JoshThomson may have spent the entirety of 2016 on the sideline,but he has no doubts about his standing in Bellator MMA’slightweight division.
“I already know I’m the No. 1 contender. There’s nobody else aheadof me,” Thomson recently told Sherdog.com. “I’ve been offered thetitle fight probably twice or maybe even three times. One beforethe injury. I couldn’t get the timing down. We were trying toorganize between Benson [Henderson], myself and [Michael] Chandlerand we just couldn’t get it down.”
While an injury to Thomson scrapped a proposed bout with Chandlerat Bellator 154 last May, the rest of the American KickboxingAcademy product’s year-long hiatus was by design.
“Once I got injured going into that fight, I just told myself I wasgoing to take the rest of the year off, so [the layoff] wasn’tfrustrating at all,” he said.”I think had I planned on trying tocome back and couldn’t get healthy again or whatever it was, itprobably would have been frustrating. Once I got injured for thatfight and that fight wasn’t going to happen anymore, I just toldmyself take the rest of the year off and enjoy your year.”
Thomson will return to action for the first time since December2015 when he takes on former lightweight title challenger PatrickyFreire in the Bellator 172 co-main event at the SAP Center in San Jose,Calif., on Saturday night. The card is headlined by a showdownbetween FedorEmelianenko and MattMitrione and airs on Spike beginning at 9 p.m. ET/8 p.m.CT.
While Thomson was enjoying life, Chandler was busy knocking outFreire to capture the vacant lightweight strap and defending thetitle in a contentious unanimous verdict against BensonHenderson . “The Punk” has been targeting Chandler since signingwith Bellator, but he knows that if he doesn’t defeat Freire, thatdesired matchup may not come to fruition.
“This is a tough fight. He didn’t have a great performance his lastfight but he did a lot of good things for however long that fightlasted with Chandler,” Thomson said. “I think in his mind it wasall about stopping the takedown against Chandler. He went out thereand he did that. The problem was he was more focused on thetakedown and he got clipped on the way in. Hat’s off to Chandlerfor doing his thing.
“I can’t go out there and underestimate ‘Pitbull.’ He’s dangerous,he’s got heavy hands. He throws his punches in combination and hedoesn’t mind taking them on the chin. It’s gonna be a toughfight.”
That said, Thomson doesn’t believe Chandler deserved to retain thelightweight belt after his battle with Henderson at Bellator 165.The former Strikeforce champ acknowledges that it was a closefight, which seems to happen quite often when Henderson is in thecage. Thomson would know: He lost a controversial split verdictagainst “Smooth” at UFC on Fox 10 in January 2014.
“I thought [Chandler] lost. I’m not saying [Henderson] got rippedoff. I could see how it could have went either way, but I hadBenson winning in rounds 2, 3 and 5,” Thomson said.
The 38-year-old Thomson has struggled with injuries throughout hiscareer, but after a short camp preparing for Freire, he says hewill enter Bellator 172 with a relatively clean bill of health.Thomson dismisses the notion the AKA fighters are more injury-pronethan those from other top camps.
“It’s just bad luck. People want to make something out of it. Acouple times guys have gotten hurt, they didn’t even get hurt atour gym,” Thomson said. “They got hurt back at home wherever theytrain at. People are gonna make more out of something that’s notthere. It’s just another way for people to write stories.”