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If next title shot isn’t in the cards, Stephen Thompson eyes fights with Colby Covington, Nate Diaz

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Stephen Thompson believes he deserves the next title shot. If that isn’t in the cards, he wants a big name, or a fight with somebody above him in the rankings.

Thompson is hoping to return in the spring following his unanimous decision win over Geoff Neal at UFC Vegas 19. Prior to that victory, “Wonderboy” also earned a decision win over the surging Vicente Luque at UFC 244.

Now that he’s taken out some of the welterweight division’s top prospects, Thompson is looking ahead, not behind, should a title shot with Kamaru Usman not come to fruition.

“My last three, four fights have been with guys that are ranked behind me,” Thompson told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “I want to get a fight with somebody ranked above me, or with a guy with a name big enough to help get me [to a title shot]. Obviously, anybody in the top-five would be good for me if they were willing to do it.”

With Usman recently defending his title successfully against Gilbert Burns at UFC 258, and subsequently calling out Jorge Masvidal for a rematch from their UFC 251 matchup, the title picture is unclear at the moment. Thompson believes his resume has earned him a third shot at the title, especially since there may be some issues in getting the fight between Usman and Masvidal agreed upon, as the champ recently stated on social media this past week.

If the UFC goes with the Usman-Masvidal rematch, or a different direction altogether, Thompson has his list of competitors he’s hoping to share the octagon with, including a potentially returning fan-favorite.

Colby Covington, Burns, maybe Leon Edwards if there’s another falling out—I don’t know what could happen between now and then,” Thompson said.

“Even Nate Diaz. He said he wants to come back in April or May and that’s my timeframe as well. That’s a guy with a name and I think he’s an OG, man. That makes sense for me. But for somebody that’s ranked behind me, even though Chiesa is right there, give me someone that’s ranked above me. For the past two years, I’ve been fighting guys ranked behind me.

“Hopefully they’re not trying to make me a gatekeeper and I think I deserve somebody ranked ahead of me. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, man. I’m still trying to get that Usman fight for the title, but if it doesn’t happen, give me Nate Diaz or somebody ranked above me. Give me the ‘NMF,’ give me Colby Covington.”

Thompson has had two chances to fight for the welterweight title in November 2016 and March 2017 against Tyron Woodley—fighting to a draw at UFC 205 and losing a majority decision at UFC 209. Although he was surging, the now 38-year-old had a long road to his first championship opportunity when it seemed to be right there following his first-round knockout of former champion Johnny Hendricks in February 2016.

He would then go on to face Rory MacDonald four months later and earned a unanimous decision in what would be MacDonald’s final UFC appearance.

Five years later, Thompson sees glaring differences between the road to a title shot then compared to the modern days of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

“At this point, the more that you talk—even if you’re in the top six, eight, 10—could definitely win you a title fight,” Thompson said. “You saw Masvidal do it, he went to where Usman was [at the Super Bowl] and started talking trash. It made that fight happen. Back when I [got there the first time], and it wasn’t that long ago, you actually had to work your behind off to get there. You had to show it in your fights.

“I went through murderer’s row to get to that title. After fighting Hendricks I figured I would be up next, but they were like, ‘No, you have to fight the No. 1 contender now.’ And now you can just jump over that by getting fans behind you. That’s the big difference there, I believe, [and it happened] in just a short amount of time.”