Stephen Wonderboy Thompson is no stranger to major UFC events, but there is one role that the double welterweight fighter refuses to get used to: Guard.
Thompson takes on Jeff Neal in a big game on Saturday night in Las Vegas. For the second year in a row, 37-year-old Thompson faces a younger and promising opponent. Thirty-year-old Neal has won seven times in a row and would end up in the top 10 with a victory over Wonderboy. Thompson’s last fight was a unanimous victory over Vicente Luke on the 29th. November 2019.
Within the UFC, Thompson is number 5 and he wants a new chance to win the title, not a challenger role that the fighters have to beat on their way up.
Saturday’s card, the last CFU event of the year, is filled with famous names and fighters about to escape. The ESPN team, consisting of Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Mark Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Phil Murphy, breaks down what is real and what is not in the world of MMA.
Real or not: Neal is one of the most underestimated fighters in the UFC, but that will change with a victory on Saturday.
Wagenheim: Neal is a real find – and this weekend he’s going to show the world on the most illuminated MMA stage. A wave of excitement now sweeps the sport, new names appear and Neil has the chance to ride the kahuna in his first fight of the UFC main event.
This is a good time for Neil, who has sharpened his skills over the years in the course of his work. Fighters like to point out that there are levels in this game. What they don’t always recognize is that, just like a good wrestling attack, level changes can seem to come out of nowhere.
The UFC closes its 2020 programme on Saturday with a special Fight Night card. Former welterweight champion Stephen Thompson will face young Jeff Neal in the main event, while Jose Aldo will face Marlon Vera in the main event. Also on the programme: a battle between the exciting heavyweights Michel Pereira and Chaos Williams, Greg Hardy, Anthony Pettis and Marlon Moraes.
CFU Fighting night: Thompson vs. Neal
– Saturday, Las Vegas
– Main card: ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET
– Area codes: ESPN+, 16:00 AND
Subscribe to ESPN+ for exclusive live UFC events, weighh-ins and more, Ariel and the Villain, Dana White’s Contender series and other exclusive MMA content.
Fighting Thompson a few years ago would have been a bad decision. The young prodigy fought for the welterweight title in 2016 and again in 2017, and both times Thompson gave champion Tyron Woodley everything he had to offer. Thompson earned these punches by defeating former champions Johnny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald. Thompson’s kickboxing, based on karate, was difficult to manage, even in combat, and rookie Neil was overwhelmed.
But now Thompson is 37. Last year he suffered his first knockout loss. He hasn’t fought in over a year. Neal has been inactive for almost as long, but he is on a seven-game winning streak, winning all but one of those games. Saturday’s fight is a step forward in the competition – a change of level, if you like, but Neil is ready. It was time for him to seize the opportunity.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Stephen Thompson, right, may be a goalkeeper, but he turned out to be a great man as a dangerous opponent on game day 2 November 2019 when he defeated Vicente Luke to replace him. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
Real or not: Wonderboy needs a victory in order not to be considered a goalkeeper.
Okamoto: Absolutely, 100% real. I mean, the signs are that the UFC is already looking at Thompson in that direction. He fights against a rival of Neal who has six positions behind him and who seems to be a potential candidate for the title. Before this fight became official, there were rumors about Thompson’s link with Hamzat Chimaev, which is also much lower ranked.
It doesn’t have to be a sensitive issue or even perceived as insignificant compared to Thompson; that’s what it is. He fought for the belt in 2016 and 2017, but couldn’t stay afloat. He’s at 2-3-1 in his last six battles. He’s not in the conversation about the title right now, so the UFC is reserving him against ascending opponents.
For Thompson, this fight is about defending his rankings, allowing him to look up to an opponent. If he loses, he will probably end up in a similar match, where his opponent should win more than he should.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Chaos Williams, right, fought only 57 seconds in the UFC but has two victories. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images
Real or not: Chaos Williams starts with a bonus and ends up in the top 15 after Saturday.
Raimondi: I’d say that’s true, especially about the bonus. Williams and his opponent, Michel Pereira, are both famous fighters. Williams leads 2-0 with a tumble in 57 seconds. Oxfighter strengthened Alex Morono in February and Abdul Razak Alhassan in November, both in 30 seconds or less. With Diveson Figueiredo and Kevin Holland headed for 2020, Williams should be in the conversation when he stops Pereira.
With all this in mind, it’s going to be difficult. Pereira is unpredictable. As if he’s unforeseeable, turn the cage around. It is impossible to project what this battle looks like. Pereira also has some decent fights and some successful blows. Maybe he’s trying to take Williams’ ridiculous one-trick power out of the decommissioning equation? On the other side: When has Mrs. Pereira ever been unhappy with a risk? He keeps throwing himself into the fire.
So yes, Williams vs Pereira has a very good chance of winning the nightly bonus fight. Both are phenomenal finishers, enough to perform at night.
That leaves the last part of the equation: Williams won and was in the top 15. I’ll buy it. Williams is 26 years old and getting better and better. Its power is to create difference. There are a few veterans at the bottom of the rankings who can easily be ousted. It’ll be chaos.
Fault! The file name is not specified. TheRumble Johnson fight (photo) against Yoel Romero, a light heavyweight, will be interesting for the MMA world. Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Real or not: Anthony Rumble Johnson versus Yoel Romero will be one of the most anticipated battles of 2021.
Helwani: Of course, in Bellator. Apart from a possible Patricio Pitbull Freire fight against AJ McKee in ruff weight, I can not imagine that a more interesting fight Bellator could have in 2021. The combination of the fact that this was Johnson’s first fight in nearly four years, plus their respective debuts in a new organization, plus Romero’s first fight against a lightweight heavyweight in almost a decade, plus the explosive strength both men possess, makes this a truly juicy fight.
Accompanying note : For the first time in a long time a convincing argument can be made that the Bellator Division competes with or is of greater importance than the UFC Division.
Here are the first eight Bellator light trucks as I see them: Vadim Nemkov, Ryan Bader, Phil Davis, Anthony Johnson, Yoel Romero, Corey Anderson, Lyoto Machida and Dovletian Yagshimuradov.
Here are eight of the 205 best in the UFC: Jan Blachovic, Glover Teixeira, Dominik Reyes, Aleksandar Rakic, Jiri Prohazka, Anthony Smith, Volkan Uzdemir, Nikita Krylov.
If I were in Bellator, I’d consider doing one of those Grand Prixs he likes to do to draw attention to the excitement he causes in 205. Something to think about.
In any case, it’s safe to say that of these 16 fighters, Johnson and Romero are the two biggest names, and that’s why Bellator has to make sure that every time they enter the Bellator cage next year, they fight each other. And if Promotion makes the tournament, I strongly recommend the first round – Rumble vs. Romero. There’s no time to lose. Do the battles people want to see now.
Real or not: José Aldo has only one title left.
Murphy: Aldo’s feather-light regime will receive his well-deserved initiation into the Hall of Fame. Lightning fast hands, impossible defenses and punches that can fall out of mahogany, have been part of the book-for-book debate for a decade and a half. He has electrified national arenas along with national heroes such as the Canadian Georges St-Pierre and fellow Brazilian Aldo Anderson Silva. For Aldo, just like for Silva, the glory days are suddenly over and they don’t come back.
Since Conor McGregor shocked the MMA world in 2015 with a single left center at UFC 194, Aldo is at 3-6. Brave bantamweight lost to featherweight Marlon Moraes and mercilessly destroyed champion Peter Yang. All this comes at the cost of a much greater weight loss for the 34-year-old body, which celebrated its 25th birthday on Saturday. Appearance of the UFC/WEC.
Aldo is the light favorite to win this main fight against Marlon Chito Vera, and Aldo could very solemnly claim a decisive victory. So maybe a defeat for Moraes would guarantee revenge, and Aldo could win on a coin throw. But this prohibitively heavy mountain gets too steep at the top. Ian showed he’s at a higher level than Aldo in July, a fight that probably should have ended before the fifth round. Aljaman Sterling and Cory Sandhagen both seem to be closer to Jan than Aldo.
Aldo deserves to allow co-leaders like this and maybe another big Fight Night event in Rio de Janeiro, pandemonium. Yet we have seen this film too often to think that another passage is realistic. The only undefeated MMA fighter is Father Time, and Aldo is getting closer and closer to the jury in this fight.