Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson didn’t just beat Johny Hendricks at UFC Fight Night 82. He flat out embarrassed the former champion. The subsequent fallout from his performance has been filled with all kinds of superlatives and proclamations that Thompson represents a “new breed” of fighter. In the words of Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”
If you’ll recall, it was around 2009 when UFC analyst Joe Rogan infamously uttered the words, “Welcome to the Machida Era.” Lyoto Machida had just won the UFC title after beating Rashad Evans in just over a round and a half. Machida made it look easy along the way and finished Evans in dramatic fashion, earning “Knockout of the Night” honors.
What followed for Machida was an incredibly close decision win over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 104. Rua utilized his leg kicks to slow down Machida’s movement, and many felt Rua had done enough to take a decision victory. In the immediate rematch, Rua didn’t leave anything to chance. He knocked Machida out in the first round, winning the UFC light heavyweight title in the process.
Since the loss to Rua, Machida has gone 6-6 between the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions. Most of the losses were to some of the best fighters in the world, so there’s certainly no shame there. But it was in the way Machida lost that was the most telling. He was emphatically finished in a number of his defeats and hasn’t looked anywhere near the same fighter that ascended to the top of the light heavyweight division.
Or perhaps you can recall one Brock Lesnar. The former WWE superstar entered the UFC a relative MMA novice but managed to claim the UFC heavyweight title in just his fourth MMA bout. Lesnar’s success brought about the age of the “super heavyweight,” the fighter who had to cut down to make the 265-pound limit. Guys like Lesnar and eventual challenger Shane Carwin were seen as the future of the heavyweight division. Frank Mir, Lesnar’s biggest rival at the time, changed his entire physique around the idea that he needed to be bigger and stronger.
The hulking size didn’t seem to help prolong the careers of Lesnar, Carwin or Mir. Battling health concerns, Lesnar was only able to compete eight times, ending his career on a two-fight losing skid. After winning the interim UFC heavyweight strap at UFC 111, Carwin only competed in two additional fights. He lost both of those, with his final fight being a complete demolition at the hands of Junior dos Santos. Mir has avoided the health issues that forced Carwin and Lesnar to step away from MMA, but he has had his fair share of struggles, including a four-fight losing streak at one point.
While Thompson is being heralded as a revelation and the bringer of a new generation of strikers, it would be best to temper expectations. This isn’t to say Thompson isn’t a great fighter. He’s clearly on the elite level after his display of technical brilliance against Hendricks. But for every fighter we’ve seen enter the MMA world to proclamations that he/she is the next evolution of fighting, there’s always someone else to throw a wrinkle into those plans.