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Stephen Thompson: Rafael dos Anjos needs to fight me for No. 1 contender’s spot

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

With a convincing five-round unanimous decision win over Robbie Lawler in the main event of UFC on FOX 26, Rafael dos Anjos put himself in prime position to be the next challenger for Tyron Woodley’s welterweight title.

The champ is currently on the sidelines after undergoing shoulder surgery, and while dos Anjos may be willing to wait for his return, another 170-pound star believes that dos Anjos still has work to do before being considered the No. 1 .

Immediately after the fight, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson congratulated both men on the performance and then proposed a matchup with dos Anjos:

Thompson currently sits atop the UFC’s official rankings, though his chances of getting a title shot are hindered by the fact that he’s already twice battled Woodley for the belt. In their first meeting last November, the two fought to a majority draw; they met again the following March, but the second encounter was light on action and Woodley again walked out with the belt, this time via majority decision.

A win over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 217 put Thompson back in the win column, but also left him with lingering injuries to his hands. He spoke to MMA Fighting about the dos Anjos callout and why he feels the Brazilian should have to go through him to get to Woodley.

“After my last fight with Woodley, I ended up hurting my knee so I was out for almost six months. I ended up hurting my thumbs in my last fight. I’m trying not to stay out for too long,” said Thompson. “I know if I wait on that fight, it could be almost a year depending on the recovery of Tyron. So I wouldn’t want to wait that long, if possible. I know (dos Anjos is) wanting to wait for that Tyron fight.

“I’m still ranked No. 1, he’s No. 2 right now, so I think it would be an awesome fight. I know there are people out there saying they don’t want to see Thompson-Woodley 3. Of course, the last fight with Tyron wasn’t too exciting, but the one before that I thought it was pretty intense and very exciting, we got Fight of the Night, I remember that. I’m just trying not to wait out too long. My goal is RDA and hopefully we’ll get that, somebody in the top-5 would be legit, but I want to hold on to that No. 1 spot. The guy that’s ranked No. 2 is wanting that title shot, for me coming up in the ranks I had to beat the No. 1 in order to get that title shot, which was Rory MacDonald at the time.”

Thompson expects to be back by March, so long as there are no further complications from his injured thumbs. The possibility of surgery was raised to the 34-year-old fighter, but that would have meant putting pins in his hands that would have limited his ability to make a fist, so he’s planning to put off any serious procedures until his career is over.

Once he’s healthy, Thompson is open to fighting dos Anjos anywhere even if it means traveling to enemy territory in Brazil, a country that Thompson has never fought in. What he’s not necessarily willing to do is accept a fight with just anyone on the fringes of title contention.

“I wanted Robbie Lawler, we were both kind of going back and forth for that No. 1 spot, like he was No. 1, we both were No. 1, then I was No. 1,” said Thompson. “If he would have won that fight with RDA, I think he would have jumped back up to No. 1, so I wanted that fight to begin with just to solidify that I’m No. 1 because we were going back and forth. RDA ended up pulling out the win and if I’m not getting Robbie, why not get the guy that beat him?

“And I know Darren Till has called me out, but I remember coming up in this welterweight division and I went through a murderer’s row to get where I’m at. You had Darren Till beat Donald Cerrone, who his last two fights before him he got knocked out by Masvidal and lost to Robbie Lawler. He beats one guy and now he’s ready to fight the No. 1 guy? It kind of doesn’t make sense to me. I went back and fought the No. 4 guy, they want me to go back even farther and fight the No. 7 or No. 8, I don’t know what he’s ranked right now. Especially in London, in his hometown. It just doesn’t make sense for me in my career, so I’m sticking to my guns and hopefully we can get that RDA fight if we can. That’s the plan.”

Outside of the loss to Woodley, Thompson is unbeaten in his last 10 outings and he’d like to see dos Anjos pick up at least one more impressive victory before taking his spot in line. Prior to beating Lawler, dos Anjos’s welterweight wins came gainst Neil Magny and Tarec Saffiedine, two fighters that Thompson doesn’t see as the “best guys” in the top-10.

He also questioned whether the former lightweight champion can conquer a heavier division, especially since dos Anjos couldn’t put away what looked to be an injured Lawler.

“Seeing (Lawler), it was kind of obvious that he wasn’t 100-percent those last three rounds with that knee injury, so I figured RDA would really pick up the pace and try and finish him,” said Thompson. “But he didn’t, he just kind of tried to outpoint him with shots, so he didn’t really impress me then to get that title shot.

“He’s doing well in the 170 division. Do I think he can beat the champ? No, I don’t think so. I still think he’s kind of a smaller 170 and he’ll have a hard time taking (Woodley) down, because I know RDA he uses his grappling, his wrestling a lot when he fights and Tyron is just a monster. He’s very, very strong, very explosive. In my eyes, I think he should fight the No. 1 guy before he steps up to that title shot just to be sure he’s ready for it.”

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