Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson: Fighting Style Breakdown Part 2 of 2

If you missed part one, you can visit it back here: Stephen Thompson Breakdown Part 1

Another more obvious flaw in Wonderboy’s stance is that he’s very linear. Being linear in your stance makes it hard to check for kicks because of the need to lift your leg up and out towards the side. Some fighters have capitalized on this in previous fights. In Wonderboy’s fight with Hendricks, he actually answered leg kicks with own counters.

Wonderboy kick counter comp.gif

Dynamic Kicks

Wonderboy loves using his kicks to strike from an outside range. He’s a very dynamic kicker right up there with Anthony Pettis, Edson Barbosa, Luke Rockhold and Conor McGregor.

Here’s the deal, Wonderboy has a huge arsenal of kicks. I can’t possible show you everything he does, so instead, I want to introduce a single concept that connect all kicks into the artistic execution you see when kicks find their target.
If you ever spend time paying attention to arts like kickboxing or Muay thai, you start to learn just how dynamic those fighters are at setting up kicks. There are various ways to set up kicks and fighters can really get creative with it. The more obvious options of setting up kicks are with combos, or by simply throwing kicks to time an opponent. Let’s focus on another particular strategy Wonderboy uses so well—deceptive patterns. There’s a huge variety of ways you can deceptively land kicks.

In the most simplified manner, dynamic kickers will often use this particular strategy:

  1. They sell their technique by landing a shot to one area.
  2. Then they use the same technique but transition into a new technique or new attack target.

Lets take a look at an example. Wonderboy likes to lift his lead leg up. Lifting the lead leg is the precursor to throw the following side kick. From there, he will lift the leg up again to sell the same technique but then switch to a different kicking technique or different area to attack.

wonderboy side kick level change comp
Here Wonderboy hops into a side kick to the midsection. He sells the the lead leg, he then transitions the side kick to an new target–the head.

From this simple movement of lifting the leg, he can deceive the opponent into thinking it’s a side kick and then introduce a variety of other techniques that hit different angles instead. Here a just a few other examples of other kicks that can be transitioned off the lead leg lift.

  1. stephen body kick, axe kick.gif
    sell the lead leg, do it again but cancel into a axe kick around the guard.
  2. stephen jumping kick.gif
    Sell the lead leg, cancel into a jumping roundhouse.
  3. stephen side kick cancel into back kick.gif
    Sell the lead leg, cancel int a spinning back kick.

He conditions his opponent’s into one pattern, then changes that striking pattern on them.

Lets take a quick look at how a few Muay Thai legends use dynamic kick patterns. Saenchai, a multi-weight lumpinee champion, is known for his tremendous kicking game. Likewise with the ferocious Buakaw and Yodsanklai Fairtex.

saenchai hopping cancel into head kick ko.gif
Here Saenchai sells the teep. He sells the teep again but cancel into a hopping roundhouse to the head.
buakaw hopping teep cancel.gif
Here Buakaw sells the lead leg, but cancels into a jab.
saenchai round cancel into hook.gif
Here’s another example where Saenchai sells a the rear leg to make it appear as a round kick is coming. He then cancels the kick into a check hook.


yod round feint cross.gif
Here, Yodsanklai sells a roundhouse but cancels into a cross.



The core principle in dynamic kicking in this case is to manipulate striking patterns.  This is an art of creativity. It isn’t confined to just these techniques. Fighters have always been able to find crafty ways to deceive movements and manipulate patterns.

Techniques are a tool we use, like a sword or a spear in battle. The tool itself can be dangerous, but what gives the user true value is the creative and masterful ways you use it. It’s not always necessary that we focus on the technique, but rather the execution of techniques. Boxers understand this all too well with the jab. You can take the most unlikely of tools, put it in the hands of a master and they’ll turn it into a devastating option. This is why we’re starting to see such unorthodox kicks land in Wonderboy’s fights.

This brings up another important aspect of Wonderboy’s kicking game–he’s unorthodox. he chains together unlikely sequences of attacks. Using sequences the opponent hasn’t prepared well for will throw off their ability to answer his approach. Here’s the most common example of Wonderboy’s using unorthodox sequences. you can see he throws a cross into the follow up rear kick to land in the opposite stance.

wonderboy cross follow up kick.gif

Wonderboy’s kick over the top is deceptive as it gets. The kick looks as though it’s meant to come towards the lower body but he deceptively transitions it to the head. The masterful part of this sequence is the migration between two different ranges. He enters with the punching range, his opponent attempts to answer with but Wonderboy pulls back to simultaneously chain an attack from kicking range, making his opponent fall short while eating his kick.

The deceptive nature of Wonderboy’s kick is similar to Luke Rockhold’s signature question mark kick. It appears to go low but at the last moment he transitions into a high kick.

rockhold question mark kick.gif
Note Bisping perceives a midsection strike and drops his lead hand.

Wonderboy has a variety of ways to chain his punches into kicks. He has a vast arsenal of ways to chain kicks and they all follow the principle of deception–use a technique and cancel it into another angle or technique.

I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson. I haven’t even brushed up on his wheel kick either. He is a fighter full of tricks and he continues to show excellent performances. What’s the secret to his success? well, see him share his secret here:

The secret to Wonderboy’s sucess

As always, if you liked this breakdown, come check out my other work on fighters like Conor McGregor and Dominick Cruz on my main blog page.



4 thoughts on “Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson: Fighting Style Breakdown Part 2 of 2”

  1. Hey Strike Thought! Love the breakdown. To me the most intriguing fighters are the distance strikers. Especially the ones who can use angles really well. Have recently started a blog myself and it is nice to see how a well done post can look.


  2. Hey man, I just found your blog and it has awesome content. I’ve been looking for something exactly like this. Thompson is one of my fav. fighters due to his kicks and blitz; I’m a bit fearful of his upcoming fight with Rory because although he has good TD defence, if Rory gets him down he could tire him out like in the Browne fight. Keep up the good work.


    1. Thank you. That’s a solid observation. His coach Firas Zahabi is an excellent strategist. I’m certain he’s going to be prepared to have Rory do that if striking doesn’t work out for him.


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