- Date & Location: Saturday Dec. 19 @ UFC Apex in Las Vegas
- Odds: Stephen Thompson (-115) vs. Geoff Neal (-115) via Bovada
- Prediction: Neal via KO/TKO
A battle between two top-15 ranked welterweights headlines Saturday’s UFC Vegas 17 fight card, which takes place at UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The main event bout pits Stephen Thompson, who is the No. 8 ranked fighter in the official UFC welterweight rankings opposite Geoff Neal, who checks in at No. 13 in the official 170-pound UFC rankings.
Thompson, who twice fell short of taking the UFC welterweight title from Tyron Woodley, is coming off a November 2019 unanimous decision win over Vicente Luque. That bout won “Fight of the Night” honors. Before that contest, Thompson was on a two-fight losing skid, falling to Anthony Pettis by knockout and Darren Till via decision. Thompson’s career record is 15-4-1.
Neal has not fought since he knocked out Mike Perry in December 2019. Neal is unbeaten in the UFC with a 6-0 record. He is 13-2 overall.
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THOMPSON vs NEAL ODDS
|1st Fighter||2nd Fighter|
|Kelvin Gastelum||+210||-278||Robert Whittaker|
|Drakkar Klose||+110||-137||Jeremy Stephens|
|Andrei Arlovski||-149||+120||Chase Sherman|
THOMPSON vs NEAL PREDICTION & PICK
This is an interesting matchup. In Thompson, you have a fighter who has been competing at the top of the UFC welterweight division for over five years. The 37-year-old, who continues to go by his nickname of “Wonderboy” joined the UFC in 2012 and went 7-1 before battling Woodley to a draw in his first UFC title fight. As for the 30-year-old Neal, he scored a UFC deal off the Dana White Contender Series in 2017.
Both fighters are knockout threats. Thompson, who began training in karate at three, was an accomplished kickboxer before switching to MMA, has seven knockout wins. Neal, who transitioned from football to MMA in college, has eight career knockout wins.
Thompson has been knocked out once in his career. His most recent stoppage win came in 2016 when he scored a first-round TKO over former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. Neal also has one career knockout setback, that came at the hands of Kevin Holland in a non-UFC bout in 2017. Since he joined the UFC, Neal has won four of five fights by knockout. His first-round KO of Perry was his most recent trip to the octagon.
Fans should expect this to be a striking battle with Thompson using his footwork, finesse, and speed to move in and out of range on Neal. Neal has good boxing skills and strong footwork of his own. He also has a very high output and incredible power. Neal averages 6.04 significant strikes landed per minute, which ranks him second in UFC welterweight history. He also ranks second in striking differential at plus 2.28.
I think Neal’s output, speed, and power will keep him unbeaten in the UFC.
Pick: Neal at -115 at Intertops.
BETTING VALUE WITH NEAL
The odds on this fight are incredibly close, with some listing the contest as a pick ’em. That betting line seems fair, as Neal has yet to face an opponent as accomplished as Thompson. He has looked great during his run-up the welterweight rankings, but Thompson serves as Neal’s first big test in the UFC.
I think Neal has the power and skill to pass that test and I think this bout might end the same way Thompson vs. Pettis ended, which was by a surprisingly fast strike that caught Thompson being just a little too slow. Age catches up with all fighters and it might have caught up with Thompson in that fight. Neal is younger than Pettis and doesn’t have the same wear on his body. With that I think Neal will be faster and more powerful than Pettis, who moved up from lightweight, was against Thompson.
I think Neal adds another knockout win to his record in this contest.
WHO HAS THE EDGE?
The one thing that could keep Thompson from falling victim to Neal is his defense. Thompson is very light on his feet thanks to his karate stance. However, that defense was not enough to keep him from falling victim to Pettis, so I’m unsure if he can avoid the speed and power of Neal. If this fight stays on the feet, as I expect it will, Neal should hold all the advantages except for experience and I don’t know how much that will play a part if Thompson has lost a step as he ages.
FIGHT STATS: THOMPSON vs NEAL
|Stephen Thompson||Category||Geoff Neal|
|3.93||Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute||6.04|
|2.73||Significant Strikes Absorbed Per Minute||3.57|
|0.36||Takedown Average Per 15 Minutes||0.85|
|0.0||Submission Average Per 15 Minutes||0.4|
WHAT’S AT STAKE
This is a matchup that will decide the career trajectory of Thompson. At 37, his chances of getting back to a welterweight title fight are fading. He needs a win over Neal to stay in the mix at the top of the 170-pound division.
Neal has not lost in the UFC, so he can afford to fall to Thompson and still work his way back into title contention. However, that’s probably not an option Neal wants to explore. A win moves Neal up the rankings and lets him continue his pursuit of UFC gold.
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