Tomorrow night (February 4th) at “UFC 143: Diaz vs. Condit”, relatively unknown former kickboxer turned mixed martial artist Stephen “Wonderboy” will make his UFC debut as part of the preliminary card. Facing Thompson in his debut bout will be Dan Stittgen, a gritty competitor who is also making his UFC debut. As Thompson closes in on his octagon debut, he took the time to speak with FightCove.com about how he got into MMA, training with great fighters such as Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva and more.
Mike Bohn: How excited were you when you heard you would be fighting at 143?
Stephen Thompson: Yeah man, it was awesome. It was kind of short notice but you know were ready, were always training so were focused.
Mike Bohn: Was there any hesitation when they called you to be a late replacement, or did you jump on the opportunity right away?
Stephen Thompson: Yeah, I jumped on it right away, I mean they called, and we’ve been training really hard, and they’re like “Hey man we’ve got a good opportunity for you”. My manager called me, Lex McMahon from Alchemist. And he was like “Yeah would you like to fight in UFC 143? And I was like “Yeah, who’s my opponent?” And he told me, and I was pretty confident in it, so we were like alright let’s do it.
Mike Bohn: Nice. So when you do fight at 143, that will just be one day past the two-year anniversary of your MMA debut, did you ever think you’d get to the UFC this quickly?
Stephen Thompson: No, to be honest with you. We tried out for the, I think it was TUF 15, Ultimate Fighter TV show and they ended up going with the 155 weight class so that was kind of disappointing but then I got this phone call and I was like “wow, really, let’s do it.” I’ve been in the fight game for awhile, but not MMA, you know? I’ve been doing kickboxing practically most of my fight career, since I was about 15. Started martial arts when I was about three years old. I’ve got two brothers and two sisters and we all started at that age. My dad runs a school in Simpsonville, South Carolina, it’s called Upstate Karate. It’s a karate program, but kempo karate is basically MMA, we do stand up, we work wrestling, we do Brazilian jiu-jitsu, so I’ve been doing it for a while and competing in kickboxing for a long time. So it’s awesome.
Mike Bohn: Yeah, that actually answers my next question; I was going to ask how you got started kick boxing. But I’ll just ask, what made you decide to make the transition from kickboxing into MMA because I know you’re a very successful amateur and professional kickboxer.
Stephen Thompson: Well, you know, I’ve been wanting to make the switch for awhile, but about six years ago I was fighting in the World Combat League, one of Chuck Norris’ promotions, and I ended up tearing my ACL and actually tore every ligament in my left leg, and I had two knee surgeries on it I was out for about three year, so in that time I was thinking about where my future was going, what I wanted to do. And not only did I want to kickbox, but I wanted to put those other things I’ve been learning together, so I was like you know what, I’m ready to finish in MMA. So we’ve been training strictly MMA ever since.
Mike Bohn: Once you got into MMA how long did you think it would take you before you got to the UFC?
Stephen Thompson: Well, I thought it was going to take, you know I thought I was going to be probably in my early 30s, and take a long time before I got there, but there’s been a lot of talk about me in the MMA, and my manager Lex McMahon has done a really good job for me. So he’s been really pushing it, and got to go out and train with some elite UFC fighters, which I felt really comfortable with. You know guys like Georges St-Pierre, Rashad Evan, Nate Marquardt, Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida. So I got to do some training with those guys. Especially working with Georges in the wrestling and everything, you know I’m a stand up guy, I’m a striker, so being able to work with somebody that calibre at wrestling really helps me out.
Mike Bohn: You were up in Tri-star (in Montreal) a couple months ago right? Have you been there training for this fight as well or where have you done the majority of this training camp?
Stephen Thompson: Well I had the majority of my training camp here, because it was such short notice. You know I found out last Monday that I was going to do it, and so we had to kind of put training camp together pretty quickly. So the majority of it has been here, but I had a few guys from Atlanta and some people that we know have come and done some training with us. But I would have loved it if I had found out a little bit earlier and gone up there and trained at Tristar with Firas Zahabi and Georges and everybody. Of course Georges is out with a hurt knee, but they have some amazing fighters up there, and coaches.
Mike Bohn: When you did train with Georges how was that experience? What did you take away from it?
Stephen Thompson: Oh man, it was awesome. Especially with someone that calibre of fighter and you know, to call me to help him come and work on his stand up and help him out with his past few. Actually, two training camps I’ve been up there for the past four or five years I think, so it’s an honour to go up there and train with him and for him to call me and say “Hey I want you to be here for this this training camp, and I’m like “OK, let’s do it.”
Mike Bohn: Yeah that’s awesome. Well for fans who are going to see you compete for the first time at 143, how would you describe your fighting style and what would you say your biggest strength is?
Stephen Thompson: Of course my strength is my stand up, which is kind of what I want everybody to kind of think, because they don’t know that I have the ground. I mean, my brother in-law is Carlos Machado, who is a ninth degree black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and is an amazing instructor; I’ve been training with him for a long time. But you know, everybody wants to see a good show, and everybody wants to see a knock out so my goal is to keep it standing this fight.
Mike Bohn: What’s your favourite striking technique?
Stephen Thompson: My favourite striking…um, wow, I wouldn’t say I would have just one favourite. I mean I do love to throw the flashy stuff around here and there, you know, spinning hook kick. Anything flashy, I’ve hit a bunch of people with it in striking, we’ll see how it goes in MMA (laughs).
Mike Bohn: What do you think about having another opponent switch that soon?
Stephen Thompson: You know, I’ve been fighting since I was 15 I’ve had it happen to me many many many times, and I’ve done some training with a lot of people, sparring with many different types of fighters, and differently styles, so I’m still pretty confident adapting to him.
Mike Bohn: Well, I know you’ve fought in a lot of big shows for kick boxing and stuff, but there’s always this talk about octagon jitters for UFC debuting fighters, does that affect your mind set at all preparing for those octagon jitters?
Stephen Thompson: Yeah, I mean I know it’s a bigger stage, the biggest stage I’ve ever been in front of with an audience, and of course that does play with your nerves, a little bit, but it fuels me as well, to want to succeed. So I use that, and some people use those nerves in different ways, I use it as fuel for to me to train harder, and get to better and improve. And that’s one of my good attributes, is that mentally I’m strong. Some guys let the fear get to them a little, but like I said I use that as fuel to drive me.
Mike Bohn: Are you a big fight fan as well, who are some fighters that you enjoy watching?
Stephen Thompson: Oh yeah, oh yeah, love to watch my buddy Georges, I love to watch Anderson Silva who’s one of the, you know the best striker out there, in any UFC. So these guys are amazing and it’s cool because I got to do some training and sparring with those guys, and you know it’s like a dream come true really.
Mike Bohn: When were you training with Anderson (Silva)?
Stephen Thompson: Actually my brother in law Carlos Machado, his brother Rigan, knows those guys up at Black House, and Rigan, he’s a legend in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world. So those guys know each other from Brazil. And Rigan was talking to him about me, and switching to MMA, and how I’m a good striker, and they were like “Hey man, come on up and let’s do some training together”. And I actually went out for the training camp before Chael Sonnen. So I got to go up there and do some training with those guys, and those guys are amazing.
Mike Bohn: Is there anyone you want to thank before I let you go?
Stephen Thompson: Yeah, I’d like to thank, you know, everybody at Upstate Karate and Pitch Black, which is our training camp for helping me out with this fight. And I definitely want to thank my brother in-law Carlos Machado, my instructor jiu-jitsu instructor and Alchemist, Lex MacMahon and MC Hammer. So they’re part of my, you know, my management crew so they’re doing everything for me, so it’s awesome.
Mike Bohn: Alright, wicked man. Well good luck at UFC 143 in a couple weeks, and hopefully we can talk to you again after the fight.
Stephen Thompson: Definitely, definitely, thank you very much.