Shavkat Rakhmonov celebrates a UFC victory

Stephen Thompson, better known as “Wonderboy” to fans of the sport, returns once again to face one of the scariest fighters in the welterweight division. Shavkat Rakhmonov of Kazakstan has 17 wins, 0 losses and 17 finishes in his pro career. Since entering the UFC, Rakhmonov has dispatched notable names such as Geoff Neal, Neil Magny and Alex Oliveira.

However, as daunting a challenge as Rakhmonov may be, do not make the mistake that it’s anything new for the veteran. Having fought his way to a UFC championship in 2106, Thompson has fought the best the division has had to offer for many years. His resume includes Robert Whittaker, Johnny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald, Jorge Masvidal among others. Arguably he gave fans the performance of his career one year ago when he defeated Kevin Holland by TKO stoppage in the fourth round.

Rakhmonov vs. Thompson betting odds

Looking to turn his undefeated record into an even 18-0, Shavkat Rakhmonov will come into the bout as the betting favorite.

  • Shavkat Rakhmonov: -650
  • Stephen Thompson: +425

Rakhmonov vs. Thompson fight breakdown

Stephen Thompson is one of the most widely recognized karate practitioners in MMA today. With his bladed stance and use of the lead leg, he very much represents his roots in point karate and karate-kickboxing. His punches tend to come straight, making adjustments especially as of late, utilizing the check right hook from southpaw to cover his exit after his lead kicks. What makes Wonderboy so unique is the dexterity in his kicking game, being able to flow through with high snap kicks behind his blitzing punches as well as use his lead sidekick almost like a jab.

Shavkat Rakhmonov stands much more upright in a shorter stance. He is a conventional fighter with his rear hand his right but also utilizes a lot of high level kicking. Rakhmonov is known for his aggressive style, and dependence on solid head movement. The fact that he stands upright and square could leave his midsection open to Wonderboy’s lead sidekick as well as his tendency to slip off punches is also a bad match with Wonderboy’s ability to circle opponents into his kicks behind the boxing. That being said, there are many opportunities that Rakhmonov’s style opens up against someone like Thompson.

Stephen Thompson kicks Vicente Luque at UFC 244
Stephen Thompson kicks Vicente Luque at UFC 244 (Zuffa LLC)

In his most recent fight, fans saw a far more aggressive version of Thompson than we have in the past. He normally skirts the outer ring of the cage tagging his opponents and retreating. Against Holland last year, Wonderboy maintained control of the centre far more often, blitzing in when Holland started to take ground. The more aggressive Wonderboy is the more he tends to depend on his cross-step punching, in which he leads with the left cross and blasts through with straights.

If Rakhmonov finds Wonderboy over extending on his crosses too often, one of the tools Holland found success with was timing the counter knee to the body right up the centre Chanel. Rakhmonov is arguably better at this technique, and finds success with knees often in the clinch should Wonderboy crash forward. Shavkat also needs to be careful of clipping into a kick, but in the same movement he sets himself up very well to initiate a body lock behind Wonderboy’s punches which is useful if Rakhmonov is chasing a takedown.

If Thompson sits back and looks to counter as he more often does, Rakhmonov will have to press him to the fence and find away to cut off the exits in order to square up Wonderboy. Because the Karate Master likes the bladed stance the less room you give him the more he is forced to either square up or shorten the width between his feet, taking away much of his game. Feinting, and low kicks are great way for Shavkat to do this as long as he keeps defensively sound while doing so.

Ultimately, taking Wonderboy to the mat is Rakhmonov’s best route to victory. They are matched well on the feet, with Wonderboy taking the edge the more the two stay at range. However, on the ground, Rakhmonov is a wizard at floating and adjusting in top position, and his submission record of 9 speaks for itself.

Wonderboy has excellent takedown defense especially considering how many people have tried to shoot on him, so against the cage he has an incredible base and ability to frame his way into enough space to circle off. Rakhmonov’s takedown’s tend to work best when he can engage in a waistlock or catch a kick in space.

The frequency with which Wonderboy kicks leads itself well to this, but he also has some of the fastest striking in the UFC. It will be difficult for Rakhmonov to time a catch, but if he can he needs to make the most of the chance. Otherwise,working from the clinch for trips sp that he can maintain height on Wonderboy once down would be smart.

Rakhmonov vs. Thompson prediction

The oddsmakers have Rakhmonov as a towering favorite. He should be the favorite, however, it’s debatable as to whether the gap this big is justified. As a crafty veteran, Wonderboy does have a history of halting up-and-comers but at the end of the day the most likely scenario his a Rakhmonov victory, do to his aggressive in close striking and his grappling advantage.

However, with the odds as they are the most valuable pick on BetUS, will be for the fight to over 1.5 rounds at -170. It’s not as drastic a favorite as Rakhmonov to win, but is extremely likely. Rakhmonov is an aggressive fighter who will probably be the on the lead foot and if he is hurt, will scramble and try to work his way back in.

I doubt that if he is hurt Wonderboy looks to wrestle into a position to finish from top. On the other side we have seen Wonderboy rally back countless times from being hurt and work his way out of tight submissions. If there is a stoppage I see it being by Shavkat in the third, but that’s only if there is a stoppage at all.

Pick: Fight to go over 1.5 rounds (-170)

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