Say whatever you want about Stephen Thompson, but he clearly isn't a man who prefers the easy road.
Thompson not only called for his shot at the UFC welterweight title after capturing a unanimous decision over Rory MacDonald at UFC Fight Night 89, but he also made it clear that he would rather face the incumbent champion, Robbie Lawler, rather than challenger Tyron Woodley after the two American Top Team teammates meet with the belt on the line at UFC 201.
"I would rather fight Robbie Lawler, and I think Robbie Lawler is going to win it," Thompson said at the post-fight press conference. "He's stayed active. Tyron Woodley hasn't. Maybe there is a little bit of cage rust in there. Tyron's been known to slow down later on in the rounds, and Robbie Lawler, he gets stronger as the rounds go on. So, I see Robbie Lawler winning that fight and I would love to fight him, hopefully in New York City (at UFC 205)."
While the UFC has yet to make an official announcement on the matter, Thompson is all but assumed to be the No. 1 welterweight contender after outclassing MacDonald for five rounds in enemy territory on Saturday night. The dominant performance pushed Thompson's win streak to seven straight, and added another name to a hit-list that already included breathtaking wins over former UFC champion Johny Hendricks, Jake Ellenberger, and Robert Whittaker.
The victory over MacDonald may not have been as flashy as past "Wonderboy" outings, but it was every bit as impressive. Thompson shut down MacDonald's game with his mastery of distance, peppered the young Canadian with kicks and punches from the outside, and ultimately re-broke the nose that basically exploded in MacDonald's fight against Lawler. In the end, two of the three judges scored the bout a clean sweep for Thompson, 50-45.
"I expected to go out there and really use my movement to try and land some strikes," Thompson said. "But as soon as I went out there in the middle, met him in the middle in the first round, as soon as he got into his stance, I know something was different. So I had to switch it up a little bit. I had to keep him on the outside.
"I just felt that he was going to be shooting for my legs, and what really surprised me was the flying heel hook he was going for. So after a few on those, I was like, man, I can't rush in like I want, so I had to stay back and just try and use my strikes and counterstrikes and my side kicks to try and keep him at bay."
Following the win, Thompson indicated that a title shot is the only fight he expects to be offered next by the UFC, and that he wouldn't settle for anything less.
"I was expecting it after the Hendricks fight," Thompson said. "But it kind of stinks that I had to face Rory tonight, just because he's a friend. But sometimes you've got to do it. Hopefully yeah, man, after this fight (it happens). I mean, I've finished Jake Ellenberger in the first round, Johny Hendricks in the first round, and one of the toughest fights I've ever had was with this guy right here to the right of me (MacDonald). So, I want that title shot, baby."