No one has greater interest in Strikeforce’s Saturday night 155-pound tilt between champion Gilbert Melendez and challenger Tatsuya Kawajiri on Showtime than former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson.
“The Punk” hopes for one more run at the title and ideally, it’s a two-fight deal with Kawajiri and Melendez—two opponents he’s met before—that earns him the crown.
Healing from a small ligament tear in his left hand and multiple fractures he describes more as “bone bruising,” the UFC veteran told Bleacher Report in a sit down interview expects his road of redemption to start in August. The rest of his body is holding up fine asserts the fighter plagued by injury in recent years, so once his hand is ready, he will be too.
“I think there's gonna be a big chance once I come back,” he said. “I want to make sure everyone knows I'm back for good."
Unfinished business with Melendez and Kawajiri kept Thomson in the game. He won the Strikeforce lightweight title from Melendez in July 2008, dropping it to him in December 2009 in another five-round, 25-minute contest.
A year after conceding the crown, he lost to Kawajiri in his most recent outing as the Japanese fighter scored a unanimous decision on his home soil in DREAM. Thomson reasons a promise he could avenge a loss to Kawajiri on American terrain should be fulfilled to set up another five-round battle with “El Nino” should the Cesar Gracie representative retain the gold.
"I wanted to be his first fight in the states,” he said of Kawajiri, admitting he accepted a fight week opponent switch from Shinya Aoki to “The Crusher” for “all the wrong reasons.”
He explains besting Kawajiri builds more momentum for a Melendez-Thomson trilogy fight fans are demanding; however, Kawajiri holding the gold with wins over both adds new flavor to the top of the Strikeforce lightweight division. Inspiration to plan such an arduous and aggressive fight schedule came from American Kickboxing Academy’s team captain, Jon Fitch.
As Fitch prepared for B.J. Penn this February, Thomson’s frustration with injuries pushed him toward retirement as he targeted opening an AKA-affiliate in San Jose this May. Fitch’s assertion that he was in his prime at 33 years old got the 32-year-old Thomson thinking.
“He's talking about being in his prime and I felt like I was at the end of my prime, just missing the boat with injuries,” said the decade-plus veteran. “I'm thinking right now that it is time. It is time to just step up my game and get after it."
Part of getting after it means welcoming challenges from the UFC thanks to Zuffa’s recent acquisition of Strikeforce.
Thomson reveals his desire to see super-fights built between Strikeforce and UFC stars in the lightweight division—any mix of Thomson, Melendez, Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar will do—as well as a striking style clash between UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva and former Strikeforce 185-pound titleholder Cung Le.
Loyal to his hometown promotion, he believes being successful isn’t confined to the Octagon, but would love another chance in the UFC if it doesn’t interfere with the Melendez trilogy.
"I told everybody this from the beginning, if I wanted to be a celebrity, I would have went to the UFC. It's not as if Dana [White] and the UFC didn't want me. I enjoyed fighting for [Scott] Coker and I still enjoy fighting for Strikeforce. Nothing's gonna change,” Thomson said.
“I loved fighting in the UFC when I was there as well. That was the beginning of my career, this is now—I'm not gonna say the end of my career—but toward the later [part] of my career. I just enjoy fighting. It doesn't matter where I do it. It doesn't change where you fight. You still have to win for people to want to promote you."
Upon returning, Thomson plans to push the pace true to his reputation as a well-conditioned lightweight. It’s a two-pronged attack meant to engage fans while laying the groundwork to avenge the last two losses on his ledger to Kawajiri and Melendez. This time though, “The Punk” will be more judicious in weighing entertainment factor and victory.
"It's always been an entertainment thing, but I think right now I'm going to refocus on getting the win again,” he said. “Like I said, I want to make one more run at the title. I want to make sure it happens.”
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend.