After losing his initial shot at the Strikeforce belt in a bout with Clay Guida, a resurgent Thomson took on fan-favorite Nam Phan where he attempted to build on momentum from a trio of consecutive submission wins including a finish of Duane Ludwig. “The Punk” performed to near-perfection, outpointing Phan with relative ease to pick up the title. Thomson’s first encounter with Gilbert Melendez was only his second defense of the Strikeforce belt. “El Nino” entered the bout with plenty of deserved hype but failed to find success in the showdown. Still, it was a closely-contested clash and it was clear the two would see action against each other again at some point in the future. Unfortunately, Thomson has been plagued by injuries over the past few years. Things first came to light when he spent more than twelve months on the shelf before battling Melendez in a rematch. While he was understandably a bit rusty, Thomson gave Melendez a real run for his money before ultimately coming out on the wrong end of a hard-fought decision. Healy is as tough as they come at lightweight and owns a number of notable victories in his career. When he took on Thomson he even managed to break two of the Californian’s ribs during a takedown in the opening round of action. However, Thomson’s toughness came through and he found away to gut his way to a submission finish in the fight’s final frame. Despite a somewhat questionable decision loss to Tatsuya Kawajiri in Japan, Thomson got back to business in Strikeforce where the American Kickboxing Academy staple ran his record to 3-0 in the wake of his 2009 title-loss to Gilbert Melendez by beating K.J. Noons. Noons’ background in boxing did little to keep his foe’s fists off his face and he had no answer for Thomson’s takedowns either. It was sloppy at times, but Thomson dominated Noons for the most part and scored another shot at Melendez based on the result. In many ways it’s fitting the final defense of the Strikeforce lightweight title involved Thomson-Melendez given the roles each played in the belt’s history. The third tilt between the two was perhaps the most entertaining, though countless fans would likely argue the ultimate outcome was far from satisfying. After the smoke cleared Melendez was handed a Split Decision win many felt Thomson actually deserved based on the damage done over the 25-minute masterpiece. Nate Diaz was freshly removed from a five-round rumble with champ Benson Henderson when he crossed paths with Thomson and had looked razor sharp in previous pairings against game adversaries like Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone, and Jim Miller. While Diaz wasn’t overmatched from the opening bell, Thomson’s superior stand-up became apparent as action unfolded. He landed a flush head-kick in the clash, badly hurting Diaz, and quickly pounced en route to a TKO win. The loss stands as the only strike-based stoppage of Diaz’s career. There won’t be a ton of fans giving Thomson a chance when he puts his paws on Anthony Pettis but don’t expect “The Punk” to be bothered by any low expectations others may have. The 34-year old (who celebrates his birthday on Saturday) has a lot of experience and a good deal of it has come against tough opponents with backgrounds in a wide variety of disciplines. He’s beaten wrestlers like Gilbert Melendez, strikers like K.J. Noons, and submission-specialists like Nate Diaz, plus he’s overcome adversity time and time again. While Pettis is a unique talent, Thomson should definitely be ready for nearly anything Pettis throws his way. After all, he’s been preparing himself for the opportunity to win UFC gold since first stepping in a cage more than a decade ago.
This week it was revealed
UFC lightweight contender T.J. Grant had been once again forced to sit on the sidelines for health-related reasons and watch one of his peers challenge for divisional gold. This time around, it will be former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson aiming for the title with Anthony Pettis laying claim to the gold rather than Benson Henderson. While the main event has definitely made headlines, there’s much more to Thomson’s crack at the belt than Grant’s misfortune. (Photos by USA Today Sports Images) UFC on FOX 9