Maybe he feels like he’s too old for that stuff. Though he still carries the moniker of a much younger man—"The Punk"—he’s 35 years old now and more than a decade into a 31-fight MMA career.
At this stage, he’s more elder statesman than defiant kid, so you’ll have to forgive him if he refuses to blow smoke about how great he feels or how amazing his training camp has been.
Even if that stuff has become the industry standard, Thomson says he’d rather stick with the truth.
“Fighters are liars,” he says. “We are liars. It’s hilarious, man. The funny part is that after the fight it’ll be, ‘Oh no, actually, I pulled my groin’ or ‘My foot was messed up. I broke my hand in camp.’ Whatever. You might as well just talk about it.”
Thomson says these things this week as he completes his mandatory pre-fight media obligations—a full slate of 10-minute interviews, where everybody asks him pretty much the same questions. The system is designed to perpetuate cliches; it's a method that makes it nearly impossible for anyone to say or do anything particularly meaningful.
Maybe without even knowing it, Thomson’s honesty about how this camp has been difficult for him turns that process on its head. The speed-date-style interview is designed for fighters who give short, rehearsed answers to largely by-the-book questions, but Thomson doesn’t communicate that way.
To fill 10 minutes with him, you only need to bring about four questions. The most pleasant surprise of getting reacquainted with Thomson after the nine years he spent marooned in Strikeforce is not only that he won't lie but also that he’s so chatty.
In almost painstaking detail, he recounts the plot twists that spoiled his scheduled lightweight title shot against Anthony Pettis last December. He recites it in a rapid-fire staccato, sounding like he's explained it all about a million times in the last few days, because he probably has.
Thomson had gotten about five weeks into training for the opportunity of a lifetime when word came down that the fight was off. Pettis had injured his knee and would need surgery and several months of recovery.
Thomson was understandably pretty bummed.
“It was just kind of the feeling of cloud nine—I'm going to fight for the title, I’m going to fight for the title—and then the fight fell through and it was like, ah crap,” he says. “I think that’s just natural. Any time your title fight falls through I think anyone would feel that way.”
Thomson shut down his training camp and, in an effort to blow off some steam, traveled to Las Vegas to watch Georges St-Pierre fight Johny Hendricks at UFC 167. Friday night before the event, he got a phone call from matchmaker Joe Silva, who offered him a bout with Henderson instead.
The following week, still fired up from seeing Hendricks nearly wrench the title away from St-Pierre, Thomson went home to San Jose and dived back into training. In retrospect, he says he should have done the math first and realized he was still 11 weeks out from fighting Henderson on national TV.
“I probably should’ve taken another week or two off after that,” Thomson says, “but I’m just the kind of person that always thinks there’s not enough time. I just went home on Monday and started training again. The reality of it is that the last three to four weeks of my camp, I’ve just been kind of going through the motions. It was really just a miscalculation on my part.”
When he fights Henderson on Saturday night, Thomson will get his second chance to throw convention on its ear. He comes into the contest as a bit more than a 2-to-1 underdog to the guy who ruled over the lightweight division for 18 months, prior to his own loss to Pettis at UFC 164.
A victory over Henderson would amount to a big statement from Thomson—leaps and bounds bigger even than his TKO win over Nate Diaz last April. It would keep him in the driver’s seat for the next shot at Pettis, pending the long-delayed return of erstwhile No. 1 contender T.J. Grant.
At least on that front, Thomson is saying all the right things. Despite his tough training camp, he says Henderson better be ready to handle his best effort. He points out that previously the worst camp of his life came before his June, 2008 bout with Gilbert Melendez, when Thomson won the Strikeforce lightweight title.
Still, he says he considers Henderson the best fighter in the 155-pound ranks, quipping: “If you can’t get motivated to fight the former champion, the guy who’s been champion for the last couple of years, man, something’s wrong with you.”
“Pettis has got his number,” Thomson adds of Henderson. “He’s had his number for their two fights, but my personal opinion is that (Henderson) is stylistically probably the hardest fight for anybody in the UFC in our lightweight division.”
As for what happens after that, he is trying to take a realistic and—surprise!—honest approach. Even though he was scheduled to fight for the title late last year, a victory this week doesn’t necessarily secure another championship opportunity.
Much will likely be determined by how quickly Grant is able to return from the concussion that has kept him out since last July.
“It’s not really my call, you know that,” Thomson says. “Everybody knows the fighters don’t make the calls in the UFC. If T.J. is ready to fight and Pettis isn’t ready to fight, then probably T.J. and I are going to fight. Let’s just be honest about it. If Pettis is ready, then I hope I get the nod.”
Chad Dundas is a lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.
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