Josh Thomson's social media blew up during and after Bellator 145 last month. Fans were tagging him in posts telling him how much they wanted to see him fight one of the lightweight stars on the card.
"I'm not targeting anybody," Thomson told MMA Fighting. "What really it is, is that I've already been a world champion, so fighting for titles, yeah sure it's exciting. There's a lot of eyeballs on it. But nobody really wants to see me fight Will Brooks. I haven't had anybody on my social media ask me to fight Will. Everybody is asking me to fight Chandler. Chandler, to me, is the name right now. Chandler is the man right now in Bellator as far as the hype around him. I respect him a lot and I think that's a huge fight."
At Bellator 145 on Nov. 6, Chandler finished David Rickels by second-round TKO. He's a former Bellator lightweight champion, but also has two losses to Brooks on his record. Brooks, who retained his title against Marcin Held at Bellator 145 by unanimous decision, has won eight straight.
Thomson, 37, said he is in the stage of his career where belts don't really matter. His main focus is the biggest possible fights and the ones that the fans are most excited in seeing.
"I haven't really seen enough of Will Brooks and I'm not trying to slight him or disrespect him at all," Thomson said. "But I've already been a world champion, I've already done what I've needed to do in the sport. I'm looking to do the things that fans want to see. Fans want to see me and Chandler. All I saw after that St. Louis card on my social media, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: 'Man, I can't wait to see Josh Thomson and Michael Chandler.' Maybe only one or two people said Will Brooks. It's nothing against him. I'm just speaking about what the fans have said."
Thomson (21-8) has work to do before a fight with either Chandler or Brooks. He meets Pablo Villaseca in the main event of Bellator 147 on Friday night in his hometown of San Jose. Villaseca (10-1) is unheralded, especially when you consider Thomson has been one of the best lightweights on Earth over the past decade.
The way Thomson sees it, though, is that this is his opportunity to get acquainted with Bellator fans after a two-year run in the UFC (his second) and six years in Strikeforce.
"Not all of Bellator fans watch the UFC," Thomson said. "So you're going to have to find new people that have never seen me fight. you're gonna find some of the new Bellator fans or old Bellator fans, sometimes they tune into the UFC and sometimes they don't. I mean, there's a show every week. Not everybody watches the UFC anymore. It's like, 'Oh, I can just watch the one next week.'"
Thomson will go into the fight with Villaseca, much like he did in his Bellator debut against Mike Bronzoulis, as a sizable favorite. The promotion obviously has a plan for him, to build him up with massive fights ahead. But for those plans to come to fruition, Thomson needs to win against opponents with very little to lose. Just par for the course, he said.
"There's been pressure on me for the longest time," Thomson said. "It doesn't matter what organization I fight in. There was more pressure on me in the UFC. Everyone wanted to try and make a name off me when I left Strikeforce and went to the UFC. That's why they tried to give me Nate Diaz, who just came off of a title shot."
If he can beat Villaseca, Thomson wants to fight again before the end of February and then again before the end of May. He has a plan in place himself. And that plan seems to include Chandler.
"There's a lot of fights in Bellator that I've been getting a lot of requests for on social media and from fans," Thomson said. "Obviously, there's a lot of hype out there right now about the Chandler fight. So I'd like to try and get one more fight in after this one and then possible Chandler. Or maybe just Chandler next. We'll see."