Precedent Shows UFC Must Do Right by Stephen Thompson

Matthew Ryder@@matthewjryderFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2016

LAS VEGAS, NV - FEBRUARY 22:  (R-L) Stephen Thompson kicks Robert Whittaker in their welterweight bout during UFC 170 inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center on February 22, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Let’s not forget that we’ve been here before.

A wild, hotly contested world title fight provides 25 minutes of the purest athletic unruliness one could imagine—right down to one guy surviving multiple knockdowns on his way to taking back the fight—and ends in a draw.

That narrative unfolded at UFC 125 in January 2011 when Frankie Edgar provided a legacy-cementing performance against Gray Maynard, surviving one of the worst beatings ever dished out in a round of MMA before coming back to earn a draw over the subsequent four rounds and hold onto his title.

It led to an immediate rematch with Maynard at UFC 136, one developed out of the sheer distaste for a lack of closure after he so nearly beat Edgar the first time. It left Anthony Pettis, who had earned a crack at UFC gold by being the last man to hold the WEC lightweight title, on the outside looking in, but it was the right thing to do at the time, and the UFC did it.

At UFC 205 on Saturday, the challenger Stephen Thompson met welterweight champion Tyron Woodley to similarly wild, hotly contested effect. Thompson won more rounds, but Woodley won his more convincingly—particularly the fourth, which saw him blast Thompson flat on two occasions and spend several minutes throttling him with a guillotine choke before the South Carolina native wormed out and finished up throwing punches from inside Woodley’s guard.

The result: Pucker up and kiss your sister, everyone. We have a majority draw.

Yet, much as with the Edgar-Maynard contest at UFC 125, there was an element of satisfaction to the outcome (though Woodley would likely disagree considering they announced to him, and the world, he had won a split decision after a scorecard mix-up). The bout was as close as any title fight in recent memory; it was an unfurling of high-level martial arts between a powerful wrestler and a karate whiz that amounted to a chess game of the highest order and with the highest stakes.

For that reason, much as with the Edgar-Maynard contest at UFC 125, the promotion has to do it again.

The parallels are too clear for the UFC to diverge from past practice in this instance, right down to another obvious top contender waiting in line. Demian Maia has seemingly beaten everyone on the planet who can make 170 pounds over the past few years, but he’s still behind Thompson in the pecking order because Wonderboy never lost at UFC 205.

It also doesn’t hurt that the fight was so entertaining. Even taking away the incredible fourth round, it was the ultimate display of what experts look like when they’re plying their trade. It was akin to watching a battle of the bands between Elvis and The Beatles or watching Monet and Picasso try to outpaint each other, only with (presumably) far more kicking and punching.

The tilt won Fight of the Night on the biggest card in the history of the UFC, in front of one of the hottest crowds in the history of the UFC, on a night when there wasn’t a single dull fight. It had people roaring and screaming from the outset. It cemented Woodley as a legitimate champion at a time when many have been anxious to dismiss him, and it well may have made Wonderboy’s heart the stuff of legend.

Save for the size of the stage on which it happened, that sounds an awful lot like a night in Las Vegas nearly six years ago when Edgar and Maynard beat each other senseless and got no satisfaction for it.

We’ve been here before, folks.

It’s time to do right by Wonderboy and run it back.