With the thunderous fall of Lyoto Machida, the mantle of best counter-karate fighter rests squarely with Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson (13-2-1).
Thompson has the perfect fighting style to take advantage of his build. His long legs make his kicks difficult to counter and gives him a long, galloping stride that can move him out of harm’s way. His long arms mean his jabs and straights cover great distance. This is particularly evident during Thompson’s sidestep, when opponents get hit by blind punches from distances that are difficult to train for.
He rolled over Robert Whittaker, a (then) still impressive Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald with little trouble at all. There was a three-year stretch in which no one had any idea how to beat Thompson.
But Woodley showed that the same strategy that bamboozled Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida works against Thompson: doing nothing. With nothing to counter, Thompson was forced to pot-shot from the outside while staying mindful of Woodley’s beastly right hand and takedown. It’s difficult to use that strategy due to Thompson’s range, but it turned him into a shadow of the fighter he can be.
If you’re a newer fan and judge Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (32-12) only by his record, you may think he’s a middling fighter.
But in his entire UFC career, Masvidal has never looked beaten down. Out of his five UFC losses only Rustam Khabilov and Demian Maia looked better than him and even then only by a thin margin. He gave away the Al Iaquinta by focusing on slick defense rather than scoring points while Benson Henderson and Lorenz Larkin had to devolve the fight into a slog to take even a split decision.
Masvidal really doesn’t have weaknesses.
He has very good boxing, solid power in every limb and tight defense on the feet. Outstriking Masvidal involves point fighting and a lot of running; very few people can stand with him and brawl. He’s a great MMA wrestler and can submit an opponent if the opportunity presents itself. It doesn’t happen often since Masvidal would rather be throwing hands, but the D’arce choke on Michael Chiesa was incredible.
If anything, Masvidal seems to have trouble with physical strength at welterweight.
He’s not a small welterweight at 5′ 11″, but he never had trouble making the 155 lbs. limit when he was a lightweight. Larkin and Henderson were able to out-muscle the far more skilled Masvidal to eke decisions.
Masvidal is far too slick to get countered by Thompson, but he doesn’t have the explosive offense to close the distance against the karateka. On the flip-side, Thompson doesn’t have the kind of muscle to push Masvidal around.
If this fight is exciting, it will be because of Masvidal. I hope Masvidal can get inside and use his slick body-head combos to get Thompson down but more likely Thompson pot-shots him on the outside for a lackluster decision.
Thompson via Decision
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