This is something I don’t normally say, but I think it would be a shame if Josh Thomson never fought again after losing to Benson Henderson on Saturday at UFC on Fox 10.
Typically, when it comes to MMA, I would describe myself as pro-retirement. Our sport is so mentally and physically demanding—and the payoffs generally so meager compared to the risks—that the moment a fighter decides it’s not worth it anymore, it’s time to call it a career.
If he or she can make a living working behind the scenes, in front of a camera or in an entirely different industry, that’s usually the best possible move. As mere spectators, it’s our duty to respect the decision, just as we did for Nick Diaz last year and Georges St-Pierre last month.
But even in a field where we’re used to unhappy endings and unfulfilled dreams, it would feel particularly unfair if things ended like this for Thomson.
The longtime MMA veteran had enjoyed the biggest star turn of his career since returning to the UFC in 2013. The previous dozen years left him as little more than the second-best lightweight in Strikeforce, a guy who’d likely be remembered for coming up short in his classic trilogy with Gilbert Melendez.
His second-round knockout of Nate Diaz at a UFC on Fox show last April changed all that, and a couple of unforeseen injuries at the top of the 155-pound division allowed him to ride the wave well past most of our expectations.
Saturday’s bout with Henderson should’ve been another triumph. Thomson came in as more than a 2-1 underdog but destroyed those odds, as he continually dragged Henderson to the mat and climbed on his back.
Even after breaking his thumb in the first round, Thomson controlled most of the action. Again and again, he managed to get to a dominant position, threatening Henderson with submissions while crafting an advantage that seemed obvious to most onlookers, if not the ringside officials.
The gritty performance should’ve boosted him into the title shot he was promised late last year, or at least set him up for a championship eliminator against a returning T.J. Grant in the coming months.
Instead, after the judges botched another one—and Henderson won his umpteenth controversial decision—it left him contemplating the end.
We’re still not sure exactly how seriously to take the numerous hints Thomson made at retirement during the post-fight press conference. History has taught us not to put much stock in the things fighters say in such close proximity to the actual bout.
Still, it was unusually galling to watch Thomson choke back tears and try to find the right words while Henderson sat on the other side of the podium, cracking jokes and reveling in victory.
It was also disappointing to read critical comments from Dana White, who said in the immediate aftermath that neither fighter "really went after it and tried to pull out the win," according to MMA Junkie.com.
Hopefully, those criticisms will fade in the coming days. At some point, UFC brass will realize that Thomson almost beat a former champion with only one opposable thumb. It will likely give Thomson a couple weeks to cool off and come back at him with an offer to fight another top contender.
God knows he deserves it. The biggest question may be whether it’ll be enough to entice Thomson back into the cage.
I kind of hope so.
At this point, he’s certainly in the twilight of his career, but at 35 years old, he’s never looked more capable. For all his talk about having a rough time preparing for this bout, Thomson took Henderson to his absolute limit, even after suffering what should have been a debilitating injury.
If justice had been served, he’d be the No. 1 contender right now—or at least he’d be able to walk away and make this a storybook ending for his career.
But few storybooks end with their protagonists getting jobbed on a lousy decision.
Thomson deserves one more chapter.
I hope he gets a good one and I hope he takes advantage.