I’ve always had mixed emotions whenever I watch Stephen Thompson fight. Both hands down to his waist, awkward Karate stance that opens him up to hard shots to the leg and body, seemingly powerless side kicks to punctuate a combo — all of that makes me cringe and be in utter awe at the same time.
‘Wonderboy’ had played this dangerous game throughout his MMA career, and mad props to him for making it work amazingly. But if you happen to be wondering how this avant-garde, rule-defying fighting style translates under pure striking rules, wonder no more.
For this week, we’re looking back at Wonderboy’s very first professional fight, a kickboxing match against Eli “The Byrd” Thompson in 2002. This was a contest that pre-dated his pro-MMA debut by eight years.
There isn’t much readily available info on Eli, but clues point to him being a fellow Karate fighter. It definitely showed in how he employed the same unconventional sideways stance.
The advantage, however, was evidently on Wonderboy’s side. He controlled the ring better, connected with crisper counters, and like he always did, landed a thudding kick off the break.
The story was a bit different in the second round, with Wonderboy backing up towards the ropes more. But around this time, Eli was also beginning to be noticeably fatigued.
Wonderboy capitalized by lighting him up with a masterful combination of hard jabs, head kicks, and a squeaky clean overhand right as the finisher. Eli fell to the canvas and remained on his back, refusing to get up as the referee waved the fight off.
On Saturday, Wonderboy is back in the mix against a top-five opponent when he goes against Gilbert Burns to co-headline UFC 264. We’re once again treated to the quintessential striker vs. Jiu-Jitsu guy pairing, so this should be a fun one.
In the meantime, here’s that classic Thompson vs. Thompson fight I was referring to. Your left ear should enjoy listening to the audio.