The Welterweight title picture developed into a clouded mess after UFC 195. Carlos Condit made it clear on one judge's scorecard that he was the new UFC Welterweight Champion. The other two judges disagreed, meaning that Robbie Lawler would keep his title for at least one more fight.
Immediately after the fight came whispers of a rematch, with both fighters in agreement that the fight was close and that a repeat would make sense. The biggest problem with this idea is that the UFC and the fans have grown tired of the rematch label and are looking for fresh faces and new blood to rise up the ranks and compete for the title.
Stephen Thompson did just that at UFC Fight Night Vegas with a first round knockout of former UFC Welterweight Champion Johny Hendricks. Thompson catapulted his name up the Welterweight rankings into a position that could very well get him the next title shot. His performance was both stunning and cerebral, the type that makes you wonder why he was the underdog in the first place (shades of Rousey/Holm and Barao/Dillashaw).
There isn't a fresher face in the division than Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson. Although Thompson is 32 years old, he has only been competing in Mixed Martial Arts for the past six years. With 13 fights on his resume, he is by far the least traveled top Welterweight. The average amount of fights for the current Top 5 of the division is 27.4 in comparison to Thompson's 13 fights.
Before Thompson's performance on Saturday night, the Welterweight division was log jammed at the top due to the repeated matchups and similar opponents that each fighter had faced. Lawler had already beaten Hendricks, Condit and MacDonald, but MacDonald had a win over Woodley, who had a win over Condit, who had a win against MacDonald and a loss against Hendricks. Woodley's claim to the next title shot was coming off of a split decision win against Kelvin Gastelum from over a year ago. There really wasn't a clear choice.
To save the confusion of deciding who the rightful candidate for the next title shot would be, Thompson did what no fighter has been able to do. Georges St-Pierre, Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit couldn't stop Hendricks, but Thompson did that inside of one round. It was a performance that we may look back on one day as the beginning of a championship campaign.
Fans are always looking for exciting championship fights between two guys that go for the knockout but are also the best in the world and deserve the position. At this point, there's nothing on Thompson's resume that would have anyone hesitate to give him a title shot. Four knockout wins in his past five fights, three Performance of the Night bonuses and a stoppage win over the #2 ranked fighter in the division.
Thompson shed his label as the kickboxing prodigy turned MMA hopeful when he beat Hendricks. Thompson showed that he can keep the fight standing, dodge the punches of a 1-punch knockout artist while picking him apart at range. Thompson grew on us overnight, making his transition from a boy to a man, and from a pretender to a contender in the UFC Welterweight division.