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Exclusive Interview: Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson

Vinny Craig

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In the early days of the UFC, there was a cesspool of different styles of martial arts that ended up being conquered by the young grappler Royce Gracie. From 1997 until 2008, the wrestler with big power and heart is what ruled the UFC’s Octagon. That was before karate made its way in the cage when former Light Heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida started making waves. Nowadays, new breeds of karate fighters are making their way in, and they are led by a young Welterweight.

That young Welterweight is Stephen Thompson. Better known as “Wonderboy,” Thompson has a history of highlight reel KO’s. His last fight in the octagon was a headliner for TUF 21 Finale against Jake Ellenberger. In the first round, Wonderboy hit two spinning heel kicks with the second finishing his opponent for the night and earning Thompson $50,000. I had a chance to speak with Wonderboy after his next fight against Johny Hendricks was announced for UFC 196.

Vinny Craig: Let’s go through the timeline a little bit. You started out with Neil Magny at UFC 195. After Matt Brown pulled out of his bout with Kelvin Gastelum in November, Magny replaced him and left you without an opponent. You called out Tyron Woodley for UFC 195, but now you get a fight with Johny Hendricks at UFC 196. What was all that like from your perspective?

Stephen Thompson: When I got the Magny call, I was a little disappointed because I was ranked eight and I wanted someone higher than myself. I said ‘it is what it is’ because the rest of the top 7 already had opponents or they were injured. Then he got called for a fight with Gastelum to replace Matt Brown, and this was my chance to fight someone higher up. We tried to get Woodley, but he was promised that next title shot and the only guy left was Johny Hendricks. He’s a former champion and ranked number three and I’m here to go for the gold and get that belt by facing off with anybody who’s in front of me. I was fairly nervous at first because he’s been knocking dudes out and he’s the best wrestler I’ve ever faced. At the same time, I’m very excited for this opportunity and I’m going to be ready February 6th.
VC: You’re fighting a heavy wrestling style in Johny Hendricks. Will you go to LAW and get help from Chris Weidman more for this camp because of that?

ST: Definitely, most of the time when I have a camp I bring Chris and some other guys in to my camp. I usually stay home and bring guys to me. It all depends on how Chris is feeling later on and closer to fight time we’ll bring him in to get some last minute sparing. My wrestling has improved tremendously with my coach and teammates and I’m feeling really confident. Like I said, he’s definitely the best wrestler I’ve faced so far. My goal is to keep it standing and make him swing and miss. If he does take me down, which I believe will happen, I’ll be ready to get back up.

VC: You went and trained with Weidman for the Rockhold fight, this one being the first time he’s lost. Was it any different in camp leading up to this fight?

ST: We’ve done the same things that we have always done. I go up there the last few weeks, get some last minute sparring in. It’s my job to be fast like Rockhold, but things happen. It didn’t turn out in Chris’s favor, but he’s such a tough fighter and good guy that he will bounce back. I feel bad for the next guy who faces him.

VC: It’s your job to emulate Luke or any other opponent he might have. We saw Rockhold throw a lot of question mark kicks in the lead up and in the fight. Is that something you worked on with Weidman?

ST: Oh yes! I threw a ton of those every sparring session we had so he could get used to it. I would throw it with my back leg because Luke stands with his right leg forward. Occasionally he’ll do a step-step and throw it with his front leg. Everything he threw, Chris was ready for. It was Luke’s night and Chris has definitely learned from it.

VC: If Chris didn’t throw that spinning heel kick, do you think the fight would have ended differently?

ST: I know they were both really gassed in the third and I think Chris was looking for one of those game-changer kicks and it just didn’t turn out the way that he thought it would. When he threw it and got taken down, it took a lot out of him. I don’t think he really knows why he threw it.

VC:  This will be your second straight main/co-main event slot. Do you enjoy being in important roles on a card?

The_Ultimate_Fighter_21_Finale_Ellenberger_vs._Thompson_Poster

ST: It gives you a little more exposure, for my last fight I didn’t realize what I was getting into until I got to Las Vegas. I saw my face EVERYWHERE at the MGM Grand and I realized this is the real deal. There is some added pressure, but I’m going to train for this fight like I do every  other one and I’m going to go out there and face off with him like I have every time. Being the co-main event is still fighting three five-minute rounds and I’m going to go out there and whatever happens. If there is a KO, hopefully I’m the one knocking him out. Definitely some added pressure, but I don’t think about it too much.
VC: We’ve seen him have some issues with making weight on several occasions including almost not making weight in a title fight at UFC 171 and not making it to the fight against Woodley at UFC 192. He’s taken that next step and hired a good nutritionist. What do you do to help yourself make weight safely?

ST: I walk around at a lighter weight (than most Welterweights). I’m really not a big 170 like guys like Hendricks who walk around over 200 pounds. I tried that before I fought Matt Brown and the weight cut was too hard and it drained me during the fight. I walk around lighter because of that and each time I cut weight it gets easier and easier. I walk around between 185 and 190 and I hear Hendricks is walking around at that as well. I think he’s ready to go and he’ll be ready on February 6th… and so will I.

VC: Hendricks nutritionist doesn’t believe in cutting weight and ideally wants Johny at 170 on weigh in day with no weight cut. Will this factor into what you do if he has to cut weight despite what his nutritionist wants?

ST: It depends on how disciplined he is. He hasn’t been that disciplined in the past on his weight cut and we’ll see what he does with someone in charge. I think he’ll be 100% when he gets in there with me.

VC: What is your wish for the Hendricks fight?

ST: To go out there and have a spectacular win over Johny Hendricks. Hopefully that showing gets me a title shot.
VC: You did our top ten series for the best knockouts by breaking them down. What was that like?

ST: We had a blast. My brother, my dad and I did it and it was just a fun way to relax. We did it right in our school and going over the KO’s and goofing off with my family is what it’s all about. Having fun and hoping others enjoy it as well.

VC: We did not get to see you do one of your own KO’s.  What KO of your own would you want to do?

ST: I would want to do that Ellenberger hook kick. There was really no thinking behind what was involved. I just listened to my dad and he said spin. I know exactly what to do when I hear him say that and I didn’t expect to see hit him with it. Sometimes your corner can see things you can’t see inside the cage, and he ended up seeing the hook kick. I actually hit him with it twice.

VC: 2015 saw only one fight for you, that spectacular spinning hook kick KO of Jake Ellenberger. What are your goals for 2016?

ST: I want to get out there more, of course. Things happen, especially injuries. I bruised my heel in the Ellenberger fight, but I wanted to fight in January. Depending on how fights go, you always want to get back out there. In my last fight, I thought I broke my heel with the kick I landed to end the fight. Ended up tearing meniscus in my left knee and had to have surgery again. I don’t even get injuries during training or a fight, it’s outside of fighting and it’s so frustrating. You got to deal with it in this profession.

VC: You have consistently fought two times a year in the UFC. How do you up that output in 2016?

ST: I have to be careful in training, that’s when most injuries happen. Have to be healthy and eat the right things. Put the right stuff in your body and make sure you’re training with the right guys so you can fight more throughout the year.

Make sure to check out Wonderboy on Twitter: @WonderboyMMA and Facebook: Stephen Wonderboy Thompson. Check out our Top Ten KO Series done by Wonderboy here

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Tom Gallicchio on UFC Release “It’s Been a Dream of Mine to Fight in KSW”

Harry Davies

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MMA Latest spoke to TUF 22 and 25 season competitor Tom Gallicchio about being cut from the UFC, and potential promotions that he could sign for in the future.

Gallicchio (19-10) signed for the UFC after reaching the semi-finals of The Ultimate Fighter: Season 25. Losing to James Krause in his debut, “Da Tank” was informed earlier this month that the UFC had parted ways with him.


Q: Before we jump into the whole free agency stuff, talk me through how the UFC broke the news that they were going to release you?

I thought I was going to have another fight, this time at lightweight. I got a letter dated July 7th, saying they were going to keep me, I received it in September. I was getting emails to update my USADA, I never got a cut letter and I got tested by USADA on October 24th. I was hoping to fight sometime in January or February, then they broke the news to me that they need to make a room for new talent.

Q: You made your UFC debut against James Krause in July, then 4 months down the line, they cut you. How surprised were you at this somewhat out of the blue decision?

I’m thankful for my opportunity in the UFC and the fact that they gave me another shot, but it was definitely surprising how it happened.  They released a newsletter in September welcoming Jesse (Taylor) Dhiego (Lima) and myself into the UFC, all signs pointed towards another fight. Hearing that I was cut was just heartbreaking.

Q: Have any talks started with a new promotion. I saw you name a few on Twitter, the likes of  Bellator, BAMMA, KSW and ACB. Who do you see yourself signing for?

I would love to compete in any of those! A couple of them hit me up, one of which I am very happy to talk with. Since they came out, It’s been a dream of mine to fight in KSW. They’re taking care of their fighters, I would love to fight for them. I want to travel, I want to see the world, I want to fight. I’ve got a lot of fans overseas and I want to give them a show.

It’s been a dream of mine to fight in KSW.

Q: Your long time friend Jesse Taylor was victorious in the TUF 25 Finale, but he has since accepted a 1-year ban for failing a USADA test. What is your take on this given how close you two are?

I know Jesse is not a juicer, I’ve known him ever since I came down to (Team) Quest. It’s probably come from some supplement that he’s taking, it sucks for him. I think he went into a little bit of panic mode, he could have done a better job of handling it.

I don’t take supplements, if there was a way, I’d still keep myself in the USADA pool just because I believe in a clean sport. I think it’s important we keep the sport clean and if we’re cleaning up the supplement companies then good, because no one else is.

Where would you look to see Tom fight next? Let us know below!

 

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ACB

Rany Saadeh pleased with the opportunities ACB brings, promises a finish in his debut on Saturday

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The BAMMA Flyweight belt was ruled for years by none other than Rany Saadeh, During his reign as champion he successfully defended the belt on two occasions. His dominance over the division saw him go undefeated in BAMMA and without a loss since 2012. Following the expiration of his contract, Rany vacated his BAMMA belt to explore new challenges.

He has now signed with ACB and is set to make his debut in only a matter of days at ACB 74 in Austria where he will take on Darren Mima. In a recent catch up with Rany, he explained his reasoning behind joining ACB and his goals in the promotion.

“ACB is the fastest growing organization in MMA. They’ve promised me an active career with events all over the world and a tempting bonus structure. It was just what I was looking for. I’ve looked into the competition and I can honestly say that the competition at flyweight is just as good, if not even better than in the UFC. Being the ACB title holder would make me a legit world champion.”

Ahead of his bout with Mima, we are set to see some new stuff from Saadeh as he claims to have changed up his style after a solid camp for this fight, guaranteeing us a surprise.

“I didn’t need to change anything for him but my style changed in general since my last fight. I’ve had an excellent camp with high-level training partners and coaches. I’m very grateful for my coaches who have put hours of private work into me this year. Especially with my new boxing coach Luciano Robledo, I can guarantee a surprise.”

The confidence is evident as he tells me how he sees the fight going. Promising his well-rounded arsenal of both strikes and grappling are worthy of bonuses, something he’d be very keen on considering the set-up in ACB.

“I will not just completely dominate but also finish.” He began, “I can imagine this fight being a wild brawl and dropping my opponent. Also on the ground, I have some slick submissions that are bonus-worthy.”

Having been successful in BAMMA, Rany is striving for more glory as plans on taking home the ACB title becoming the first Western European to do so.

“Of course!” he says with determination in his voice, “I’m coming into ACB as a world champion and the #1 ranked flyweight in Western Europe. After winning this fight, the title fight is right there”

It’s now been over a year since we’ve seen, “Prince” enter the cage. A decision voluntarily made by the German as he adjusted his game.

“It was mid last year when I had started to adjust my game. These changes take time and as the wished competition wasn’t there, I decided to take some time off fighting to prepare for a bigger challenge.”

Now having departed ways with BAMMA, the British promotion now has a new champion in Daniel Barez. Unfortunately for Rany, his reasons for leaving was the lack of competition has beaten everyone put in front of him with money being an issue that stepped in the way too. Despite any negativity derived from his departure, he does not rule out a return to the promotion where he was once Flyweight king.

“The competition in Europe just got very thin. With five fights in BAMMA, I somehow wasn’t very impressed with the opportunities left. Neither I got the fights, nor the purse that I needed to take my career further. After two title defenses, it felt like I was standing still which isn’t just BAMMA’s fault. Altogether, they are a great promotion and I wouldn’t exclude a return.”

When the UFC announced they would have the best flyweights from around the world enter the TUF house with a shot at the belt going to the winner. Many would have thought Rany Saadeh would have been up there. The season had champions from all over the world but no one from BAMMA, something strange considering the number of champions they signed in the past year from the promotion.

In an unfortunate circumstance for Saadeh, it was not his fault he wasn’t in the house as the UFC did come knocking but BAMMA just weren’t letting their champ go. Despite this situation, there is no bad blood anymore as Saadeh has moved on with things now.

“The UFC was definitely interested in putting me on the show and it is not true that BAMMA wasn’t asked. They were asked but didn’t want to be part of it. Without their permission, I wasn’t able to take part in the TUF. But I’m not mad at that anymore, I feel like it will make better opportunities possible.”

Having missed out on a possible UFC opportunity before, it isn’t on his mind anymore as he remains pleased with his life and is mainly looking to support his family in the future.

“I really don’t care, I’m set for the next few fights. All I want now is a decent living from fighting and provide for my family in the near future. ACB is not just giving me the chance to reach that goal but also giving me the challenges that I need. So far, I’m a very happy person”

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Bellator

Anthony “PrettyBoy” Taylor wants to knockout Trey Branch then fight Brian Moore in Bellator on St. Patricks Day

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Going from postlim fights in Bellator to a co-main event and then a main card fight after with such little professional experience isn’t something you’d hear of very often in the slightest. In this case Anthony “PrettyBoy” Taylor is the exception, who in only his third professional fight went to Ireland as part of the co-main event for a fight with James Gallagher. Taylor became well known to many in the build-up to that fight for being so outspoken and quite an entertainer, something he carries with him to the cage.

Anthony Taylor now has himself a fight lined up in a regional show near his home in California at California Fighting Championships. This will be his first time fighting back in America since May 2016. His last two bouts were in Europe as part of Bellator’s expansion into Europe. Following two losses he now hopes to get back in the win column in front of a home crowd. Taking this fight as a tune off fight Anthony is confident he won’t be touched by his opponent Trey Branch.

“Well, I’m taking this fight because Bellator said I’ll be fighting next year for overseas and it will be a good tune off fight for me. I think of trey like any other fighter. Just a guy who’s not going to touch me nor beat me.”

His opponent Trey Branch is jumping up from flyweight for this fight, Anthony believes he’s going to dominate his opponent and knock him out with ease. Now having 3 career losses coming via submission, he is not worried about his ground game, guaranteeing it was improved from training with some of the top fighters in Bellator.

“I believe I’m going to overpower him and KO him. He’s coming up from 125lb to fight me which I stated to the world on Bellator that I’m the strongest 45er in the world!! And as far as my ground game, it’d be covered and it’s great. Thanks to AJ McKee, Baby Slice, Joey Davis and Aaron Pico. My ground game is great and up there to the level, as there’s”

Looking ahead to next year when he competes in Bellator again, Taylor has his eyes set on a big fight in a return to Irish soil.

“Well Bellator loves me and I proved them that I belong there. I haven’t been told when I was fighting but I hope it’s back in Ireland, and maybe on St. Patricks day and hopefully I’ll fight Brian Moore because me and him been wanting to fight the longest.”

As a training partner for AJ McKee, Taylor was very pleased with how the fight went down, claiming it was a simple enough fight for his teammate that apparently didn’t train much for the fight. Suffering a loss on the initial trip to the emerald isle, “PrettyBoy” wants to come back and take home a win next time around.

“Oh man it was an easy fight for AJ, he only trained 2 weeks for that Brian Moore fight” he laughs “but absolutely it would be a great show if I was also on the show me and James alone still holds the record of views internationally and I’m looking to come back and taking what’s mines which is that W”

The win against Brian Moore could now potentially line up a fight between McKee and James Gallagher, fight fans have long sought after. Having fought against James and training with McKee on the regular Taylor isn’t convinced that Gallagher is ready for the AJ just yet. He also had some words about SBG fighters who were calling out Baby Slice.

“James is not ready for AJ. And people calling out slice since he’s new in the game. Why are sbg guys not calling out Joey Davis?? They are all talk and think that they’re better than everyone.”

With a win on Saturday, Anthony Taylor thinks it will kick him off to a series of consecutive wins that could ultimately land him in a fight with Emmanuel Sanchez.

“Yes it will start off (Saturday) and I believe it will set me up tremendously. I’m only getting better and I plan on winning fights in Bellator and then taking out Emanuel Sanchez. I do not like him, I hate him”

“I don’t like his style and he’s always hating on my teammates so I want his head” he added

Away from the fight scene, Anthony is pleased with the life that he’s got set up for himself with his newfound love since joining Bellator as he now aims to break into the movie industry too.

“Man it’s been great I now have a wonderful woman in my life so I’m happy. I’m acting too, trying to get into the movies industry and God has blessed me which so much love”

You can follow Anthony Taylor on all his social media accounts to keep an eye out for all his upcoming fight information and results.

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