After more than a year off, Thomson returns Saturday vs. K.J. Noons
It’s been a long road back to the cage for former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson.
After a series of injuries kept him on the sidelines for 2011, Thomson is looking to get back into the mix – and he’ll have his opportunity to do so when he steps in to face K.J. Noons on Saturday at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey. The American Kickboxing Academy staple is primed and ready to bring the excitement and spoke to HeavyMMA about his journey back.
“It’s really just about making sure you’re in shape,” Thomson said. “I took my camp slow this time around and there were no injuries. I was a little concerned maybe I didn’t do enough to prepare because I’m used to doing a lot more. But as this week came around, and I felt my body come back, I knew I had made the right choices. I’m going to take the rest of (Thursday) to rest and then get ready to fight.”
During his reign over the Strikeforce lightweight division, Thomson was considered to be one of the top lightweights in the world. But after losing his title and being away from the sport for over a year, his status in the rankings has dropped. Some fighters would feel they have something to prove upon their return, but Thomson is confident in the work he has already accomplished inside the cage.
“The one thing people should understand about me is that I’m at a stage of my career where you mention lightweight fighters and people will remember me for who I am,” Thomson said. “I think I’ve had some of the best fights in MMA, from Hermes Franca and both fights with Gilbert Melendez. Pat Healy gave me a tough go and it was a great fight. Both fights with Gilbert were Fight of the Year candidates, so those things have to be taken into consideration.
“I tend to get the best out of every fighter. Right now I’m considered a gatekeeper and everyone has seen what I was able to do with Gilbert and they are all thinking that I am the guy they need to hang their hat on. They think by beating me they may have a chance against Gil. People think their future gets brighter by beating me and they raise their game to fight me. It’s like you are fighting every time without the title but getting title fights all the time
“I’ve never ducked any of the best fighters and I’ve even taken fights with top-ranked guys on short notice. I fought (Tatsuya) Kawajiri on two week’s notice. It doesn’t matter to me. If I’m healthy, can train and can make money, that is what I’m going to do. I’m going out there to give it all I've got and give it the best I can at the time.”
In former Elite XC champion Noons, Thomson has yet another tough task on his hands. “King Karl” has top-notch boxing skills, and in his most recent outing against Billy Evangelista, Noons showed a steady improvement in his wrestling skills. Despite visible progression, Thomson doesn’t believe it will be enough and believes his wrestling and pace will factor into the outcome of the fight.
“You can’t teach a grown man to wrestle overnight,” Thomson said. “He has some wrestling background, and you can tell by his ability to stuff takedowns. But the reality of it all is I’m not going to waste all my energy hanging onto a leg like Billy Evangelista did. Evangelista wasted time doing that and he kept trying to lift his leg and hang out there. I’m not that type of person. If I get the takedown, that’s great. But if it doesn’t happen, I’m totally cool with hanging out on the feet.
“Another aspect comes in where you can teach someone to defend submissions, but can you teach them to defend two or three submissions in a row? You can teach someone how to stop the initial takedown, but you can’t teach them how to chain wrestle. All I had to do was get back into my wrestling roots. Sure, he might be able to stop the first shot, but can he stop the re-shot or the double re-shot? He can’t do that. Everyone can stop a double-leg now in MMA, and if you can’t stop a double-leg you shouldn’t be fighting. That’s really what it comes down to. Those things can’t be taught in a six- to eight-week camp. It’s just not going to happen.
“If he’s defending takedowns the whole time, it may tire him out. It’s being comfortable on the ground with the grappling and the wrestling. If I keep the fight standing and let him settle into his boxing, he’s going to get more comfortable and that might make it easier for me to get the takedown, as well. I’ve looked at it a couple of different ways. He gets in great shape for boxing and kickboxing, but if you look at the Evangelista fight, when you put him into a crunch situation where you’re just letting it fly and getting after it, he tends to wilt a little bit – but we’ll see.
“It’s going to be a methodical fight. If we go out there and try to have the Fight of the Night, it could potentially end up being a sloppy, ugly, possibly entertaining fight. But both of us are definitely looking for the win and the title shot and I think this fight is going to be methodical. We don’t have to try to be entertaining because our styles are entertaining naturally. That’s the great thing about this fight. No matter what I do, the potential for this fight to be pretty damned entertaining is very good.”
Thomson may not believe he has anything to prove, but that doesn’t mean title aspirations are running through his mind. Reclaiming the belt he once coveted remains a priority but he knows looking down the road rather than focusing on what is standing in his way is a mistake – one he refuses to make with Noons.
“There are title aspirations, but like K.J. was saying at the press conference, you have to take it one fight at a time,” Thomson said. “He was saying he was he was going to beat Jorge Masvidal and get a title shot, but look what happened. When you start looking past that guy in front of you, it’s definitely going to bite you in the ass.
“Don’t get me wrong – I’m thinking about the title and that third fight with Melendez. I’m thinking about closing the book on our series and people ask me about it all the time. They never ask me about the fight I have coming up – it’s always about when the third fight with Melendez is going to happen and because of this, it is something that is in my mind all the time whether I want it to be or not.
“I can’t walk down the street in San Jose without running into two or three people who know me, and they ask about when I’m fighting Gil again. I get it on Twitter and Facebook all the time. It’s crazy, and as a fighter it’s important to remember to keep your focus on the guy who is standing in front of you. I have a tough task with K.J.”
For years, Thomson has been a core member of the team at American Kickboxing Academy. The gym has long been considered one of the best in the sport. But recently, it came into headlines when another long-time member, UFC welterweight contender Josh Koscheck, parted ways with the camp following his victory over Mike Pierce. In his departure, AKA lost a staple member of the team. But where it could have created a larger issue, Thomson believes the situation has only brought the team in San Jose closer.
“There are two things that can happen,” Thomson said. “It can tear a gym apart where guys leave, sort of like what happened with Rashad Evans at (Greg) Jackson’s, or everyone stays and gets stronger. If you look at our gym, no one else has left and it has made us stronger. No one has left and no one is leaving. We’ve also acquired Leandro Vieira to take Dave Camarillo’s spot. Leandro is one of the top jiu-jitsu guys in the world and he brought his brother Ricardo to come and train with us. We are getting top notch jiu-jitsu and the new-age stuff.
“Realistically one guy leaving has brought our team a little bit closer. It can be a cancer. I’m not saying Josh Koscheck was a cancer, but when a guy leaves it can be like a cancer that spreads and other guys leave as well. The team all came together and asked ourselves if we wanted to stay where we were at, wanted to stay together and wanted to make it work. Everyone decided they would stay.
“The thing with Josh is he has two gyms in Fresno, two houses and he has a life down there. It’s hard to run two businesses and he has a lot to do. The biggest thing with him is I think he knows he’s getting older and he wants to spend the rest of his career down there, bringing in a team to work around him and trying to be successful. I think it’s great for him.
“The door is always open if he wanted to come back, and the entire team would love to have him back. We wouldn’t even think twice or say anything because it wouldn’t matter to us. The door would be open for him to come back as long as we could bury the hatchet and we could just all go in and train. That’s the way it’s always been, and he knows that. Josh is always more than welcome there.”