Stephen Thompson is a force to be reckoned with in the welterweight division. The 33-year-old karateka, who recently beat top contender and former title challenger Rory MacDonald at UFC Fight Night 89, has honed his grappling skills and developed into one of the most well-rounded fighters in the sport.
'Wonderboy' entered the UFC as a hot prospect glowing on the hardcore fans' radar, sporting an undefeated full-contact amateur kickboxing record of 37-0 and winning 20 professional fights straight. The South Carolinan talent impressed in his debut, KO'ing Dan Stittgen with a head kick at 4:13 in the first round and celebrating with an even flashier post-fight front flip.
However, his next fight against veteran Matt Brown saw him dragged into deep waters and overwhelmed by Brown's relentless pressure. The hype was dead and Thompson was just another failed prospect.
Determined to prove himself on MMA's mainstage, Thompson rebounded with an impressive four-fight win streak before challenging the likes of Jake Ellenberger and and Johny Hendricks. The BJJ purple belt dazzled against Ellenberger, KO'ing him with a spinning hook kick in the first round and carried the momentum into his fight with 'Big Rigg', outclassing and TKO'ing the former champion with a series of strikes.
After his latest win against 'The Red King', it's all but guarenteed that Thompson will face the winner of Robbie Lawler vs. Tyron Woodley at UFC 201.
Thompson believes 'Ruthless' will impose his will against Woodley in the later rounds and expects to face the MMA veteran for the belt later this year.
"Just from what I've seen in the past from both fighters, Robbie Lawler gets stronger as the fight goes on. He breaks a lot of guys mentally that way. When guys are starting to get tired, Robbie Lawler's just picking it up. Tyron's the opposite of that," Thompson told FOX Sports in a recent interview.
Despite Lawler's tenacity and iron will, Thompson believes he could be the second man to KO the American Top Team Fighter to take home the welterweight title.
"I believe I can (knock him out)," Thompson said. "I believed I could knock out Rory MacDonald, Johny Hendricks and Jake Ellenberger, and sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't, but I know I can knock these guys out. I know I can knock Robbie Lawler out. He's going to move forward and he's going to end up walking into something.
"I think I am the better striker. He's the type of guy that stands in front of you, he's very, very tough. I believe he's slower than Rory MacDonald. I believe I'm faster than him. The speed is going to be tough for him, and I think the angles are going to be tough for him. But he's a champion, he's going to be coming with his 'A' game. I need to be ready for the best Robbie Lawler in the world."
Lawler vs. Woodley will feature as the main event for UFC 201. The pay-per-view is expected to take place on July 30 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.