UFC Fight Night: Thompson vs. Neal Preview

A preview of Saturday’s UFC Vegas 17 card, set to take place in Las Vegas.

Updated: Dec. 17, 2020 • 5:15 PM ET

Geoff Neal is looking to get one step closer to a title shot.

Loaded with plenty of great fights, the UFC will host its final event of a crazy 2020 this Saturday at the Apex in Las Vegas. UFC Vegas 17’s main event will be a welterweight fight between former title challenger Stephen Thompson and rising contender Geoff Neal.

Thompson, the UFC’s No. 5 ranked welterweight, last fought in November 2019 when he defeated Vicente Luque by unanimous decision at UFC 244. The 37-year-old needed the win after suffering a devastating knockout loss to Anthony Pettis just eight months earlier.

Thompson is 2-3 in his last five fights with one of the losses coming to Tyron Woodley for the welterweight title at UFC 209 in 2017.

That bout feels like ages ago, given the way the welterweight division has since shifted champions and top contenders.

Thompson challenged then champion Woodley for the title twice with the first fight being ruled a draw at UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden in 2016. Leading up to the first fight with Woodley, Thompson was a dominant force, winning seven straight bouts over fighters including Rory MacDonald, Johny Hendricks, Jake Ellenberger, Patrick Cote and Robert Whittaker.

The South Carolina native believes he still has plenty of fight left to go on one last run at the title, despite what he believes the UFC thinks about him.

“They are trying to make me the gatekeeper is what’s happening,” Thompson told Just Scrap Radio on BJPENN.com. “It’s not going to happen. I went 10 rounds with Tyron Woodley, beat Jorge Masvidal hands down, a controversial loss to Till and then end up getting knocked out by Anthony Pettis, of course doesn’t help — well it helps me to be honest with you because now I know what it feels like, and it’s not that bad.

“Getting knocked out really isn’t that bad. I literally just woke up in the back, and I was fine. I feel like my last two opponents have been ranked fairly high, and I haven’t fought anybody ahead of me. Hopefully, they’re not trying to make me that gatekeeper — I’m not a gatekeeper. I’ve still got fight left in me, and I want that title shot.”

Thompson sees the upcoming fight with Neal similarly to his last bout.

“This is definitely very similar,” Thompson said. “Vicente Luque was coming off of a seven-fight winning streak and Geoff Neal, he’s undefeated in the UFC on a five-fight winning streak and been knocking dudes out. He finished Mike Perry, who’s just a monster.

“So, he’s heavy-handed. He looks like a really strong welterweight. It’s very, very similar for sure. Obviously, my opponent is a little taller, has a longer reach than Vicente Luque, but stylistically very similar as well. I know Geoff Neal likes to throw that left high kick. He’s got a left hand and if he touches you with it, you’re going out. He’s been putting people to sleep with that, with his left hand. So that’s something that I have to prepare for, and that’s what I’ve been preparing for.

“I had [Chris] Weidman in last night getting some work in. We did five, five-minute rounds with a big monster like him, wrestler. The reason I brought him in was because some time out there, most people want to end up taking me down after a while. Wherever the fight goes, I’m going to be prepared for it, for sure.”

The No. 11 ranked Neal is coming off a brutal first-round head-kick knockout of Mike Perry at UFC 245 last December. The 30-year-old is 5-0 in the UFC and has finished all but one of those fights. He was expected to fight contender Neil Magny in August, but a health scare forced Neal to withdraw from the bout.

Neal discussed how this year has been for him.

“It’s been real up and down,” Neal said during the same radio show. “I beat Mike Perry, so I came into the year like yeah, I’ll get another fight and three months later still no fight. Then the whole COVID thing started happening, so then I’m going through the whole spring and summer, still no fight.

“I finally get a fight with Neil [Magny], and then I get sick as hell and that sucked. I’m just happy now that somebody in the top-five accepted a fight with me — and it’s ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson, the last person I would have thought that would accept a fight with me. I really appreciate that, I needed that. I was trying to angle for fight with Michael Chiesa, he didn’t want to fight me at all. Wonderboy is a better matchup and it is the main event, so I’ll get more exposure off that fight too.”

With a win over Thompson, Neal believes he’ll enter the title conversation.

“I get this win, and then maybe I have one more fight (before a title fight), maybe not,” Neal said. “We’ll see how that plays out and the landscape of the division. I’m really hoping to gain a lot of fans after this.”

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Co-main event

Saturday’s com-main event will be in the bantamweight division between former featherweight champion Jose Aldo and contender Marlon Vera.

Aldo will attempt to rebound from three straight losses, the most recent of which being an unsuccessful challenge for the bantamweight title against Petr Yan at UFC 251 in July. He’s 2-5 in his last seven fights, two of which were losses to Max Holloway for the featherweight title. While his record seems shaky, the 34-year-old Aldo is still a top contender in either the bantamweight or featherweight division, for now.

The No. 7 ranked Aldo is arguably the greatest featherweight of all time, as he was a long-reigning UFC and WEC champion. He went nine years without a loss and has key wins over Renato Moicano, Jeremy Stephens, Frankie Edgar (twice), Chad Mendes (twice), Ricardo Lamas, Chan Sung Jung, Kenny Florian, Mark Hominick, Urijah Faber, Mike Brown and Cub Swanson. A win over Vera would prove that he’s still worthy of being in the title conversation at 135 pounds, but a loss could put him one step closer to being a gatekeeper in the division.

The No. 15 ranked Vera is coming off the biggest win of his career, a first-round TKO stoppage of the Sean O’Malley hype train at UFC 252 in August. Since making his UFC debut in 2014, Vera is 10-5 in the promotion and the latest addition to the top 15 of the bantamweight rankings.

A win over Aldo would prove that he’s a top contender and could set him up for a marquee matchup in arguably one of the UFC’s best divisions.

 

The rest of the main card on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. EST

Welterweight bout - Michel Pereira Lima vs. Khaos Williams

Bantamweight bout - No. 3 Marlon Moraes vs. No. 11 Rob Font

Women’s flyweight bout - Gillian Robertson vs. Taila Santos

Heavyweight bout - Marcin Tybura Lima vs. Greg Hardy

 

Prelims on ESPN+ at 4 p.m. EST

Welterweight bout - No. 12 Anthony Pettis vs. Alex Moreno

Women’s bantamweight bout - No. 13 Sijara Eubanks vs. No. 14 Pannie Kianzad

Catchweight bout - Deron Winn vs. Antonio Arroyo

Middleweight bout - Tafon Nchukwi vs. Jamie Pickett

Catchweight bout - Christos Giagos vs. Carlton Minus

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