Tonight at UFC on ESPN: Thompson vs. Neal (UFC Vegas 17), Stephen Thompson will look to re-establish himself as a contemporary world title contender when he takes on a fighter seven years his junior and a man many believe is a more fitting example of a “prime fighter.” Meanwhile, some people believe that at 37 years of age, having already challenged twice for a title unsuccessfully, and having lost two of his last three fights, Stephen Thompson is now what is known as a “gatekeeper,” a fighter who is merely a difficult test for rising prospects to overcome. In fact, Thompson believes that even the UFC brass may be among those who categorize him as such.
“My last fight was against Vicente Luque, who was ranked #11,” Thompson said in a recent ESPN interview. Fighting another guy ranked #11, so you kind of get to the point of where, hey, is the UFC trying to make me a gatekeeper at this point? Which I’m not. I’m always trying to work my way forward.”
Stephen Thompson believes that should he defeat Geoff Neal in tonight’s main event, not only would he effectively prove that is not a gatekeeper, but he will have proven himself worthy for someone in the top 5 this time as opposed to on the outskirts of the top 10 again. After that, the term “gatekeeper” will be in the rearview as Thompson cruises to a title shot at some point in the new year.
“When I hear ‘gatekeeper, I feel like it’s somebody who’s on their way out. And for me, yeah, I’m 37 years old. It feels I’m 25 to be honest with you. I haven’t taken a ton of damage, and I feel like I’m getting better every day. So I know I got a small window to do what I gotta do in the fight game, and I know I can be fighting for the title in 2021, and that’s my goal.
Do you believe Stephen Thompson will ever fight for the title again?