Josh Thomson, who is coming off an impressive TKO victory over Nate Diaz, will be facing newly-crowned UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis at UFC on FOX 9 in December. When UFC President, Dana White, places the belt on Thomson, the fighter says he won’t be able to contain himself and that he’s ‘going to pick him up and throw him around.’
By Christopher Murphy @MurphMMA
UFC lightweight fighter, Josh Thomson, took some time out of his training to speak with BJPenn.com Radio Friday. With the recent announcement of his upcoming title shot, Josh had plenty to talk about.
Of course, the fight against current lightweight champion Anthony Pettis was not expected.
The original contender for the belt, T.J. Grant, was forced to withdraw from the fight due to complications from a concussion. It was the same concussion that forced Grant from his bout against former champion, Benson Henderson, and the Canadian fighter has not been able to bounce back in time to face new champion, Anthony Pettis.
As of last week, that left the UFC with no choice but to find a replacement to face Pettis. It took very little time after Grant announced his condition for the UFC to announce Josh Thomson as the new challenger. Thomson says that is in part because of his jumping at the opportunity.
“That actually never was in my mind” Thomson said about the title fight, “not once. We had actually been in contact with the UFC about fighting Benson or Dos Anjos. Then, next thing you know, we had been waiting three or four days to hear back from them, and finally we got the call saying, ‘Hey, do you want the fight?’ and I was like, ‘Heck yeah!’ I would have been a fool not to take it.”
Now, Josh has a few month to prepare for what can arguably be called the biggest fight of his career.
“It feels good. It feels good to know I’m next in line for the title shot, just got to stay healthy and fight. For me, I think if I get to the fight, it’s 100% win for me. I just got to get there. That’s the thing for me, I just train so hard. All I got to do is just get to the fight. That right there, my chances of winning the fight are a lot better.
“Yeah, I think anyone would be foolish to say it’s not the biggest fight of their career. You know, you’re fighting for the biggest promotion in the world and the biggest belt in the world, and you know, just kind of feels good.”
Not only is the fight against Pettis a big fight because of the stakes, but in Pettis, Thomson will be taking on a fighter with such unbelievable momentum on his side. Pettis has won his last four fights, the last three of which have not gone past the first round. In fact, it has taken him less than 10 minutes total to dispatch of three top-5 opponents: Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone by way of knockout and then-champion Benson Henderson via submission.
For Thomson, however, he’s not too concerned.
“My honest opinion is actually that I’ve got guys just as good as him if not better. I mean I consider them better than him on the feet and stand-up who aren’t just flashy…. He does switch his stance a lot from left to right, right to left, whatever. I do the same thing, so over the years I’ve gotten used to that. I got a couple guys who come over and help me who do that as well. I think I’ll be ready for it. I’ll be ready the best I can, there’s no doubt about it. I’ve never had a problem finding good, solid training partners at AKA. We’ve got a couple good guys that are really good stand-up guys who are really hard to take down. I don’t really see it being a problem. Like I said, most of this fight anyway is going to be on the feet… A lot of people were saying I wasn’t going to stand with Nate Diaz, but at the end of the day, it was all the stand up that won me the fight. It’s all a matter of I like to mix it up, I like to punch, shoot, I like to kick, I like to get takedowns. I like to mix it up, I like to keep things interesting, you know. You’ll find that a lot of the… stand-up fights [in MMA] now, they look like a sparring match. So that’s kind of put a damper on the stand-up. It’s the fights that mix it up really well that make the fight exciting.”
Thomson did concede that he will learn from the mistakes made by Benson Henderson when he fought Pettis last month.
“I think Ben put a lot of pressure on himself to get the fight to the ground. I’m not going to do that, you know, I’m going to keep it standing as much as possible. I’m going to make sure I mix it up; I’m going to threaten the takedown, and he’s going to be worried about it. He should be concerned. I had an opportunity to train with him before, and he has a pretty good idea that I’m good on the ground. I’m no slouch. So I think as far as on the feet, yeah sure he’s talented, I think he’s good. He does crazy stuff, you know, you just got to watch out for the crazy stuff, but other than that, he’s a kickboxer, you know, and I’ve trained with a lot of good kickboxers. I’m not too concerned about it, to be honest, it’s another fight- obviously it’s a big scale fight, but to me it’s just another fight.”
About the submission Pettis used to defeat Henderson, who holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, Thomson said it was a combination of Pettis’ skill and Henderson’s surprise.
“I think Benson took for granted that he’s been training a lot of jiu jitsu, didn’t think Pettis would be able to hit the submission on him, and I think Pettis has been working a lot on his grappling. I think that transition showed it. He really attacked that arm fast, he finished right, he did a good job. You can’t really take that away from him. I think a little bit of it was that Benson did take for granted the grappling aspect of it.”
When asked if he thought he would fair better against one or the other, in regard to Henderson and Pettis, Thomson said that the way things turned out seem pretty good. Pettis’ style, because of its excitement and flashiness, creates opportunities for Thomson.
“I think stylistically there’s more of an opening to win. When guys take chances like that, it opens up opportunities for me to win- to win by knockout, to win by whatever, to get an easier takedown. Whatever it is, when guys take chances like he does- which I love watching him fight because of it- it opens up the opportunity to lose. I think if he takes too many chances with me, he’s going to end up in a very bad position.”
Though Thomson is a replacement for this fight, he does have a considerable amount of time to prepare for Anthony Pettis. Having fought for nearly 15 years, Thomson stated that he won’t be changing his training too much, but he will prepare specifically for his opponent.
“I mean I’m not really going to change anything about the way I train. If anyone’s been to AKA [American Kickboxing Academy] and they’ve seen the way we train, it’s kind of a formatted thing. We do the same thing every week. The only thing that will change is I’ll work a couple little, different things with my mitt guy, I’ll work a couple different things with the guys I spar with. There will be like a different group of guys that I spar. If I have a chance of working with a kickboxer and one of our guys who’s mainly wrestling, obviously I’m going to work with the kickboxer. It’s a matter of just mixing up your sparring partners, you know, and fine-tuning the things you have to do with your mitt guy.
“We have a lot of good amateur kickboxers [at AKA], our amateur kickboxing team is phenomenal. Like I said most of them are probably better, or as good if not better than Anthony Pettis. So I’m not really too concerned.”
As for a game plan, Thomson insisted on simplicity.
“I just need to let him go ahead and do his thing. Honestly, he’s going to do whatever, he’s the same guy. He’s going to try and keep it on the feet, you know and I’m going to keep it on the feet as much as possible. I’m going to mix it up though, that’s the only thing that’s different. I’m not going to put the pressure on myself that I feel like Benson did to go out there, press him to the fence, do all those things.
“I consider myself one of the most well-rounded fighters in the sport,” he continued. “To do that, you have to be able to take it anywhere. I got to be able to kickbox with him, I got to be able to clinch with him, I got to be able to take him down, I got to be able to do everything: out-wrestle him, out-grapple him, all those things. I got to be able to do it all. I consider myself one of the most well-rounded guys in the sport, and I really, to be honest, I just focus on what I have to do. I’m not focusing on what he does good, I’m focusing on what I have to do to get the win. That’s how I did my whole career: I’m not worried about what he does good or what they do well. Sure, I know he’s a stand-up guys. OK. I’ve fought a lot of good stand-up guys, now I need to focus on the things I need to do to beat that stand-up guy, and that’s it. That’s all I focus on.”
Of course, Thomson joins a number of fighters who have joined (or re-joined in the case of some like Thomson) the UFC only to see incredible success. Thomson’s first fight back in the UFC saw him defeat Nate Diaz with a second-round TKO over someone long thought to have one of the best chins in MMA. Many former Strikeforce fighters have greeted this success as validation for their success in an organization thought to be lower-caliber than the UFC. For Josh Thomson, however, he has felt successful long before coming back to the UFC.
“Maybe the younger guys, they need validation, but my career is validation enough. I’ve been fighting 14 years, almost 15 years. I was ranked number one in the world back in 2002, 2003, 2004, whatever it was when I was with the UFC then. In Strikeforce I was always pretty much ranked in the top ten. Now I’m back with the UFC, I’m right here in the top 5 again. I think the longevity of my career pretty much is validation itself. I don’t need anyone else to validate it for me. I feel good about my career, I feel like I’ve done well.
“The only thing that is upsetting to me is that I spent my best years injured. That’s what pisses me off, is that I was 30 years old I ended up getting hurt, and I was hurt until I was 32. So between 30 and 32, I feel like it was one of the best times to be a fighter, and I spent most of those times injured.”
As far as what Thomson anticipates for December 14, he imagines losing control when UFC President Dana White puts the UFC lightweight belt around his waist.
“I’m probably going to pick him up and throw him around like I did Joe Silva that day. I mean honestly, dude, when I got that knockdown over Nate and I saw Joe, you know how many times I’ve seen Joe go into that cage and tell someone, ‘Good job, great win!’? I’ve been waiting years to do have him do that. When I was younger, I don’t recall- maybe because I was young and wasn’t into the fight details- I don’t recall Joe coming in and doing those things. But man, it felt good to have Joe going in there and shaking my hand and saying, ‘Great fight,’ and now when Joe wraps that belt around my waist, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to control myself. If Dana wraps the belt around my waist then I’m going to have to pick him up.”
Be sure to catch UFC on FOX 9 live from Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California on December 14. The card features a number of local fighters such as Josh Thomson, Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes and Danny Castillo.