Canadian took a calculated risk by fighting out his UFC contract against a dangerous striking specialist. Win and the threat he could abscond the promotion as the top contender would have swung the pendulum of bargaining power his way.
Instead, after consecutive defeats – he lost a title fight with champ Robbie Lawler last year – and another broken nose, his stock has taken a dip. For ‘Wonderboy’, a shot at the winner of Lawler/Tyron Woodley has to be next. The win over MacDonald combined with the decimation of former champ Johny Hendricks has vaulted him to the front of the queue. And he even knows who wants next.
“I would rather fight Robbie Lawler and I think Robbie Lawler’s going to win it,” Thompson said of Lawler’s July 30 title clash with Woodley.
“He’s stayed active and Woodley hasn’t. He maybe will have some cage rust. Tyron has been known to slow down and Lawler gets stronger as the rounds go. I see Robbie Lawler winning that fight, and would love to fight him hopefully in New York City (UFC 205), and yeah, I think Robbie Lawler will be the guy.”
The opening stanzas in Ottawa were a feeling out process. MacDonald, acutely aware of Thompson’s savage striking, was staying out of range, wary of sacrificing himself to get in close and cause real damage. There were bursts of action, particularly when MacDonald attempted roll transitions into leg locks and Thompson snapped back with accurate leg kicks. But the exchanges were fleeting drawing sporadic boos from an expectant Canadian crowd.
The third and fourth saw more action, though. MacDonald pressured and controlled the centre of the cage but the mobile Thompson just bounced around, countering his adversary as he plodded forward.
Needing the knockout, MacDonald entered the fifth with more urgency but even when he did breach the void and land, he ate combinations and later significant damage. A wheel kick shattered his nose and much like the Lawler clash “The Red King” was a mask of red. It’s a problem which kept him out of the Octagon for the last year and the 26-year-old isn’t sure how to fix it.
“I broke it actually a couple times before this fight,” he said. “I have no idea what to do. I gave it time, it kept breaking. I don’t know if surgery is going to be the best route. I really just have to take time.”