A decade after missing out on UFC title opportunity, Josh Thomson aims for it again

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Back in the days when UFC events went by goofy subtitles, Josh Thomson made his last appearance at "UFC 49: Unfinished Business." At the time, Thomson and his opponent Yves Edwards were considered to be frontrunners to fight for the lightweight title. Before the bout, there was talk that the belt, which was vacant at the time, would be put up for grabs. Instead, the company kept the title on ice. As a result, Thomson and Edwards ended up competing on the prelims.

Ever since then, Thomson's been fighting at least partly for respect. That snub, for example, has always stuck with Thomson, so much so that it gets mentioned in passing when the former Strikeforce champion talks about his future goals in the octagon. It was with that in mind that he stepped back into the cage at UFC on FOX 7 and knocked out Nate Diaz.

A full decade after Thomson made his debut in the UFC, he's back, he's still relevant, and he's still gunning for the title. Unfinished business, indeed.

"I don’t have anything to say. I don’t need to prove anything. I think my last fight kind of spoke for it," he said. "My days of trying to plead for notoriety are over. I don't care anymore. I want to fight Benson [Henderson], that’s the biggest thing. If I get a title shot, I could end my career and be done. I want to end my career with my title shot and that’s it. Just get ready for whatever happens."

To be clear, Thomson, who at 34 years old, is the elder statesmen of the division's top 10, is not openly pondering retirement. He doesn't think the game is passing him by, and no, he's not thinking about extending his career with testosterone replacement therapy.

It's just that he still wants to earn that opportunity that somehow escaped him back in 2004. It's just that he wants to measure himself against the best, and is intrigued by a matchup with Henderson, who he views to be like himself, a complete fighter who isn't necessarily great at any one thing, but very good at all of them.

If that means tunnel vision towards the rest of the division, so be it. Diaz objects to the stoppage? So what. Others have begun to call him out? Big deal. He's focused on what he wants.

"Do you think the lion turns around every time a little dog barks? No," he said. "I'm not really too concerned. I'm focused on one guy. I'm focused on Benson. That's it. I don't really care about anybody else. I told the UFC before I came over, 'Whoever you guys want me to fight so I can line up to fight Benson, that's who I want to fight. 'They threw me Nate, so I beat Nate, and hopefully somebody else is next."

That single-minded focus remains despite the fact that T.J. Grant was promised Henderson upon beating Thomson's American Kickboxing Academy teammate Gray Maynard.

"I understand," he said. "I'm not going to stop my pitch."

And why should he? For one, he's already waited a long time. Sure, he won gold in Strikeforce, but there he was always trying to plead his case as one of the world's best when many fans and observers saw the promotion as a step down from the UFC. In the UFC, he can prove his worth. Secondly, this isn't 2004; in the modern-day UFC where many fighters publicly chart their own routes to the top, Thomson's approach makes sense. The worst they can do, after all, is to say no. But in that case, he has a backup plan.

Prior to UFC 160, he said he was interested in fighting Donald Cerrone as long as Cerrone got past K.J. Noons, which he did. Afterward, Cerrone and White both told MMA Fighting they liked the idea of a Thomson-Cerrone bout.

Right now, Thomson is still recovering from a couple of injuries. He had surgeries on both his elbow (bone fragments) and knee (meniscus tear) about three weeks ago. He doesn't expect either to keep him out very long. That's a good thing because Henderson has fought at least three times during every full year of his pro career, and White indicated that Henderson-Grant would be on deck before the fall. That could mean that Thomson would need to turn around quickly and be ready for another fight that could get him position to fight the winner.

Could it be a fourth date with Melendez? Thomson said doesn't see any reason for another fight unless a title is on the line. Maybe it's Cerrone. Basically, whatever moves him towards that title is what he wants. After all, there is still unfinished business in front of him.

"It's just that one thing that has eluded me," he said. "And I want that. I'm hungry for it. I really feel I stamped my name with that Nate Diaz fight. I feel I'm maybe one fight away [from a title shot], or maybe even next. Who knows?"

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