When Stephen Thompson meets Matt Brown in the middle of the Octagon, it will be a throwback match of sorts. The UFC was built on a clash of styles—a concept that's elegant in its simplicity.
If a judo player met a kung fu artist in a darkened alley, who would walk out with all of his teeth intact? That's the question the UFC strived to answer, and answered so well that the battle of styles quickly became a competition between individual athletes instead.
It turned out that the best fighting "style" was, in fact, a combination of styles. Muay Thai kickboxing, wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu were the holy trinity of skill sets anyone would need to succeed. Soon, every fighter that stepped into the cage followed that basic template. The battle of traditional martial arts, the concept of the Octagon as a proving grounds for an ancient combat art all but disappeared.
Just when it seemed we would never again see esoteric Asian arts in the cage, Lyoto Machida came into our lives to redefine what works and what doesn't in mixed martial arts. His run to the light heavyweight championship put the spotlight on karate. No longer a laughingstock, the traditional martial arts were back.
"(Lyoto) was an inspiration really," Thompson told Bleacher Report. "Me and Lyoto Machida have a very similar style. His style of karate is a little bit different than mine, but for all martial artists out there, he brought it back. He brought karate back. Now you see a lot of other karate guys doing well in the MMA world."
Once again, we will see style battle style in the UFC, but with a significant twist. Thompson, with the light shining bright on karate, will follow Machida's footsteps.
His opponent will represent a different art entirely, a newcomer to the scene. Matt Brown isn't a judoka, karateka or Wing Chun master. Brown is a MMA fighter. That is his art.
The battle of styles is back.
"I'm a traditional martial artist, from a traditional karate background and I want to keep that alive," Thompson said. "For all of those traditional martial artists out there, who think they can't step into the cage because their style is a little bit different...I do have a little added pressure with that."
Of course, it's not as simple as all that. Thompson, like Machida before him, trains extensively in jiu-jitsu and wrestling. He'd be foolish not to.
Nineteen years of results have shown those skills to be paramount. He's a traditional martial artist, but an adaptable one.
For his part, Brown doesn't seem convinced that Thompson's fancy kicks and bizarre stances are necessarily going to work. He bristled at the open workouts this week when question after question focused on how he would defend against Thompson's style.
"I'm going to beat it," Brown told Bleacher Report. "I don't think it's the smartest approach to fighting myself. I'm going to plan on exposing that."