Wonderboy on modesty, integrity, courtesy, and self control
Cal Cooper recently interviewed UFC welterweight Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thompson. The karate-based fighter literally grew up in a dojo, and holds a record of 11-1 in professional MMA, and 20-0 in professional kickboxing, and was undefeated in amateur kickboxing. He is currently on a five-fight win streak in a ferociously-deep division.
And above all, he is a martial artist.
Cal Cooper: You've consistently delivered highlight reel performances in the UFC, but you still don't seem to get much national MMA press. Have you considered why that might be?
Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thompson: You know, I don't really think about it, honestly. There was a lot of hype going into the UFC because I was undefeated in kickboxing, my brother-in-law is Carlos Machado, I've got a family of fighters, so to speak. There was a lot of interest going into my first fight in the UFC, and after winning that it just all blew up. After that, when I was defeated my Matt Brown, it just all disappeared, and after that it never picked back up. I got a little press after my last fight for winning performance of the night and knockout of the night.
CC: You and your whole family are conservative, . . humble, .. traditional martial artists.
WB: Yes, Sir. When little kids and their parents see me on TV, I want parents to say, 'I want my son to be like THAT guy'. I know what martial arts did for me, teaching me modesty, integrity, courtesy, self control. I want to show them that indomitable spirit. I'll always be a martial artist first.
CC: I've noticed something interesting about your MMA career. Your striking ability is a known quantity. Your kickboxing record was 57-0. You're well known as the guy George St. Pierre call 'the greatest striker I've ever seen'. Yet every opponent you've had in MMA wants to show they can stand with you. And it always works in your favor. It seems confounding. Even the managers and coaches of your opponents have commented on this. Is it something about your style that lulls opponents into a false sense of security, or is there some other explanation?
WB: I think my style puts my opponent into, almost like a trance. Like a snake moving side to side. It's really difficult to explain the feeling of getting into a cage, the Octagon, with somebody. You don't know what they're going to do next. I grew up with high-level kickboxers. My sister was one of them. I've been in the ring and felt hopeless with her. I didn't know what she was about to throw just because of the way she moved. A lot of that has to do with the distance. Distance management. We're really big on that here at Upstate Karate and Team Pitch Black. Keeping a greater distance from our opponent than most guys in the UFC. In doing that it makes our opponent feel a little more comfortable, as if we can't hit them, . . but we can. And it makes it a little bit different to shoot in for my leg, and of course my wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu have improved tremendously. I wouldn't say I'm the best at it, but I'm improving every day, as you saw when I fought Jake Ellenberger and Patrick Cote.
CC: What made you believe you could be successful on the same level in MMA as you were in kickboxing, which is a very different sport?
WB: I was training welterweight champion George St. Pierre. I actually fought one of his guys in Montreal. George was in my opponents corner, and I knocked the guy out in the fifth round, and after that they invited me to come up and train and be part of George's camps. I actually went up and spent a lot of time. I was up there for several camps, including the Joe Lauzon and Jon Fitch fights. That's how I met Nate Marquart and Rashad Evans. I was training with all of these champions before I got into MMA and I thought why not switch it up? Kickboxing was going downhill. It had its heyday in the late 70's, early 80's and then it just kind of went downhill, and MMA was coming up. I didn't want to be the best kickboxer, I wanted to be the best fighter, and to do that I had to switch to MMA. You know, in my first MMA fight I had very little wrestling, very little Jiu-Jitsu. It was before I had my wrestling coach and before Carlos was working with me a lot. I still consider myself fairly green in those areas, and I'm just trying to catch up.
CC: Did you have the chance to work on grappling with all of those champs you were training? Could you get a feel for the level of skill you'd have to achieve?
WB: Oh yes, definitely. At that time the only guys I was really training with were champions and I was doing pretty well. In training those guys, I hadn't been doing MMA, but I had to modify my striking for it. Every time I would do something I was used to doing for kickboxing, I would end up on my back or my butt. George would just take me down, take me down, so I had to gear myself to MMA in order to be a good training partner for George. Because his opponent isn't going to come in there standing straight up like a kickboxer, they're going to be ready for the takedown. So I modified for it and I started to get fairly good at it and I thought, you know I can take a crack at MMA.
CC: You've been training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with your brother-in-law Carlos Machado for 14 years, on and off. I'm sure you've had the opportunity to train with many world class BJJ monsters. Everyone regards you as a striking phenom. Have you had a chance to roll with real Jiu-Jitsu phenoms?
WB: Oh, YEAH. You know Carlos is the oldest brother. I get to spend a lot of time rolling with him. He's in his 50's and he just toys with me. I got to roll with all of them. Rigan, John, and Roger, but I haven't ever got to roll with Jean-Jacques. He spends most of his time in California. I spent time in California with Rigan when I was training up at Blackhouse, and I got to spar with Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida and that was a really cool experience.
CC: Recently, Connor McGregor claimed he's negotiating a 9-figure deal with the UFC. He has achieved huge notoriety largely through force of personality. You could be described as the opposite kind of fighter. The “speak softly and carry a big stick” kind of fighter. How do you feel about the state of MMA, particularly the UFC, where you have to have that kind of personality, and that kind of speaking ability to get attention, rather than just pure fighting ability, which you have in spades?
WB: I think it's okay, to be honest with you. Connor McGregor is doing very well. He's a great fighter and a very smart guy. I don't think he was that way when he was first in the UFC. He kind of changed some things around and now he's making more money than probably anyone else in the UFC, except maybe Ronda. He's got the gift of gab, man. That's just his ability. We all have different abilities besides just fighting. That's just not me. I like to touch people's hearts in a different way. To be honest with you I'm okay with it. I hope Connor does get that hundred million dollar contract, because that just shows that the UFC is doing bigger and better things and maybe some of that will filter down and we'll all start making more money in the UFC.
CC: You recently had surgery. Tell us about that and your recovery.
WB: Well, I had knee surgery three weeks ago. A torn meniscus in my left knee. It was my fourth surgery on this knee. After I hit Jake Ellenberger with that second spin-hook kick I thought I broke my foot. I went numb and I couldn't stand on it. I was compensating , putting more weight on my left leg and I ended up falling and tearing my meniscus, which was actually an old injury that had been repaired. It just kinda came loose. So they went in with an arthroscopic procedure and cut it out. I have a few physical therapy sessions left, but I'm back into training, I'm feeling good, and right now I'm about to go to a training camp to help Chris Lytle prepare for Luke Rockhold. The fight is on December 12. I don't have a fight on the card, but the plan is to get back in shape in case someone falls out I can jump in, and if not you'll see me back in January.
CC: Your last fight was headlining a UFC Fight Night card. Once again you dismantled an opponent who pundits said would be a more serious challenge for you. What kind of fight are you hoping for next?
WB: I'm hoping for a top seven guy, but a lot of them already have fights. After I beat Jake Ellenberger, I was ranked at number nine right below Tarec Saffiedine. Well, I ended up getting injured and I know he's been out for a while, so I think they bumped him to number nine and put me at number eight. Neither of us have a fight scheduled, and I think this one would be a very exciting fight for the fans. He's known for his standup Muay Thai and I think he just got his black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He's willing to go out there and stand and bang and I think we could put on a great show.
CC: You've been competing in MMA for less than six years. You're ranked the number 8 welterweight in the UFC, and you're methodically working your way towards a title shot. If that title shot came today, would you feel like you're ready?
WB: You know what? If I were called for a title shot right now, ready or not, I would take it. What kind of chances do you get? You never know what could happen. You could be the number one contender or you could be ranked number 30, and you could still possibly win. I would definitely say 'Yes'. I've improved tremendously for the short time that I've had in the cage. I had my first MMA fight n 2010. I was still very green, but when the UFC calls it's something you don't pass up. I would be like, “Bring it on!”
CC: Your overall combat sports record is 68-1. Your only loss is to Matt Brown. He was probably the first real experienced MMA contender you faced. He simply out-pointed you and won the decision. Matt is coming of losses to Hendricks and Lawler followed by a win over Tim Means, who is not a top ten fighter. In the past, you said you'd like to fight Matt again. With your star on the rise, do you still want that fight back?
WB: Yep. It's nothing that I sit around and obsess over. You know, when it first happened, I really wanted a rematch because he was my only loss. I wanted to really mix it up with him again. But right now, if I fight him or not, my goal is to win that title and that's what I'm focused on. If I do meet him again I think it would be a good one.
CC: I think you're a very different fighter than you were then.
WB: Yeah, I think this time I would knock him out.