Josh Thomson fights Benson Henderson Saturday night in the main event of UFC on FOX 10, with a UFC lightweight title shot on the line.
Fighting out of the American Kickboxing Academy since the late 1990s, Thomson was one of the big UFC lightweight stars, before they dropped the division. That was in 2004. He ended up in Strikeforce, where he beat Gil Melendez to take the promotion's title, before losing it in a rematch.
Thomson has gone through three generations at AKA, from founding fighters like to Frank Shamrock and BJ Penn to the next generation of Mike Swick, Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck, through until today. Unfortunately, the camp this year was challenging.
Thomson reflects with Dave Meltzer for USA TODAY Sports has the story.
It's not that AKA is depleted of quality talent, but a unique series of circumstances happened all at the same time. Gray Maynard was knocked out by Nate Diaz on Nov. 30, and has taken time off. Tyson Griffin is out with neck surgery. And with the holidays, a lot of his regular partners who came from all parts of the world, went back to those parts. Khabib Nurmagomedov returned to Russia, Noad Lahat went back to Israel, and Thomas Diagne to France.
He was first booked to face champion Anthony Pettis on Dec. 14 in Sacramento, Calif., a title shot close to home turf. The fight was canceled when Pettis opted for surgery due to a torn meniscus.
His trainer, Javier Mendez, noted right away even though Pettis beat Henderson (19-3) to win the title, he believed Henderson would be a more difficult opponent because of the lack of holes in his game.
"They both kick a lot," noted Thomson. "Benson puts a lot more emphasis on wrestling. Pettis tries to stay long. Benson jumps in with punches and kicks. Pettis tries to stay on the outside with kicks to make it hard to reach him. It's a way different fight. Eventually, you have to fight both of them anyway. After I beat Benson, I plan on fighting Pettis. Benson wrestles more. I'm expecting him to try to wrestle me to death."
"The fight is going to be fought everywhere. I think he's going to try and wrestle me a lot. I have to keep the distance and push the pace, get right in his grill, get in the range where I can land my stuff and take him down as well."
But even as he's outlived his contemporaries when it comes to still being a leading contender, and he knows what's at stake, he's not feeling the pressure.
"I don't feel a sense of urgency," he said. "But if I lose this fight, I don't think they'll be giving me a title shot, even if I win my next one or two fights. I really need to win this fight."
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