In all the public jostling going on at the top of the welterweight division -- both from the champion, and the contenders -- it looks like Stephen Thompson has emerged as the top candidate to face Tyron Woodley in his first title defense.
Though nothing is official, according to UFC president Dana White, "Wonderboy" Thompson will get the first crack at Woodley's belt. If the fight happens, it would go against Woodley's own requests for a fight against either Georges St-Pierre or Nick Diaz, the latter who is coming off of an 18-month suspension as of Aug. 1.
White told UFC.com that after UFC 202, when Nate Diaz fights Conor McGregor at 170 pounds, McGregor will go back to featherweight to defend his title there, and Nick Diaz won't be thrust to the front of the line.
"I fully expect Conor to come back and defend his 145-pound title," White said. "I think that Nate [Diaz] feels his brother should have the fight at 170, but Nick is not going to come back and fight for the title right away.
"There are other guys deserving of a title shot. Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson is going to fight for the 170-pound title and then we’ll see what happens with Nick and Nate."
After knocking out Robbie Lawler to win the 170-pound title at UFC 201 on July 30, Woodley called out St-Pierre, who is in contract talks to come out of retirement with the UFC, and Diaz, who hasn't fought since a UFC 183 loss against Anderson Silva (later rendered a "no contest" by the Nevada Athletic Commission when it was learned that Silva popped for banned substances).
The fighter he wasn't interested in was Thompson, who has won seven fights in a row in the division and is considered the No. 1 contender.
In explaining himself during an appearance on The MMA Hour days after the fight, Woodley explained why he preferred Diaz or St-Pierre ahead of Thompson.
"Right now I'm the UFC welterweight champion of the world," he said. "People can say I'm the best in the world, but I've fought Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz is not a retired fighter. So, why not compete against Nick Diaz, who is definitely a top-five (fighter)? I feel like his brother is finally cashing in on that big payday, but I do believe Nick Diaz has brought enough attention to the sport, raised enough eyebrows, put enough butts in the seats, sold enough pay-per-view buys. Maybe he deserves -- since we're using this world ‘deserves' so much -- maybe he deserves to cash out.
"Secondly, Georges St-Pierre is the best of all-time. I can say I'm better than Georges, but I've not competed against him so I can't really make that bold statement. If Georges St-Pierre decides that he wants to come back and he's interested in fighting me, which he is, that's going to be my No. 1 pick.
"But in hindsight I would like to fight both of them. I would like to prepare myself, get through Georges St-Pierre, shock the world once again, they say that I'm the best in the world, and then after that I would like to fight Nick Diaz as well. Because (after) those two fights, nobody can ever say I'm not one of the best welterweights on the planet Earth. If I knock out Robbie Lawler -- who was the goliath of the weight division, everybody was thinking he was so invincible and unbeatable -- and if I knock out GSP and Nick Diaz, I pretty much cemented myself in the UFC Hall of Fame."
As for why Thompson shouldn't be considered, Woodley used "Wonderboy's" words against him.
"Wonderboy's words just bit him in the butt," Woodley said during the show. "I didn't put these words in his mouth. He said that Robbie Lawler would take this fight. He felt that the fans would want to watch Robbie Lawler fight against Stephen ‘Wonderboy' Thompson, that it would be a more exciting fight, that I would fade in the later rounds and he felt like Robbie Lawler was going to take it home.
"When he makes those statements, and you're not the pay-per-view buy, you're not the money fight, you're not the (guy who) people are going to be jumping off the wall buying pay-per-views to watch Stephen ‘Wonderboy' fight -- not to say in his career that won't happen, he's an exceptional fighter, he's beaten two phenomenal athletes back-to-back -- but when he said those words out of his mouth, he wrote a check his ass couldn't cash. So now he'll get his chance to fight Robbie Lawler and I'll go out and I'll prove I'm the very, very best in the world by fighting the Hall of Famers."