Stephen Thompson Uses B.J. Penn as Example to Avoid Long Career

MMA fighter Stephen Thompson, who is due to fight Shavkat Rakhmonov at UFC 296, has expressed concerns about the potential damage to his legacy and health if he continues fighting for too long, stating he will retire when his father and trainer believes it’s time.

Stephen Thompson is a name familiar to many in the MMA world. He’s hoping to avoid the fate that has left some of the best in the sport battered and bruised.

Thompson, a two-time welterweight title contender, has a fight scheduled for December 16. He’s set to face off against the undefeated Shavkat Rakhmonov at UFC 296 in Las Vegas. The match seems designed to push Rakhmonov closer to a title shot, potentially leaving Thompson with another recent loss.

Despite coming off a thrilling fourth-round TKO of Kevin Holland, Thompson is aware that time is not on his side. He turned 40 in February and knows his career clock is ticking. As a lifelong martial artist, he’s been in his fair share of octagon battles but has no desire to tarnish his legacy by holding on too long.

Thompson has admitted to considering retirement. He’s not keen on becoming the fighter people question, wondering why he’s still out there taking punishment. He recalls Tony Ferguson‘s fight against Gaethje, where Ferguson, bloody and beaten, seemed to be trying to wake himself up. Thompson didn’t like seeing that, especially from someone who’d been at the top of the game.

He mentions B.J. Penn as another example. Penn was once at the pinnacle of the sport, but every loss he took after that seemed to diminish his legend status. Thompson believes Penn should have stopped when he was at the top, avoiding the permanent damage that comes with each knockout.

Penn, a former two-division champion, was nearly unbeatable in his prime. However, he went on a steep decline, going winless in his last eight fights. Thompson hasn’t quite reached Penn’s heights, but he’s had two shots at UFC gold against Tyron Woodley. Now, he’s looking for one more chance at the top spot, which is why he accepted the fight against Rakhmonov.

Thompson feels that this could be his last run for the title. At 40, he’s aware that many see him as past his prime, but he doesn’t feel his age. He cites Glover Teixeira, who was 41 or 42 when he won his title and is still crushing it. Thompson believes that age is just a number, and older fighters can still be phenomenal.

In recent fights, Thompson has proven he can still compete against high-level competition. He’s had wins over Holland and top 15-ranked fighters Geoff Neal and Vicente Luque. However, he’s also suffered one-sided decision losses to Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns. Since his second fight with Woodley in 2017, he’s only 4-4.

A win over Rakhmonov could breathe new life into Thompson’s career. However, a loss could increase calls for him to retire. Ultimately, the only opinion that matters to Thompson is that of his father and trainer, Ray.

Thompson has no set age at which he’ll stop competing. As long as he’s healthy and not taking too much punishment, he’ll keep going. The only thing that would make him hang up his gloves is if his father told him he was done. He trusts his father’s judgment, knowing that fighters often want to keep going even when they shouldn’t. When his dad says it’s time, Thompson will listen.


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