Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson and Gilbert “Durinho” Burns will meet in UFC 264’s co-main event this July at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Coming into the bout, both previous title challengers need this win; Wonderboy as a means to get his third title shot, and Burns in order to bounce back from a loss in his last fight.
Thompson, likely the best-known Karateka amongst the UFC today, is currently riding a two-fight win streak over the likes of Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal, two performances where he outclassed his opponents to one-sided decisions.
On the other side of the cage, Burns is coming off of a loss to current welterweight king Kamaru Usman, however, prior to that, he had strung six victories together over some top talent such as Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia.
This matchup is largely being hailed as one of the better uses of the term “striker vs. grappler,” which is often overused and used improperly in the sport of MMA. However, when considering Thompson’s extensive career as a kickboxer including a 37-0 record, and Burns’ multiple IBJJF gold’s plus a bronze at ADCC, the term may never have been most fitting in the modern era.
Thompson vs. Burns betting odds
Stephen Thompson’s the betting favorite against Gilbert Burns before UFC 264 with odds of -165. Fight fans who think Burns can win this fight can make the most of the +135 underdog odds.
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Thompson vs. Burns breakdown
Yet, although both specialists in their respective areas, the ways in which they have translated their skills to MMA have been very different. Wonderboy typically forces his opponents to fight him in his world, maintaining his long striking range and denying all and any takedown attempts. Burns in comparison, although often utilizing his high-level jiu-jitsu, has shown a readiness to test out his opponent’s chins as well.
Durinho’s best route to victory should be to force a bit more of a gritty fight. It’s likely there isn’t a clear path to victory for Burns, and he will have to absorb some shots to implement his game. Essentially, if he can mix things up and pour on the pressure, he has a better chance of landing his power strikes and securing grappling positions.
One of Burns’ biggest strengths as a fighter is he is extremely active even in empty space, meaning he is constantly feinting and moving his feet even when the two fighters are not engaging. By doing this, if he can force reactions out of Wonderboy, he may be able to chain together big combinations or hide takedown attempts behind his movements.
However, these are also much more likely to be successful if he can manage to put Wonderboy against the fence. As a Karate fighter, Thompson is comfortable when he has space to move, and with his best weapons working at distance, it is in Burns’ best interest to close the gap.
Wonderboy’s best bet is to force the opposite. He often does his best work when maintaining a longer range. In order to do this he has to gain Burns’ respect early, if not he then has to deal with Burns walking him down. If he can gain that respect, it will be an issue of staying consistent on his movement, angles, and picking the proper shots, three things that Wonderboy is a master of in the octagon.
One of the reasons that Stephen Thompson has such a high takedown defense rate at 78% is because predominantly working from kicking range forces his opponents to also shoot from the outside, leading to more time to react for Thompson. This works in conjunction with his sideways stance which only provides the single-leg for his opponents, pretty much neutralizing the idea of a double-leg. Therefore in order for Burns to get the fight to the mat and implement his BJJ game, it will be a problem of whether or not the two find themselves against the cage, where Burns can chain his wrestling in close.
In terms of the striking range, Burns has a habit of utilizing a very square stance, which is advantageous in a lot of ways but also opens him up to Wonderboy’s signature front leg sidekick. This technique is particularly useful in managing distance and keeping his opponents from entering the pocket.
If Wonderboy does find success in managing his range, his best tools along with this kick will be his jabs and crosses from both orthodox and southpaw. Durinho’s striking game is powerful and fast, but it also often comes from wide looping angles. His most dangerous weapons include his overhand right and his jumping knee, both moves which if landed flush could spark the end of the fight, however, they also leave room for quicker counters down the pipe. Wonderboy should mix in planted straight counters which can reach Burns’ chin before he can land, and give space while landing from outside Burns’ range.
Thompson vs. Burns prediction
Ultimately, this fight will be determined by who dictates the range and pace. If Burns can keep Wonderboy under constant pressure, he has the ability to hurt Wonderboy or take it to the mat. Wonderboy has terrific submission defense, however, the ADCC bronze medalist will likely control the fight from that point on. If Thompson can consistently keep Burns at kicking range and manage the pace of the fight so as to pick his shots, not only can Thompson come out once again with a dominant victory, we may very well see a vintage Wonderboy knockout.
This is an extremely close fight, but I will give the nod to Wonderboy. The best indicator of Burns’ ability against the ‘Point Karate’ style in MMA is his past fight with Gunnar Nelson. The elements of that fight which Burns has difficulty dealing with – specifically range and counters, will be amplified by Thompson. I see Wonderboy shifting out of range when Burns tries to engage and landing the cleaner counters, bringing him to a decision victory.
Prediction: Stephen Thompson to win by decision
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How to watch Stephen Thompson vs. Gilbert Burns
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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.