UFC on FOX 7 doesn’t mark the first meeting between Josh Thomson and Nate Diaz. The two met six years ago in a grappling superfight at the Gracie Open.
Diaz, whose longtime trainer (and now-former manager), Cesar Gracie, promotes the grappling competition, won the bout by “advantage,” which meant he held more superior positions in the match.
Thomson remembers his coach, Dave Camarillo, was up in arms at a decision he thought was ill-gotten. Cheating was the word he used.
Thomson couldn’t summon much outrage, though. Compared to fighting, the match was a breeze, and it had benefits.
“I walked off the mat like, who gives a crap: I got paid,” said Thomson, who added that he banked a cool $1,000 for a few minutes’ work. “I wish I could do this every weekend.”
It’s been a few weekends since Thomson (19-5 MMA, 2-1 UFC) marshaled his resources for his other, harder job. But on Saturday, he’ll meet again with Diaz (16-8 MMA, 11-6 UFC) on the FOX-televised main-card of the event, which takes place at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif.
Pride is on the line this time, and Thomson, who still trains at the same gym he did when he grappled with Diaz, stands to win a lot more than $1,000. He believes he “messed up” his previous bout, though the crowd who witnessed it might think otherwise.
Thomson stood in the middle of the cage in the now-defunct Strikeforce and implored booing fans to go easy on then-lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez, who earned a split-call in their rubber match.
But it’s still Melendez, who counts Diaz as a training partner and friend, that gets a title shot against UFC lightweight champ Benson Henderson.
Does Thomson feel it should be him fighting Henderson? Yes. Has he let that feeling fester? No, if you ask him.
“It’s a little upsetting, but I have gotten over it,” Thomson told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “I’ve got to move on to Nate.”
Thomson, a product of San Jose, Calif.’s American Kickboxing Academy, has fought 10 times since his first Diaz encounter with six under the roof of the HP Pavilion. But he hasn’t fought since this past May, when he lost the split-call to Melendez. He was scheduled to fight Caros Fodor at an ill-fated Strikeforce event slated for this past September, and he wasn’t placed on the promotion’s final event three months ago.
You might be right to say Thomson was caught in the middle of a bad romance between Strikeforce parent Zuffa and Showtime, as often lamented by UFC President Dana White. But Thomson, a 12-year veteran of the sport, didn’t sit and sulk. He flew to China.
This past December, “The Punk” signed on to a Roger Corman-produced remake of “Fist of the Dragon,” which originally starred kickboxer (and onetime UFC commentator) Don “The Dragon” Wilson. Rather than play the tough-looking extra or a stuntman, he was booked for the lead role in a six-week shoot. The movie is set for a January 2014 release.
The last time Thomson made headlines for his camera work, he was fending off a flirty girl during an appearance on “Blind Date” arranged by the UFC.
“They’ve already offered me part two,” Thomson said of his lead role. “That’s something I definitely might be interested in, and working on my acting skills some more.”
Diaz, though, is his No. 1 priority. At the time he played the dating game, he was a rising star in the UFC. After a highlight-reel knockout loss to Yves Edwards, he left the promotion for overseas work and found his way to Strikeforce, who built him up as a major star. By the time the promotion was on its last legs, he had already headlined or co-headlined several events and earned a spot on several top-10 lists.
Saturday marks his return to the UFC, which has thrown him right into the thick of the lightweight division. A win over onetime title challenger Diaz might position him within striking distance of a title shot, though his chances might slim if Melendez is able to take the belt from Henderson.
For the amount of time he’s been in the sport, it might also be the start of a final run at a major title. But the 34-year-old Thomson said he isn’t thinking about retirement just yet.
“I’m trying to move on to the next shot, which is the next shot at the title,” he said. “I’m really not focused on anything else right now. I’m taking it one fight at a time and seeing where it leads me.”
He already has a good idea of what Diaz brings to the table on the mat, but he’s also prepared himself for what the Stockton, Calif., fighter brings on his feet, which includes the occasional middle finger along with high-volume punches.
“I’ve just got to go in there and be mellow and get the job done,” Thomson said. “I’ve met Nate, I’ve talked to Nate, and I’ve done a grappling match against Nate. He’s a good kid. If he wants to talk trash, that’s cool. I’m not going to take anything personal.”
And this time around, the only positions Thomson will give up are the ones that draw punches.
“I know that I’m definitely not going to stand right in front of him,” Thomson said. “I’ve got to mix it up from punching and kicking and taking him down. I know I’ll have to be well-rounded to win this fight.”
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