Former Strikeforce lightweight champion Josh Thomson, the last man to beat current champion Gilbert Melendez, is making his return to fighting after a 15-month hiatus due to injury.
Thomson took some time out of his schedule to talk to Bleacher Report about his layoff, Gilbert Melendez' position in the lightweight division, former teammate Josh Koscheck's departure from American Kickboxing Academy and much more.
Thomson, a veteran of the sport, has beaten some of the top fighters the lightweight division has to offer. Over the years, though, he has had to deal with some adversity, mainly trying to stay healthy enough to compete.
"It's been about 15 months now, it's nothing new coming off of being injured," Thomson told Bleacher Report.
Being injured all the time isn't good for a person who relies on his health to make a living and because of that Thomson's tried tweaking some things in training camp to help keep his body from breaking down.
He felt that he was flat in his last few fights, and his training regimen may have been part of the reason.
"I've been over training since I was in the UFC, but the issue with over training is that when you are younger it doesn't catch up to you as much, and now being older I've certainly noticed a difference," Thomson said.
"Every year you have to alter training a little bit, which I never did. I kept it the same and pushed it as hard as I could and thought I could do the same things I was doing when I was 22 years old."
"This camp, I've really learned how to taper back a little bit," Thomson said.
This is the first time Thomson really changed up his training camp in preparation for a fight, but he isn't getting a tune up fight to feel things out as he is slated to face a dangerous fighter in KJ Noons this Saturday at Strikeforce 39.
Noons has notable wins over former Strikeforce welterweight champion Nick Diaz and UFC lightweight Yves Edwards to name a few.
He went on a bit of a skid, losing two straight to Diaz and Jorge Masvidal before winning his last fight against Billy Evangelista. Despite the two losses, Thomson thinks Noons will be at his best.
"With the Masvidal fight, it made him really take into consideration he needs to change his game from just boxing," Thomson said.
"I think that's why in the Billy Evangelista fight, you saw a different fighter. He came out, he was throwing head kicks, kicking more to the legs and he even shot a couple takedowns and got some takedowns."
"There's no secret, he's been working on his wrestling for this game, he's been working on his kickboxing for this game and it showed in his last fight and I don't think he'll get away from that. He is trying to make himself a more well-rounded fighter," Thomson said. "I'm prepared for that, so it is just a matter of me going out there and implementing my game plan."
Noons has a background in boxing and kickboxing, but Thomson feels that he maybe becomes a little sloppy in MMA.
"KJ tends to get a little sloppy with his stand up," Thomson said. "Even though he is a good boxer, he relies on his good chin."
"I don't look at myself as being quite as technical as Masvidal on the feet, but I will throw hard and I am pretty good defensively. I just got to keep my chin down and my hands up and I should be good to go. I predict that it's going to be an action-packed fight."
Thomson hasn't fought in 15 months, but he is widely considered one of the top lightweights in Strikeforce and is 1-1 against the current champion Melendez. The last two fights between these two were pretty epic battles, so the tie-breaker would only make sense.
In order for that to happen, Thomson must beat Noons this Saturday and even then, the former champ isn't getting too hung up on the potential fight with Melendez.
"Obviously, yeah, everyone wants to fight the champion, you know; you don't want to just sit there and say no, I don't want to fight him or no, I'm not ready," Thomson said.
"I mean honestly the great thing about this whole thing is those types of things aren't in my hands. I just worry about fighting and winning and letting the promotion handle the rest."
Melendez is UFC material, there has been talk across the Internet and in the media of getting him into the UFC, but so far that isn't happening and Thomson isn't surprised.
"I'm not surprised at all; if they are going to keep Strikeforce, they couldn't keep taking all the talent," Thomson said. "Even though Gill talks about it like he's beaten a lot of guys and redeemed his lone loss, but we are 1-1 [Thomson and Melendez] and there are still people here for him to fight."
Thomson is happy staying in Strikeforce for now because he sees Melendez as being the No. 1 lightweight out there right now.
"I wouldn't want to leave knowing that I'm leaving to fight lesser competition given that he's the No. 1-ranked lightweight in the world in my own promotion," Thomson told Bleacher Report. "If Ben [Benson Henderson] beats Frankie [Edgar], then I would definitely put Gill at No. 1, probably Ben at No. 2 and Frankie at No. 3 or 4."
Henderson did beat Edgar this past weekend in what many thought was a controversial decision. Talks about an immediate rematch between the two are in the air right now, but there are some guys, namely Melendez, Thomson, Noons and Masvidal from Strikeforce's lightweight division who could definitely mix it up with the top of the UFC lightweight division.
Keeping its champions like Melendez around is one the only ways Strikeforce will be able to stay relevant, but not the only way. Strikeforce has embraced women's MMA and is one of the few professional promotions giving women the visibility required for them to thrive.
"I think as more women see what kind of athletes they are and what kind of recognition they are getting, I think they will see a big difference in the amount of women that jump in to this sport," Thomson said.
"The question is whether there will be a promotion for them to fight in, the deal with Strikeforce is only for another year or two years and Dana [White] has said numerous times that they won't be in the UFC, that being said there are a lot of women out there banking on Strikeforce surviving."
At Strikeforce 39, the card Thomson is fighting Noons on, the main event is a women's title fight between current 135-pound champion Miesha Tate and former Olympic bronze medalist Judoka Ronda Rousey.
Thomson feels the high-level Judokas like Rousey will dominate women's MMA in the near future because they have a bit of the submission game built into their style already. Even though Rousey is pretty new, he likes her chances.
"Honestly, I haven't really had enough opportunity to watch Ronda fight, I just know that she has the capability of beating Miesha, I think Miesha has obviously the more experience, but it really doesn't make a difference," Thomson said.
"These younger guys are the ones that are coming up that the veterans are showing them all the tricks of the trade. They've cut the corner off the learning curve."
American Kickboxing Academy is the camp where Thomson has built himself up as a fighter and taught himself some of the tricks of the trade.
AKA at one point had the heavyweight champion of the world in Cain Velasquez and the top two welterweight contenders in Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch.
Of late, the team has gone through some struggles.
Velasquez was knocked out in 64 seconds by Junior Dos Santos on Fox, Fitch was knocked out in the opening seconds of his fight with Johny Hendricks and most recently, Koscheck has chosen to leave AKA to train in Fresno.
"Koscheck has been with our team for the longest time. The team has talked about it over and over again, realistically what it is, Koscheck lives in Fresno, he owns two gyms down there and fighters like to sleep in their own bed, they're tired of commuting, it's a two-hour drive for him to San Jose," Thomson said.
"There are also a lot of other underlying reasons, but as a team he is always more then welcome to come back, we've already made that clear, Koscheck is always welcome in the gym as if nothing ever happened. If he has other issues with whoever in the gym, that's up to him; he is a grown-ass man he knows how to express himself and talk about it."
Despite the tough times, Thomson feels the team is back on track, and a win for him this weekend would definitely solidify that stance.
"We've got a great team now, built back up, we were on a stagnant little stage there for a little, but I think the team itself is coming back together."
Fans can catch Thomson vs. Noons this Saturday at 10:00 P.M. EST on Showtime. If you want to see what Thomson is up to, check out his Facebook page, or better yet, follow him on Twitter @THEREALPUNK
Leon Horne is a writer for Bleacher Report and is part of the B/R MMA interview team, Follow @Leon_Horne
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