Thompson to test Slice's cage credentials
Fight fans will never confuse James Thompson's chin for a slab of concrete. But what the British fighter lacks in whiskers, he more than makes up for in will and heart.
Originally Published: May 28, 2008By Michael Woods | Special to ESPN.com
Stephen Martinez/Sherdog.comThompson, right, has the tools and talent to excel in the EliteXC. His chin, however, is another story.Kimbo Slice's transcendent personality in MMA has brought a whole bunch of eyeballs to mixed martial arts, in the same general manner that Mike Tyson's compelling mixture of assaulting excellence and surprising introspectiveness lured curious people to the sweet science back in the mid to late '80s. Some of these newbies may be pleasantly surprised to learn that many fighters are some of the most down-to-earth, grounded, humble souls you'll find shedding sweat and blood in any athletic arena. It makes sense -- a fighter is alone on an lonely island with a foe, and must summon mental, physical and even spiritual reserves to persevere and prevail. There are no teammates to blame when things go awry, so post-bout, a fighter is left to peer into the mirror and make amends with the sole driver for his success or failure. Of course, excuses and delusions are often alluded to, in the form of crooked judges, or inept referees, or what have you. But fighters, most among all athletes, often rise from humble or horrific origins, and so are forced to subject themselves to rigorous self-examination early on. "Can I, and only I, rise to the occasion, and make something of myself?" "Can I, and only I, show the necessary discipline and strength to prepare adequately to emerge from the ring as the victor?" "Can I, and only I, shrug off the slight prospect that I may pay the ultimate price for my participation, my life?" I still find myself, after 20 years of covering combat sports, being impressed with the humility shown by fighters as I interact with them and try to see what makes them tick, so I can share with readers the people behind the punching. James Thompson (14-8), who has been chosen to be the next rung in Kimbo's step up the MMA ladder, is a man who, after 22 professional MMA fights, is still not quite sure what sort of athlete he sees when he looks in the mirror. The 29-year-old fighter grew up in Manchester, England, the oldest of four kids. His parents wished he was an electrician or plumber, especially after their boy was KO'd in his last two fights, the first in July 2007 and the last in February.
Back-to-back stoppages would have some reconsidering their vocation, and seriously considering vocational Plan B. But Thompson has already used up a good bit of the alphabet: He did two years at drama school and then worked a variety of jobs in debt collection and security. He got into MMA six years ago, after seeing a tape of UFC action. "I knew I had to give it a go," says the fighter whom ring announcers refer to as "Colossus," "so I found a local club and had my first competition six weeks later. I didn't really know what I was doing to be honest. I was just a big guy fighting with no knowledge but a lot of heart." Heart and size are important blocks of a successful fighter's foundation, but a solid chin is also a necessary component for someone who wants to string together enough wins to gain some momentum and build an education fund for his 9-year-old daughter. Thompson's chin hasn't cooperated with him as much as he'd like since he debuted in 2003. Of his eight losses, seven of those have come via stoppage on strikes and one on submission. Yes, he holds wins over Dan Severn (a decision win in September 2004) and Don Frye (a first-round knockout in April 2007), but that chin will hold a magnetic appeal for Slice, who does own legitimately heavy hands. When asked about his glaring weakness, Thompson does not bluster about his own considerable power (10 striking stops in 14 wins), or traffic in delusions and whine about clueless referees. Instead, he acknowledges the papier-mache elephant in the room, without hesitation. "It's hard to say what happened in my last knockout loss, to Brett Rogers," he says. "You do all the training and hope you win. [If you don't win] you look at the holes in your game and keep on doing things you can do, being positive." Thompson has been brought over from England to lose, to put it bluntly. And, also, more bluntly, to be knocked out. Preferably, he will put up a decent battle, stick around for more than a round, maybe force Slice to show off his Bas Rutten-honed ground skills. The Brit isn't offended that he's seen as a stepping-stone, though.
Stephen Martinez/Sherdog.comThough capable of fighting on his feet, Thompson, right, will look to take the fight against Kimbo Slice to the ground.
They hope I get whacked on the chin and that's it for me. It doesn't bother me. Because of my last two fights, I don't deserve this chance. I intend to take full advantage.
-- James Thompson, on what he feels others think is his role against Kimbo Slice