Stephen Thompson's spectacular first round TKO of former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks earlier this year solidified him as a top contender in the UFC's 170-pound division. With current champ Robbie Lawler not booked for a fight at the time, it seemed like Lawler vs. Thompson would be a perfect matchup for the summer, possibly even at UFC 200. But the UFC had other plans for the rising star.
Wonderboy was shortly thereafter booked to fight former title challenger Rory MacDonald in the main event of UFC Fight Night 89 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada -- a disappointment for Thompson, at the time.
"I was a little bit surprised," Thompson told BloodyElbow.com's The MMA Circus. "I was kind of bummed about it. Rory MacDonald had fought for it in July, and it's almost like they're kind of giving him a second crack at it, I guess. But he's the No. 1 contender, he's the only guy standing in my way, above me in the rankings. And if the UFC wants me to fight one more time, I'll do it. What better guy to face off against? Not only is he a friend, but a phenomenal martial artist. So I'm training really hard to get up there and put on a show for everybody June 18th."
Even with Georges St-Pierre possibly returning and Carlos Condit wanting the Lawler rematch, Thompson is confident he'll get the winner of Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley (UFC 201) for the welterweight strap with a win over MacDonald. And if he doesn't, let's just say, it wouldn't be pretty.
"Oh no man, they have to give it to me," he said. "I'm demanding it after this fight. I never want to look past anybody, I know it could be a possibility, it could be around the corner, that title shot. But like I said, I try not to look past anybody. I got one guy I'm focused on, and I just gotta make sure I get past him before I even start thinking about that. Sometimes you get guys, they don't worry about the guys standing in front of them at that moment. Just gotta stay focused, baby. Good training partners, my family around me to keep me focused and positive, it definitely helps."
Although MacDonald vs. Thompson, stylistically, is one of the best 170-pound fights the UFC matchmakers can put together right now, it is a somewhat odd pairing because the two fighters have trained together in the past. But Thompson isn't against fighting the former training partner because, at the end of the day, it's a business and he understands fighting friends is something fighters sometimes have to do. Thompson didn't initially have an issue with the matchup because he's trained with MacDonald, but simply because he wasn't signing a contract to fight for UFC gold.
"Well actually, it was years ago [that I trained with MacDonald], to be honest with you," he said. "At the time, I wasn't even doing MMA when I was up there at Tri-Star. I was just there specifically for Georges St-Pierre as a sparring partner. Me and Rory were in classes together, but we never actually did any sparring together. We did wrestling drills, things like that. And at the time, I was actually still learning the ground game. So it's been awhile.
"I wasn't really upset that the fact they were putting me up against Rory, it was just the fact they weren't giving me the title shot at the time. We do have a good relationship, me and the guys at Tri-Star. Love those guys. Firas Zahabi, Aiemann, Georges, Rory MacDonald. We've fought on the same cards and whenever we do that, we see each other and like to sit and chat. We've been on a few media tours together.
"We kind of understand at this level of the game when you work your way up to the top there's a possibility you may be facing somebody you've trained with before. And we both understand that it's business. We were friends before, we're gonna be friends after. And that's what makes it so exciting, as well. We have trained together, we know each other fairly well, so it's going to be exciting to see what kind of Rory I'll be facing."