Stephen Thompson suffered a leg injury while kickboxing that, almost unbelievably, took three years to fully heal.
While he was sitting out, Thompson saw the growth of mixed martial arts and came to the conclusion that when he was healthy, he'd give it a shot.
He knew he'd need a management company to assist with the transition, and got in touch with the group at Black House. He was invited to train with Black House's stars, including middleweight champion Anderson Silva and former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
After a single five-minute sparring session with Silva, Thompson was blown away. He couldn't believe how adaptable Silva was, how accurately he punched, how he set things up. Silva was everything Thompson thought the champ would be, and far, far more.
"He was just awesome," Thompson said. "Really, I mean he was incredibly good."
That's hardly news. Silva not only is widely considered the greatest active fighter in the world, many believe he is the best mixed martial artist of all time.
Thompson is just the most recent of thousands to heap praise upon Silva, who will defend the middleweight title against unbeaten No. 1 contender Chris Weidman in the main event of UFC 162 on July 6 at the MGM Grand Garden.
While Thompson is no less impressed with Silva today, he's suddenly a lot more bullish on the growing thought that the UFC is about to have a new middleweight champion .
Thompson has trained with both and believes Weidman has what it takes to defeat the legend and win the belt.
"Chris is a monster," Thompson said.
Hoping to mimic Silva's less-than-conventional striking style, Weidman brought Thompson to his camp as a sparring partner. As the early days of camp unfolded, Thompson again found himself shocked.
He assumed that it would take Weidman a while to deal with his striking. Weidman is a wrestler and had never fought anyone with Thompson's striking ability.
Thompson was shocked when Weidman easily dealt with his strikes.
"He's known for a long time that he was going to fight Anderson, and he was definitely prepared for me when I got there," Thompson said. "He used his game plan against me. Now, I'm a smaller weight, and so I'm faster, but he executed so well. I was there just to spar with him, to give him angles and be as fast as possible, and get him to see things that most guys don't see in the cage: Spin kicks, side kicks, hook kicks, throwing punches from different angles.
"He had an answer for everything. My goal was to speed it up and kind of outsmart him a little bit. … But he definitely had an answer for everything I threw."
Silva is a little better than a 2-1 favorite to defeat Weidman and retain his belt, though those are the shortest odds on Silva in years.
Weidman hasn't fought since July 11, 2012, when he defeated Mark Munoz in a shockingly one-sided manner.
Thompson, though, isn't put off by the layoff and says Weidman's all-around game is far better than he's given credit for.
"Chris definitely has all the tools to beat Anderson Silva," Thompson said. "His wrestling is way better [than Silva's] and I think it's better than Chael Sonnen's. I think his striking is better than Chael's. Anderson is not only one of the best fighters in the world, but he has a mental edge on guys he's going to fight. They know he's the best in the world. When they step in the cage, they know that and they're a little hesitant and Anderson just beats them mentally.
"But Chris isn't a guy you're going to beat mentally. He's got everything it takes to win. He's got great timing. His striking, everybody underestimates his striking, but Chris has great striking. I just think he's a better all-around fighter."
Those are bold words when talking about a largely unproven guy going against the best of all time.
But Thompson has been on both sides and said he's totally sincere.
"Look, I know how great Anderson Silva is," Thompson said. "He's great on so many levels, it's not even funny. I would never in my life ever say anything to disrespect him or suggest he's anything but a tremendously talented, tremendously smart, tremendously gifted fighter.
"But Chris has a very, very good chance to win this fight. I wouldn't say it if I didn't believe it. You never know what is going to happen when they close that door, but Chris has the tools he needs to win that fight and win that title."
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