Saturday’s main card at UFC Fight Night 199 will include a match-up between Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, recently on the cusp of a title shot, and Belal Muhammad one of the most promising potential contenders on the welterweight rise right now.
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Thompson, after winning back-to-back fights in 2019 and 2020 against contender Vincente Luque and top 15 powerhouse Geoff Neal, was putting himself in very good standing to win one or two more before securing a title shot. His following fight in July earlier this year was an unofficial number one contender bid against Gilbert Burns who ended up beating out Thompson just as he was about to jump at another championship aspiration. However, he will return looking to bounce back from this loss and put himself back on track this Saturday.
Belal Muhammed, the currently ranked #10 welterweight fighter in the world, got an unlikely opportunity to challenge himself far up the latter earlier this year when he accepted short notice fight against contender Leon Edwards, however, the rare opportunity would be taken away in the process when an unintentional eye poke lead to a no-contest result and no change in ranking for “Remember the Name” Muhammad. However, after a convincing win against Demian Maia afterward, defeating Wonderboy is the big test that could catapult Muhammad’s career.
Thompson vs. Muhammad Betting Odds
Thompson will come into the fight as a -225 favorite, no surprise due to the experience of competition among the best in the world. However, Muhammad will look to use this as motivation and materialize the underdog story.
- Thompson: -225
- Muhammad: +180
Thompson vs. Muhammad Breakdown
While Thompson presents one of the most difficult-to-solve puzzles in the UFC, at this point the elements of his game that have to be figured out are evident. Most prominently, the distance and range control presented by the Karate expert is usually the defining aspect of the fight and whether we get a classic Wonderboy clinic or a shutout.
Wonderboy utilizes a sideways stance with emphasis on front leg techniques and straight punches. His bouncing footwork keeps him constantly moving and hides the exact moments at which he is going to cut angles as he never stands up for any sort of movement. By doing so, not only is his actual speed enhanced but it also slows down his opponent’s work due to hesitancy. He will prod with the lead leg when his opponents try to bridge the space gap to knock them off balance, usually with the lead leg side, but he will also come over the top with a tricky roundhouse. As he skirts the cage, he will cut angles before building a straight flurry of punches, but what he does so well is making sure he cuts on the opponent’s blindside before doing so to mitigate the possibility he runs into anything.
Belal Muhammad is a bit more on the square stance spectrum, which means getting that blindside angle will be more difficult for Thompson but the straight shots up the middle especially the kicks o the body will be more open.
In terms of grappling, Wonderboy’s primary focus is within the realm of takedown defense. He has a very high success rate in this, however a lot of that can be attributed to his range control, but maintaining his preferred kicking distance, his opponents have to shoot from far out for the most part, apart from the highest level grapplers ie) Gilbert Burns who managed to force such a high degree of fence control. Furthermore, while the sideways stance presents the opening for the single leg, it nullifies any chance his opponent can look for a double leg unless it’s during a Thompson Blitz, and because Thompson has such great balance the single-leg attempts more often lead to Wonderboy hopping back and using the cage or able to kick his way out of the grip. Ultimately I believe its imperative that Muhammad gets Thompson to the fence if he wants to chase a wrestling-heavy approach.
Belal Muhammad is a very sound fighter everywhere. He has good wrestling, jiu-jitsu and striking and is largely in part the more well-rounded of the two fighters, but less the specialist. However., while Thompson works his offense off of his elusiveness, he defends first and counters inside that safety, Muhammad takes risks of getting hit much more readily to put on some pressure. He uses a lot of movement, and because he gets better as the fight goes on, he knows that he has to get into exchanges early if he wants his opponents to wilt later on. In this sense, Muhammad may have the tenacity to try bullying Wonderboy to the cage but he will also have to probably take shots to get there.
Muhammad has both chosen to work the outside of the octagon and lead the dance, the latter more often and more effectively. He is very good at cutting off the cage with lateral shots, especially very good hooks, and wide straights, By doing so he puts his opponents in a figurative corner, which they have to use more dramatic movement to escape and Muhammad calmy walks them down and restarts the gameplan. What this does is force his opponents to use higher energy movement than his, which is more efficient. However this I think would make more of a difference in a five-round fight because Thompson’s ability to slow the pace and comfortability using his karate movement makes it hard to see Muhammad sap Thompson’s cardio this way in just 15 minutes.
Thompson vs. Muhammad Prediction
While Belal Muhammad has a lot of interesting tools in this match-up, they hinge largely on being able to dictate the pace and cut-off movement, which on the other side are some of Thompson’s best attributes. Wonderboy has proven these abilities effective against higher-level opponents.
Prediction: Stephen Thompson to win via decision.
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.