Examining Stephen Thompson's Wonderful Adaptations

Wonderboy’s knockout of Robert Whittaker showed some really smart adjustments being made. Let’s take a look at the short fight.

First, please don’t look at his fucking hand position and assume he’s easy to hit. There’s so much more going on with his defense. What Thomspon knew going into this fight is that Whittaker likes to jab. As a result, his entire game plan was initially based on countering that jab and winning with kicks at range. At the start, he attempted to counter by pulling back (defending via control of distance) then charging forward with straight punches.

Here, this strategy is seen clearly. Backed against the fence, Wonderboy needs to reestablish his positioning in the cage. Despite being cornered, he still understands range well enough to avoid the jab by pulling just slightly back. He immediately tries to run forward with his right hand, but misses as Whittaker pulls back himself. Square as he is, he runs into a jab and gets knocked off course, causing his second right hand to also miss while Whittaker steps out. Similar exchanges are sprinked throughout the fight, with Whittaker doing a decent job defending. As a result, Wonderboy needs to try something new.

Here, Wonderboy sets a nice trap with his footwork. Sorry that you can’t see the feet, so use the background as a reference to see the movement. Thompson stands right in front of Whittaker in the first frame, and then lures him in.

Note that Wonderboy has taken a full step backwards, causing Whittaker to naturally follow him by stepping forward. As soon as he does, Thompson leaps in with an up jab as he intends to stand Whittaker up into the follow up overhand right. That jab is awkwardly parried and the overhand lands but is still partially deflected and not very clean. It’s a great adjustment by Thompson as he attempts to negate Whittaker’s ability to lean back by forcing him to walk into strikes, and attempts to punish him for straightening his legs with the downward arcing right hand.

However, the problem is that Wonderboy still can’t land clean enough punches to really hurt Whittaker. He decides to take the initiative and try to catch Whittaker with his own combination.

Wonderboy starts off with another up jab, then tries to come in behind a right to the body. Whittaker looks to counter with a left hook, but it only lands with the forearm on the neck as Wonderboy lands an awkward straight left. Whittaker uses that lead hand to get his shoulder in the way of the right hand that follows and pivots out. Again, even though Wonderboy is making contact, it’s not with good shots and it’s not with the right hand that he wants to land. Throughout the fight, Whittaker is able to use a variety of methods to defend that right:

In the above set of images, you can see that Whittaker almost always defends with his lead shoulder or arm obstructing and deflecting the right hand. Otherwise, he simply pulls out of range and lets it sail by. Wonderboy needs a way to get past the shoulder, while staying close enough to land his punches.

He knows he needs to be in range, so instead of leaning away from the jab he decides to parry it and counter with his own jab. Notice that Thompson is in range to counter while Whittaker’s shoulder is momentarily out of position. Wonderboy doesn’t capitalize yet though. He decides to pull back when Whittaker throws another jab, but the very next sequence essentially ends the fight.

As the jab comes, Wonderboy again parries it. This time though, his own counter is a slapping left hook. As is seen in the third frame, this hook serves to square Whittaker’s shoulders by making him rotate the rear shoulder forward in order to block. At the same time, the hook loads Thompson’s straight right which proceeds to crash into Whittaker’s skull and drop him. The finish then consists of a little clinch work and a lot of straight punches until Whittaker goes down for good. Check out the gif of the knockdown for a better angle:

Notice how he is able to get Whittaker square and standing tall so that the right hand has a clear path and does damage while it lands. Thompson, with his very unique footwork, switches to southpaw and retreats at an angle to avoid any potential counters before he realizes his success and goes for the kill.

The amazing part of this fight is watching Wonderboy learn and improve as it goes on. He took control of the fight, figured out how to take away Whittaker’s main weapon and simultaneously get past his main defense to end the fight. Absolutely Wonderful!

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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