Due to injury, former multi-time UFC welterweight title challenger Stephen Thompson hasn’t competed since scoring a clear unanimous decision victory over Vicente Luque at UFC 244 in November 2019, but he’s now set to make his return to action against rising contender Geoff Neal in the main event of a UFC Fight Night card on Dec. 19 in Las Vegas.
Given that he’s 37 years old and has lost three of his last five fights, this fight against Neal, a 30-year-old riding a seven-fight winning streak, is a pivotal one for Thompson. In addition, it’s one he sees as similar to his fight against Luque given that both Luque and Neal are younger contenders.
“There are some similarities, for sure,” Thompson told theScore’s Nick Baldwin of Neal and Luque. “Luque is ranked No. 10, and Neal is No. 11. But I wanted somebody in the top five, because it kind of almost seems like they’re trying to make me a gatekeeper – which I’m not. I’m definitely not. I definitely got more in me and want to go for the title. But there are some similarities. Both strikers, both ranked in the same spot, and both tough as nails. Hopefully I don’t break my hands on this guy’s head this time, or any serious injury, because I know he’s tough.”
“Wonderboy” certainly has a point when bringing up the topic of the UFC potentially seeing him as a gatekeeper. If Neal wins on Dec. 19, for example, he immediately emerges as a top contender to watch at 170 pounds. It could be argued, however, that a win for Stephen Thompson wouldn’t do much to change his current position in the division.
It’s for this reason that he was hoping to land a fight with a higher-ranked fighter, but at the end of the day, it seems as if the stylistic matchup against Neal excites him.
“At first, I wanted somebody in the top five, but either they were booked or just didn’t want to fight. It made sense. The guy’s tough. He’s on a five-fight winning streak (in the UFC). When I fought Luque, he was on a seven-fight winning streak. (Neal) is tough, he’s got knockout power, he’s a stand-up fighter. I think he’s been really working on his wrestling, so we’ll see where the fight goes. I’m prepared for wherever it goes.
“But it’s awesome knowing that he’s a striker. … He’s been knocking dudes out, man, and that’s what excites me: to test my ability in the stand-up striking against somebody like him. This matchup definitely puts a smile on my face.”
Regardless of what type of opponent he was looking for, “Wonderboy” ultimately accepted the fight. And with the event fast approaching, he appears to be focused on the task at hand, which is securing a win.
Should he end up securing that win, however, he’ll certainly shift his focus back to the top of the division and his title aspirations.
“I was trying to get a big name before this fight,” he said. “But just to get a fight this year, I’m excited about that. I took this fight, and with a good win over Neal, hopefully we’ll get somebody in the top five for my next fight. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.”