UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman took to Instagram recently to post a piece of fan art that displayed all of the opponents he’s vanquished during a long, undefeated run through the promotion.
The cemetery scene was littered with gravestones carrying the names of fighters Usman has already faced and defeated including Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal, Gilbert Burns and Leon Edwards. One name not featured on that grim look back at Usman’s dominant reign over the division was former two-time title contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson.
A constant threat at 170 pounds, Thompson is currently the highest-ranked fighter according to the UFC who hasn’t faced Usman yet and he’s hoping to change that by earning a title shot in his next bout against Burns on July 10.
“I’m the guy that hasn’t faced him yet,” Thompson said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “It feels like everyone in the top-10 has already fought him at some point in time. Leon Edwards has fought him in the past. Gilbert Burns has fought him. Colby Covington has fought him. He just knocked out Jorge Masvidal. Like who else is this guy going to fight? And then I think it was not too long ago he was talking about fighting Michael Chiesa and it’s like why wouldn’t it have been me?
“I think I’m a terrible matchup for him. I feel like that I’m the last man standing right now. A good win over Gilbert Burns, he’s going to have to face me.”
Throughout his career, Thompson has typically proven to be an impossibly difficult puzzle to solve even when he’s suffered losses in the past. He has only been taken down twice in his past 14 fights and thanks to his awkward karate based striking style, Thompson has given opponents constant headaches when they attempt to stand and trade with him.
While Thompson readily admits that Usman has proven himself to be a serious threat no matter where the fight takes place, he still feels like his style can give anyone problems — even the best welterweight on the planet.
“I think so,” Thompson responded when asked if he truly believed he was the toughest matchup for Usman. “Just because of the movement, our styles together. He’s a type of guy, he plods forward, he tries to get you to the cage but I feel like that was the old Kamaru. I still feel like I’m a bad matchup for him, especially if he wants to keep the fight standing, like he did against Masvidal who is one of the best strikers in the division. He knocked him out. I’ve got one of the best takedown defenses in our division as well. I can’t wait to step out there with him.
“Is he going to stand there and strike or is he going to go straight for wrestling? Whatever happens, I’m obviously going to be prepared for it but I think I’m the worst matchup for him.”
Just because Thompson’s got confidence enough to say he’d be a difficult style for Usman to figure out, that doesn’t mean he expects to just mow him down after 14 past opponents have tried and failed to do that very thing.
If anything, Thompson knows as many problems as he anticipates giving Usman in a potential fight, “The Nigerian Nightmare” could return the favor just as easily but that’s also part of the reason why he wants it to happen.
“This guy, he’s getting better every day,” Thompson said about Usman. “Normally all he did up and coming, he was wrestling guys, beating them up on the ground and now he’s knocking guys out. So you can tell his striking is getting better and better every fight. That’s just another optical I’m going to have to think about whenever I step out there and prepare for him. Not only does he have the wrestling, not only does he have the control and strength but now he’s got the striking. That’s what makes it fun for me. This is what I love.
“I love to break guys down, especially guys like Burns and Rory MacDonald that are very well rounded. For me it’s a chess match that I have to figure out in the gym but also I’ve got to be able to adapt to them in the octagon. That’s why I love this game. He’s the champ. He’s the guy that’s got the title and I’m not stopping until I face him.”
Before he can get to Usman and the title, “Wonderboy” first has to go through Burns and that’s no easy task by any means.
Prior to his own loss against Usman earlier this year, Burns had run roughshod over the welterweight division with four straight wins including dominant victories over Woodley and grappling sensation Demian Maia.
Burns even had Usman in trouble early after staggering the welterweight champion with a punch at UFC 258 but eventually he fell in the second round.
After coming so close then suffering a loss, Thompson expects Burns to come out with a whole new fire burning inside of him to get back to Usman and the welterweight title. In fact, Thompson actually wants Burns to look his absolute best on July 10 so that way a win over him will ultimately mean that much more.
“Gilbert Burns, his loss against [Usman], I know it got to him and that’s why I wanted this fight, too,” Thompson explained. “Because I know that I’m going to be facing the best Gilbert Burns. He wants that win back. He wants to come back and show the UFC that he’s better than that last fight. So I know when I step out there, I’m going to be facing off against a dangerous Gilbert Burns.
“His striking, he’s got the power, the ability to knock you out. The ability to take you down and not only that but he’s got crazy jiu-jitsu. That’s why I’m in this game. That’s why I’m excited about this because I’m going to be facing the best. I wouldn’t want anything less than what Gilbert Burns is going to bring on July 10.”