Over the past eight or nine months, current top UFC lightweight and former Strikeforce 155-pound champion Josh “The Punk” Thomson has experienced a plethora of excitement, but one moment in particular has brought about significant changes. Returning to the Octagon in April and putting on a great display in front of a new era of UFC fans, who may have never had the opportunity to see him perform, is something Thomson will always be grateful for. As his fight against former UFC lightweight Benson Henderson approaches, Thomson’s mind and body have been put to the test. He was set to become the first title defense for Anthony Pettis in the UFC on Fox 10 card main event, but unfortunately Pettis was injured, forcing the UFC to look elsewhere for an opponent for “The Punk.” After the ups and downs of having a title bout against one of the most exciting fighters in MMA today taken away, Thomson takes on an equally difficult, yet very different opponent in Henderson. All of this has left Thomson tired and searching for something to get his head where it needs to be come January 25th. “It’s been a long camp for me. I was probably about four or five weeks into the Pettis camp and the fight fell through, so I took a week off,” Thomson said. “At that point I had no fight, but when I was in Vegas for the GSP-Johny Hendricks fight, Joe (Silva) called my manager Bob Cook and we were able to get the Henderson fight inked up. I jumped into a 10-week camp from there, so it’s been close to about 15 weeks of training. My body is a little tired and basically I’m ready to fight. When you have such a long camp, it kind of takes the excitement out of the fight. I need to get rejuvenated for this fight mentally. It’s been a long camp and I’ve been a bit mentally fatigued. The lack of excitement for Henderson is kind of disappearing on me.” What will it take to get that excitement back? Going into a bout against a former UFC lightweight champion, a fighter has to be on top of his game in all aspects. Henderson was the UFC lightweight champion for a reason. The “Smooth” one can hold his own against anyone. “As you rest, your mental state gets a lot better,” offered Thomson. “You’re tired all of the time when it’s this long of a camp. You’re like, ‘Man, when is [the fight] going to get here? The week off before the fight is when fighters mentally prepare. You get a lot of food in you, start feeling rejuvenated and start feeling feisty again.” Thomson explained in great detail how excited he was to face Pettis for the UFC title. After years of traveling around the world and fighting top opponents in many different organizations, his career had come full circle. Then the phone rang, and the wind was taken right out of his sails. “I was on cloud nine when I was given the title shot,” Thomson said. “Losing it was more mental, I was super excited and amped up for the actual fight. I was like, ‘It’s finally here!’ And not to take anything from Henderson as I’m sure he can understand about the first time you get an opportunity to fight for the title, and then it gets taken away, you’re like, ‘Damn!’ Everything else seems kind of vanilla after that. It seems bland and plain. I’ve got to step up for this fight and mentally prepare because it’s a huge fight. It will kind of solidify my number one contender spot after this win. I need to get really mentally prepared for this fight and make sure my focus is on going out there and getting the win.” We’ve seen too many fighters awarded a title opportunity only to have it taken back because of an injury or because the UFC deems someone to be a better opponent in the Octagon and outside of it as well. A win over Henderson should keep him atop the lightweight rankings, but nothing in MMA is ever guaranteed. The big question is: When will Pettis be ready? Also, whether or not Thomson would take another fight as opposed to waiting. “Even though I am looking forward to fighting for the title, if Pettis isn’t going to be ready, I will have to fight someone else in the process,” stated the San Jose native. “We don’t make money unless we fight and being that it’s close to the end of my career, it’s about making money and putting on good fights. If I am the number one contender, I just want to fight the top guys. If that means fighting Gilbert Melendez again, I’ll fight him. If that means fighting TJ Grant or Rafael Dos Anjos while I wait for Pettis then that’s who I will have to fight. If the opportunity to fight Pettis is there, then of course I want to fight him for the UFC title.” Despite losing the title shot and the switch in opponents, Thomson still has a lot to look forward to. He’s facing a former champion in his first fight back since losing the title, and the AKA product knows Henderson will be hungry for a win. Thomson is also in the main event of a huge UFC card on national television in front of the great fans in Chicago. Thomson has been in main events before, but this is a whole new level compared to the past. “I’m definitely looking forward to fighting in that arena,” said an excited Thomson. “You have to think about all the stars that have played there. It’s just crazy, Jonathan Toews plays there right now, and he’s one of the best hockey players to walk the face of the earth. All the history that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen accomplished in that arena, it’s nuts when you think of all the history that’s occurred in that arena. Of course I can’t wait to fight there in Chicago. Honestly, the most exciting thing is the main event status. I was watching the 49ers-Panthers game and to see my face up on the TV is kind of cool. Those are things you can look back on your career and think that you did something right. I’ve done something with my career. I’ve made it to the big time. It’s like a little icing on the cake, and it lets you know that all the things you did in life have really paid off.” “I got my life on track, and I’m focused on the thing I want and that’s the UFC title. That’s the main thing that goes through my mind. There are billboards with my face on them all around the US and making the commercials for Fox was awesome. I would imagine 15-20 million people were watching that 49er game. To think that many people know who I am is pretty impressive.” There is no doubt that Thomson’s popularity has soared since he came back to the UFC and knocked out Nate Diaz in the second round at UFC on Fox 7 back in April. A win over a high profile opponent on national TV will do that. Let’s not forget that Thomson is also one of the most active fighters on social media and takes time to interact with his fans any chance that he can get. Some fighters enjoy the action in the cage, some enjoy training and bonding with their teammates and then some enjoy interacting with their fans. Thomson seems like the type of fighter who appreciates the whole package, but he also included another aspect of being a martial artist. “There have been different phases throughout my career,” Thomson admitted. “In the beginning it was the fight and the excitement of walking in the arena knowing it was fight time. In the middle it was the traveling and having the opportunity to fight in all of the big organizations including Pride, Dream, Strikeforce and the UFC. At that time, I loved traveling and getting to see all of the beautiful places. That is something that I really enjoyed. Now, towards the end of my career, it really is the fans. I look back and reflect on my career, on everything I’ve done, where I’ve been and where I’ve ended up. I had so much fun hosting the Q&A for the UFC show in Sacramento.” “It was amazing; I got to meet all the kids and the fans. Before the Q&A, I walked up into the crowd and took pictures with everybody. Now that I’m getting older, I’m starting to appreciate all of the little things.” Going from Strikeforce and having his fights televised on Showtime to the UFC and having his fights aired on FOX, Thomson hasn’t noticed a particular jump in the amount of fans that he has. There are other aspects from the fans that have caught his eye. They seem to be more appreciative of who he is as a person and a fighter and respect what he brings to the Octagon. As his career continues and even after it ends, Thomson wants to be known for who he is as a competitor and who he is as a person. “I have noticed that I’m getting a lot more support,” Thomson said. “Now that the UFC fans are becoming more familiar with me and they are able to recognize me as a top lightweight coming off of my last fight. The fans have let it be known that they like who I am and they like my style of fighting. My style of fighting changes from fight to fight. A lot of the fans have sent me emails including one from a guy who is a huge Nate Diaz fan. He appreciated that fact that I handled myself with class and didn’t talk trash after I beat Nate. Those are things that I want. When people ask what I want to leave behind as my legacy, those are things that I want people to say about me. Even when I won I was classy and even after I lost to Gil Melendez both times I never had anything bad to say about the guy. That’s how I want to be remembered.” While we’re on the subject of Melendez again, there is still some unfinished business between the two in some people’s eyes. Thomson won the first fight, but lost the subsequent two. The third fight was extremely close, and a lot of people felt Thomson won. It has been almost two years since they last fought and neither fighter has changed much as far as their styles are concerned, but Thomson feels like he has grown up and has started using his head more. “We’ve fought three times and a lot had changed from the first fight to the third fight,” the 35-year-old Thomson said. “Since the last time we fought I can’t say a whole lot has changed. I think I am fighting smarter and using my head more and you saw that in the Diaz fight. I didn’t fight a stupid fight, I fought a smart fight. I fought a smarter fight against Gil in the third fight as well, but I just came up short. A lot of people had me winning that fight and I thought I did enough to win that fight, but the judges are the ones who count the most and they didn’t have me winning. That’s all that matters and it’s time to move on. If we end up fighting again it would be nice if it were a five round fight for the title. Right now we both have our hands full and I’m not going to look too far ahead to be honest.” When he defeated Diaz, he became the only fighter to ever finish Diaz via knockout or TKO. The rush of taking out one of the best fighters in the lightweight division must have felt unbelievable. That win also served as his first victory in the Octagon since he defeated Hermes Franca at UFC 46 in January of 2004. That is a span of over nine years and for Thomson the wait was worth it. “It felt great, it felt good to be back in there and it felt like I never left,” The man they call the Punk said. “There’s been a void in my career since I left the UFC and I felt like my fight with Yves (Edwards at UFC 49) should’ve been for the title. I would’ve fought a different fight if it had been for the belt. I feel like I fought really arrogant and cocky in that fight.” “I was trying to showboat too much and it cost me. I came back and took the fight with Nate and I made sure I didn’t fight that way. I played it over and over in my mind about fighting smart and being safe. I wanted to capitalize on the moments I was given and take advantage of them.”
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