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Stephen Thompson earns title shot, but new welterweight contender emerges

Stephen Thompson has now won seven fights in a row in the UFC. (AP)

Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson staked his claim as the No. 1 contender to Robbie Lawler’s UFC welterweight title with a tactical dissection of Rory MacDonald en route to a unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 89 at the TD Place Arena in Ottawa, Canada.

The No. 2-ranked Thompson utilized his world-class kickboxing and takedown defense to nullify any grappling advantages that the No. 1-ranked MacDonald was assumed to have coming into the fight. But it was an extremely technical fight as Thompson carefully placed his punches and kicks while MacDonald, who is a counterstriker, tried his best to find an opening.

In the end, Thompson prevailed with scores of 50-45, 50-45 and 48-47 in a fight that was much closer than the scorecards may indicate.

"Title belt! Robbie Lawler!” Thompson said afterward, clearly indicating that he has his eyes set on the welterweight title. “I want the winner of Robbie Lawler and Tyron Woodley in New York!"

He’s certainly deserving of a title shot as his current roll of seven straight wins includes victories over MacDonald, Jake Ellenberger, Patrick Cote, Robert Whitaker and a scintillating knockout of former champion Johny Hendricks in February. His latest victory over MacDonald is impressive considering that the Canadian was one fight removed from a remarkable war with champion Robbie Lawler last July and sought to move right back into the title picture.

But this night most definitely belonged to Wonderboy.

In the opening stanza, MacDonald figured to drag the fight to the mat and attempted a pair of rolling leglocks to catch "Wonderboy" off-guard. However, Thompson had little problem pulling away from his opponent’s tricky submission attempts. After the failed submissions, MacDonald tried to takedown Thompson the conventional way and found that the 33-year-old had an extraordinarily formidable takedown defense that regularly stuffed MacDonald’s advances.

From there it was a game of range as Thompson expertly utilized his speed and attacked the torso of MacDonald with kicks and countered whenever his Canadian opponent charged in.

It was a methodically paced fight that drew sporadic boos from the crowd in Canada. However, Thompson managed to land 124 total strikes throughout the contest – double the amount that MacDonald landed (61). In the middle rounds, "Wonderboy" would crank up the aggression and bust MacDonald’s face up with heavy punches. By the final round, with MacDonald desperately trying to find an offensive strategy that would work, Thompson expertly evaded and countered MacDonald’s advances while also leaving his face a bloody mess.

"I expected to come out and for it to be a little more of a war," Thompson said. "I didn't think Rory would be prepared for the angles and the speed. As soon as I met him in the middle, just by his stance, I realized this is going to be a chess match."

The victory puts him in line for the winner of Robbie Lawler’s title defense against Tyron Woodley at UFC 201 on June 30th.

With Thompson firmly planting himself as the No. 1 contender, there was also another future welterweight title contender who continued to impress since bumping up a weight class.

Donald Cerrone’s campaign at 170 pounds continued with a impressive third-round TKO of Patrick Cote in what was one of Cerrone’s best all-around performances to date. In each of the three rounds, Cerrone would deposit Cote to the canvas before finally finishing the job in the third. "Cowboy" mixed it up with his top-notch grappling and outdueled Cote when the fight was brought to the feet. Cote, who once campaigned at light heavyweight and also challenged Anderson Silva for the middleweight title, was no match for Cerrone despite the assumed size advantage. A crushing left hook sent Cote down in the third and Cerrone wasted no time pouncing on his wounded opponent and earning the stoppage.

With his second victory in a row at welterweight, Cerrone has cemented himself as a threat to the division after a strong campaign as a lightweight.

 

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