Josh ‘The Punk’ Thomson has had a long durable career in martial arts dating back to his professional debut in 2001. He’s always hunting for new challenges and new experiences. Let’s dive into the career of ‘The Punk’.
Like any martial artist’s story from the beginning Josh faced many adversities. Getting in to fights was a regular occurrence growing up, school not being a priority, and trouble following the American about wherever he went.
Making his debut on the Arizona Regional scene in 2001. Thomson couldn’t have made a better start to his MMA career. He won his first two professional bouts before going to a no contest with Norifumi Yamamoto. Thomson would then go on to win his next three fights between the Idaho and Nevada regional scene, including an impressive win over former WEC Lightweight Champion Rob McCullough. With a 5-0 start, the Ultimate Fighting Championship presented itself.
Thomson’s UFC debut came in 2003 at UFC 44, defeating Gerald Strebendt by first round knockout. He followed that up at UFC 46, taking a majority decision win over Hermes França. Everything was running perfectly and falling into place, before he took his first professional loss inside the cage, falling victim to a highlight reel KO to Yves Edwards.
Thomson sat at a record of 7-1 and took the new challenge on of fighting overseas. He left the UFC to go and compete in Japan and test his skills within a whole new culture of fighting. After a successful win v Daisuke Sugie in the first round, Thomson then signed with Strikeforce.
Unfortunately, his Strikeforce debut didn’t go to plan, as his second career loss came at the hands of Clay Guida in a fight for the vacant Strikeforce Lightweight title. Josh came back from the loss even stronger, winning his next 6 bouts with the company earning him another crack at gold. On June 27th, 2008, Thomson was crowned the Strikeforce Lightweight Champion with a unanimous decision win over Gilbert Melendez. A turn of unfortunate events with Thomson having to pull out the next few bouts due to broken bones suffered in training, meant the Championship would have to go elsewhere for now.
On December 19, 2009, Thomson fought Gilbert Melendez for the Lightweight Championship. Thomson would lose the fight by unanimous decision, but the fight would see both fighters put it all on the line in what would prove to be a very fast-paced and exciting fight. The Strikeforce days came to an end for ‘The Punk’. Collecting several more wins for the company and dropping another title fight loss to nemesis Gilbert Melendez this concluded Thomson’s last bout under the promotion before making his UFC return.
Return to the UFC
I believe Thomson’s return to the UFC is a memorable one, one which sticks in a lot of fans heads when we hear the name ‘Josh Thomson’. Josh made his UFC return v highly-popular Nate Diaz and KO’d the Stockton native, earning him his ‘first knockout of the night’ bonus. Thomson, still to this day, is one out of two people to hold a finish over Nate Diaz. Nowadays, it seems impossible to put Diaz to sleep. Thomson was then expected to face the current champion in Anthony Pettis, but the bout didn’t take place due to a pullout from Pettis due to a knee injury.
The next three bouts under the UFC didn’t go to plan for Thomson. The wear and tear was clear to see on the body and overtime, it all adds up. The beating your body not only gets inside the cage but fight camps and grinding everyday is tough to take. He lost two split decision losses to Benson Henderson and Bobby Green, which, in fact, were controversial in many eyes, with many thinking the decisions should have been awarded in The Punk’s favour. Another decision loss to Tony Ferguson occurred after a hard battle against a tough and awkward opponent.
Thomson was considered a fan-favourite due to the sheer will to put on a show every time he entered the octagon and always looking to keep active, if injuries prevented that. It’s clear to see Thomson is an individual who strives on taking on new challenges. That’s exactly what happened next.
On August 11th, 2015, Thomson signed a multi-fight contract with Bellator. Another major organisation to add to his great regime. His debut came on September 19, 2015, where he took on an experienced opponent in Mike Bronzoulis and finished the fight in the third round v submission. Three months later, he jumped back in there at Bellator 147 with Pablo Villaseca and picked up a second-round finish via ground and pound. Next up was the last time we’d see ‘The Punk’ compete inside the cage. Taking Bellator 172‘s main event slot v Patricky Pitbull, making his 31st walk to the octagon but sadly lost the bout.
On January 28, 2020, Thomson announced his retirement from mixed martial arts. A successful, long, durable career which entertained fight fans from all corners of the globe. Great and memorable achievements fighting under multiple major organisations. It was one hell of a ride for Josh Thomson. A man that left it all in there.
Retirement has seen Thomson stay with Bellator as an analyst and he offers so much to the promotion. The understanding of the game and the ability to break down fights is a pleasure to watch.
You’ve had a long and successful career within the sport, competing 31 times professionally, what keeps you motivated all them years to get up, go train and be the best in your craft?
Thomson – “A lot of things kept me motivated. Love for what I did, habit of being an athlete, desire to be the best, the reality of growing up poor and reminding myself that I would never be that person and lastly, the fact that I didn’t want to do anything else with my life because this was a pretty amazing job that paid me a ton money with free travel and five-star hotels.”
Making your UFC debut, then fighting three more times before making the decision to move to Pride. What was the experience like for you personally fighting in Japan and that whole process? Was it more of an exciting challenge for you to be going overseas and stepping outside your comfort zone?
Thomson – “Fighting in Pride was an absolute dream come true. It was the biggest organisation in the world at the time. All the best fighters in the world were there so it only felt natural for me to be there when I left the UFC. They paid me almost 3x as much as the UFC as well. Experience was different because of the crowd’s knowledge of the sport on the ground as well as their culture to remain silent until action that would end a fight was happening. It was eye-opening to experience another culture on such a huge stage.”
Over your long career you fought some real killers in terms of opponents, who would you say was your toughest contest inside the cage that gave you the most problems?
Thomson – “My nemesis had to be Gilbert Melendez but my toughest fight was for sure Tony Ferguson with his unique style of taking the fight anywhere at anytime, as well as his conditioning and awkwardness to do things in the middle of exchanges that others would never do at in a high-level fight.”
Was their a direct moment in your career towards the end when you knew you were considering retirement, you took a year off in 2016, is it something that crossed your mind then?
Thomson – ” I seriously considered retirement after my loss to Benson because I knew at my age that I would never get another shot a world title if I stayed in the UFC. It’s no different than other sports like NFL, NBA… etc. when you get older they trade you away or just replace you with a younger guy and the UFC (along with other promotions) do the same thing. They invest money into the younger guys that they think will become stars. That’s how they keep their promotion growing after athletes leave. So, I knew at 37 years old it was very close to my time after that fight with Benson.”
How much do you rate Bellator as a promotion and how’s your relationship with the guys there? You fought there 3 times and now work under them doing an excellent job broadcasting. Is this something you intended to do after retirement or did it just happen to fall in to place?
Thomson – “Bellator is a great promotion and with the new merger of Viacom/CBS, I feel like we have something to build that will compete with any promotion in the world. Things like this take time and we are talking about millions of $$$ every show going out to the athletes, staff, venues, etc. a couple bad shows could bankrupt a company but this is why they brought in Scott Coker, he’s very smart with money, with athletes, and how he approaches people in general. He’s doing cross promotion when other companies are afraid to do this. He’s in it for all the right reasons. MARTIAL ARTS!
As for being an analyst, always loved doing it, always wanted to do it but just needed a legit opportunity to do so. Scott Coker and Viacom provided me with that opportunity and I’m forever grateful. I believe this was meant to be my next chapter but only time will tell.
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