Stephen Thompson Vs Rory MacDonald: Post fight technique and Strategy (Breakdown Part 2 of 2)


Welcome to part 2. If you missed part 1, go back here.


Advice From the Corner

Rory’s coach Firas Zahabi gave some advice during the breaks in between rounds which tells us so much about what happened in this fight. Despite his loss to Stephen Thompson, the minds of Tristar Gym did indeed manage to take away some of Stephens effectiveness by causing him to hold back the blitz and minimizing the success of his kicks. It was hard to fully apply offense as both parties constantly worked to nullify each other. Thompson always looking to transition out of submission and grappling attempts and Rory minimizing Thompson’s offensive success.

You can hear Firas Zahabi advising Rory to cut him off and apply controlled pressure. More importantly, Firas mentions to use one inch punches. One can deduce they had intended to have Rory carefully apply offense, never over-committing on anything, hence one inch punches. As a result, that’s what we saw; a carefully mindful Rory every time he went on the offense through the means of measuring distance with his lead hand.

Firas had also mentioned to punch him from the inside, and don’t punch him from the outside. For this reason, Rory had to approach very carefully coming in because of Thompson’s excellent countering ability. Thompson is known for his ability to counter fighters who try to pressure from the outside. He landed many rear check hooks on opponent’s like Hendricks and Cote.

wonderboy pivot shot comp.gif

This is a technique that works highly well to punish fighters who pressure in quick from the outside range.This is one of the reasons why Firas had wanted to have Rory engage in offense from the inside. As a result, they minimized Thompson’s chances of landing that counter. This did give Thompson an advantage because he had the luxury of striking from multiple ranges (the outside or the inside range), whereas Rory had been restricted to only using offense in a singular range.

Measuring Distance –Rory’s Success

On numerous occasions, Rory closed the gap by moving forward with the protection of the push block to get close. It’s not common to lead using a defensive technique to engage, so once Rory got there on the inside, he had tried to initiate different attacks to produce some results. With the limited options you have out of the push block and Thompson’s evasive nature, it was hard to rack up damage.

Rory had some good moments using the frame to measure Stephen’s distance. Once Rory identified proper range of Thompson, he was able to close that distance. Rory found some success finding his target measuring the lead hand or doubling up.

rory measures and throws power shot.gif
Rory measures range, unload power shots.
rory touch and go comp.gif
measures range, closes the distance with double ups.

At one point, Rory stepped his lead outside of Thompson’s lead foot, cutting off his foot movement in that direction, forcing him to move into the direction of Rory’s double hook. Look at how Rory cut Thompson off in one direction into his double hook.

Rory cuts off thompson arrow breakdown edited.gif
Measures the range with his hand, cuts off his footwork with own feet (circled red), forces Thompson into his own double hook.

It would be interesting to see future opponent’s potentially taking a page from this strategy.

Find the Openings

Another dynamic that played into this fight was the fact that Rory relied heavily on the push block. Using a singular tactic or technique makes your intentions more transparent as the fight progresses. Thompson was able to see what Rory was doing and used that opportunity to attack the vulnerable points of his technique. He was able to bypass the push block technique and hit Rory’s openings on several occasions when Rory’s technique was left openings.

thompson hits through frame comp.gif
The push block can protect the base of the chin to some degree, but the top of the head has some exposure.

Hit and Re-position

I’ve written about Thompson’s style a long while back if you’re interested in knowing more about his style. This fight displayed the same craft I mentioned previously. He used the same tactics to approach with his attacks and escape at angles.

thompson dart arrow edited.gif
Note Thompson can move back and a new angle away if needed.

The main principle behind this is to attack and leave the pocket to deny the opponent a chance to grapple or counter. The way he positions his feet allows him create a new angle to escape. The rear foot shifts forward and now becomes his lead leg. At the ending position, he has the ability to push away at an entirely different angle while placing his weight on his back foot. He moves in a V-like line of attack. In at one angle, out an another angle.

Thompson used a lot of his usual pivoting jabs, always adjusting his hips to avoid being directly in front of his opponent to ensure his Rory doesn’t have the proper positioning to shoots for his hips. This is a similar principle Dominick Cruz also applies in his striking.

thompson pivot jab comp.gif
Pivoting Jab.
cruz lateral jab comp
Adjust his hips to reposition.


One of my favorite counters from Stephen is his craft use of stance changing and countering. Here’s he effectively changes stance while countering with a single lateral step of his lead foot.

thompson hook with stance switch arrow final.gif
Starts in southpaw. Steps lead leg out laterally while throwing the left hook. Transitions into orthodox. (sorry, the gif was labeled incorrectly

The positional awareness in this sequence was excellent. Thompson does a good job of keeping his lead foot dynamically active to minimize positional threats to his lead leg.

In the grand scheme of things, Rory was able to play a strong defensive game for the most part until he took a strong shot to his nose. He lacked a strong offensive game to shut down Stephen’s defensive movement in its entirety. Stephen Thompson on the other hand kept his same gameplan to minimize damage, escape dangerous positions and was able to attack using a greater variety of offensive ranges which eventually earned him a victory off of Rory.

This should give you a basic idea of this fight and hopefully you found it useful.

You can visit my home page for a list of other breakdowns From fight like Conor McGregor, Oveereem, Dos Santos, Nate Diaz, etc. Here: Homepage.

I talked a lot about the push block/stiff arming/framing technique but if you’re interested in learning more, please visit Firas Zahabi’s channel to check out his personal walkthrough on the technique or pick up Muay Thai unleashed for information regarding the push block.


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