Woodley and Thompson set for welterweight title rematch at UFC 209

Stephen Thompson launches one of his trademark spinning hook kicksThe welterweight title fight between Stephen Thompson and Tyron Woodley in November was widely considered one of 2016’s top UFC bouts: a back-and-forth affair that ended in a majority draw and the promise of a rematch. That promise will be fulfilled Saturday at UFC 209, when Woodley once again tries to defend his belt against “Wonderboy” Thompson.

Woodley defeated Robbie Lawler to become welterweight champion last July, knocking Lawler out in the first round. Woodley possesses devastating power in his fists, but he began his fighting career as more of a wrestler, earning victories by submission rather than knockout. He used takedowns to his advantage early in his first fight against Thompson but abandoned the strategy after the first round, and Thompson was more than game to trade blows.

Thompson is a kickboxer who prefers to win fights by wearing opponents down with precision strikes or surprising them with a spinning hook kick. He hasn’t lost a fight since April 2012, and the only time he ever truly seemed out of his depth on his unbeaten streak was in the first round against Woodley, when Thompson didn’t have an answer to Woodley’s ground-and-pound and he finished the round with a gash across his nose.

Woodley would be wise to try and continue going for takedowns on Thompson beyond the opening five minutes of the rematch. Woodley likes to go for the knockout punch, and he will  be tempted to try against Thompson after connecting with a couple big shots later in their first match. But Thompson will be more ready for Woodley’s strikes the second time around, and staying upright will allow Thompson to dictate the pace with his movement. Woodley’s best chance to gain the upper hand is to take the fight to the ground.

Thompson’s rematch strategy will likely involve more kicking, which he didn’t use often in November. If he can avoid an early wound to worry about, he should be free to work away at Woodley’s knees or midsection with leg strikes punishing and persistent enough to slow Woodley down for a finishing blow. Spacing will be key for Thompson, who needs to stay out of range of Woodley’s takedowns and punches, but close enough to land his kicks.