Josh Thomson: From UFC Washout to UFC Title Contender

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2013

Apr 20, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; Josh Thomson celebrates after defeating Nate Diaz (not pictured) during the lightweight bout of the UFC on Fuel TV at HP Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Thomson will finally get his shot at UFC gold when he battles Anthony Pettis this December. The former Strikeforce Lightweight Champion has had a long road to get to this point, but it will all be worth it if he can upset the new champion.


A Rising Star

Photo Credit: Zuffa LLC
Photo Credit: Zuffa LLC

Thomson began his career with five straight victories. That gave the UFC enough to call him up to the show back in the fall of 2003. Even a decade ago Thomson was being billed as one of the best lightweights in the world.

He began his UFC career with two straight wins. A knockout over Gerald Strebendt and a decision against Hermes Franca. His third UFC fight was against Yves Edwards, a fight that resulted in a highlight reel KO still shown to this day.

In a competitive first round, Edwards capitalized when Thomson made a small error and landed a huge head kick that floored Thomson. Edwards would finish it up with a couple punches, but it was the head kick that stole the show. That KO loss would be enough to send Thomson out of the promotion.

In today's UFC, Thomson would have gotten another chance after going 2-1. A loss to Edwards is nothing to complain about. However, in 2004 the lightweight division was not a priority for the UFC. Zuffa was still trying to build the brand, and The Ultimate Fighter had yet to send the sport to new heights.

Thus, Thomson was released out into the wild, wild west of the MMA world to fend for himself.

Thomson would move right to PRIDE and Strikeforce. He won his PRIDE Bushido 8 fight against Daisuke Sugie, but dropped his Strikeforce debut to Clay Guida. The Guida loss was a turning point for Thomson. After that fight he won six straight bouts—five in Strikeforce—to earn a shot at the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship.


May 19, 2012; San Jose, CA, USA; Gilbert Melendez (left) fights Josh Thomson (right) during the lightweight bout of the Strikeforce World Grand Prix at HP Pavilion.  Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Trilogy with Gilbert Melendez

Strikeforce is remembered for a lot of things: Fedor's surprising losses, Cyborg's dominance, Diaz's battles and Rousey's ascent. Yet what it should be remembered for is the classic trilogy of fights between Thomson and Melendez.

Their first bout came on June 27, 2008.

All five rounds it went: A war of attrition between two lightweights who were not getting their due because of where they were fighting. To those who were watching, they were every bit as accomplished.

Thomson would win the first fight and claim the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship. He would not get to successfully defend it.

His next title fight was against Melendez. The December 19, 2009 fight was just as good as, if not better than, the previous. Though, this time it was Melendez who would get the nod on the judge's scorecards.

Thomson would not get another shot at the gold for two years. He went 3-1 with all three wins coming inside the Strikeforce organization. He dropped a decision to Tatsuya Kawajiri at the Dynamite!! 2010 card. Importantly, his Strikeforce wins came against Pat Healy, JZ Cavalcante and K.J. Noons. Those quality wins would give him one last shot at the Strikeforce strap.

The trilogy completed with another decision, but Melendez walked out with the title. This time, the decision was split: A testament to just how close the fight was, and how the series played out. It was a classic trilogy that will live on. It helped establish both fighters in the division, and made Thomson's UFC return highly anticipated.


Apr 20, 2013; San Jose, CA, USA; Nate Diaz (bottom) fights Josh Thomson (top) during the lightweight bout of the UFC on Fuel TV at HP Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Punk Returns

After the UFC ended Strikeforce and brought over the roster, one of the most anticipated fighters was Thomson. His return was set against Nate Diaz on April 20.

Heading into the bout, this was thought to be a potential Fight of the Night contender, but it would only be Thomson who collected a bonus check. He would stun everyone with a Knockout of the Night performance, becoming the first man to stop Nate Diaz.

Thomson was the more athletic fighter, and it showed. He looked sharp.

The finish came in the second frame when Thomson rocked Diaz with a head kick, and then finished up his handy work with punches for the TKO win.

It was a head kick that sent him out of the UFC, and a head kick announced his return to the elite of the lightweight division.

Through the summer, the lightweight title was held up. Injuries have played a big role in Thomson getting his title shot, which is ironic as the talented 155-pound fighter has had trouble staying healthy throughout his career.

Anthony Pettis replaced TJ Grant against Benson Henderson at UFC 164, and he was able to walk out with the title after an armbar stoppage. It was supposed to be Grant getting his shot, but he was not ready to return. Thomson got the call, answered it and now he has his shot at the ultimate glory.

After being unceremoniously released from the UFC years ago when lightweights were fighting for acceptance, Thomson has a chance to grab the title he never had a shot at when he fights Pettis at UFC on Fox 9 in the main event.

It has been a long road back for the AKA product. One that has injury roadblocks and several top level fighters trying to derail him. He has navigated his way through it all, and now only one more is in front of him.

UFC on Fox 9 is the last stop. Thomson's long road back has led him to this point. We will find out if he can finally wear UFC gold on December 14.