Stephen Thompson (-110) vs. Geoff Neal (-110)

Weight Class: Welterweight (170 lbs)

Following the cancellation of Khazmat Chimaev vs. Leon Edwards due to a COVID-19 diagnosis for the latter, “Wonderboy” Stephen Thompson vs. Geoff Neal was flexed to a five round main event. This is great for UFC fans, considering the promotion has opted for three round main events when cancellations arise in the past. Thompson vs. Neal is also a main event worthy fight to say the least.

Both fighters will be making their first appearances of the year at 2020’s final UFC event.

For Geoff “Handz of Steel” Neal, the Sayif Saud pupil is riding a seven fight winning streak dating back to 2017. This includes a perfect five-for-five in the UFC, a win on Dana White’s Contender’s Series and a first round KO of Bilal Williams at LFA 16. Before starting his current winning streak, Neal lost via third round knockout to Kevin Holland in a title fight with Xtreme Knockout.

Other than the loss to Holland, Neal has only lost one other fight; his third professional match-up back in 2013. So outside a very early loss and a loss to a title contender at middleweight, Neal has been nearly perfect.

As stated above, Neal has gone a perfect five for five with the UFC. This includes a unanimous decision over Belal Muhammad, a second round KO of Niko Price and most recently, a first round KO of Mike Perry just over a year ago at UFC 245. Perry didn’t even touch Neal before being wobbled and eventually dropped following a crisp head kick.

The win over Perry solidified Geoff Neal as a ranked fighter at 170. Heading into the bout with Thompson, he is currently ranked #11.

There’s a-lot of hype on the fighter from Texas, and for good reason. Neal has insane power and has a nasty left that he hides very well. He keeps a very high guard and is always either bouncing backwards and forwards or side-to-side. Neal likes to control the center of the Octagaon and while he doesn’t land with a ton of volume, his shots truly are devastating. He’s also proven to be very strong in the clinch and on the ground. He was able to take down Niko Price multiple times and eventually finished him via viscous ground-and-pound.

What makes Neal so entertaining is a fighter is how he doesn’t usually wind up when landing heavy shots. A southpaw, Neal has a crazy powerful left. It’s definitely his weapon of choice and he’ll throw it a-lot, either straight up or on top of a 1-2 combination where he leads with the right. The way Neal is able to hide his power shots is what makes him very dangerous, however, and he can turn the lights out quick.

As for Thompson, his background speaks for itself. A UFC legend, Thompson heads into this fight following a victory over a similar fighter to Neal in Vicente Luque. Luque has won 12 UFC fights via stoppage and he has a very similar stance to Neal. Both are also pressure fighters. In Thompson’s fight with Luque, he was able to piece him up as the Brazilian came forward. Thompson ate a few shots, which is gonna happen against Luque (and Neal), but he handled it well. Ultimately, it didn’t even look close, which is saying a-lot against a fighter of Luque’s caliber.

Prior to that, Thompson suffered a brutal, superman punch KO against Anthony Pettis. He was winning the fight prior to one of 2019’s best knockouts but was ultimately KO’d for the first time in his career. The Pettis knockout came just after Thompson came up on the wrong end of a controversial decision loss against Darren Till. A-lot of people thought Thompson won that fight, but it was really close. There wasn’t a ton of volume and Till was advancing, though Thompson seemed to land the better shots.

Anyways, the point is that Thompson’s 2-3 record over his last five isn’t nearly as bad as it looks. He could easily be 5-0 over that stretch and the wins he does have came against Luque and Jorge Masvidal. The other loss was in a title bout against Tyron Woodley. So yeah, this is one of the many examples where the numbers are worthless out of context.

Stylistically, Thompson has long been known as one of the best kick-boxers on the roster. He is incredibly shifty and throws a wide variety of kicks to the legs, body and head. Thompson has a very diverse arsenal of kicks and he can score points with ease courtesy of those or his jab. Both fighters have great defense, but Thompson is just a bit quicker in my opinion. There’s a reason why he has a perfect kick-boxing record at 58-0.

If Neal is to win this fight it will likely be a knockout. We’ve never seen Neal in a five round fight, but we’ve seen Thompson in plenty. He has gone a full five rounds four times in his career and while the record in that time frame may be 1-2-1, simply going that distance is what matters. Neal tends to wear down due to how heavy he throws his shots, so if he can’t get Thompson out of there early he’ll be in trouble.

Ultimately, I really like Stephen Thompson in this fight. Neal has champion potential but this is a huge step up in competition for him. It is also a tough match-up stylistically. Thompson is great at evading shots and managing distance, he’s good at not getting backed up. He’s shown he has a chin, so if he can weather an onslaught or two from Neal, I’ve got to imagine he will have evaded at least a couple more. If Thompson can hold out, Neal should get tired.

I could see Neal gassing and then getting knocked out, but I really like the odds on Thompson by points. I think Neal will be tough enough to go to the cards even if Thompson runs away with it in the later rounds.

FanDuel Sportsbook currently has Thompson by points at (+340), which is insane value in my opinion. The line is a pick-em’ with most books and dead even on BestFightOdds, which is solid value for Thompson straight up. This could easily end in a KO, so if you don’t feel like taking the added risk, Stephen Thompson moneyline has solid value. Ultimately the points prop is too good for me to pass up, however, so I threw some bills on that. I might put another .5U on Thompson and I did parlay him with Marcin Tybura.

If I don’t get a chance to break down Tybura vs. Hardy, the skinny is that I think Hardy has reached his ceiling. I think this is the tier he’ll hang around and a very experienced vet in Tybura should be able to get it done. Hardy’s has tank is a nightmare and Tybura has a chin. If Hardy can’t get him out of there early, he’s probably toast.

Prediction and play: Stephen Thompson by points (+340)

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