There is something about spacing and distance that has been a natural appeal for Stephen Thompson since his youth. Although oxygen, tension and anticipation are the only things resting in the balance between combatants in competition, a standout career in kickboxing taught the South Carolina native to not only find comfort at range, but ownership of the space between him and his target.

“Wonderboy” would go on to become a phenom in the world of professional striking, and use that momentum to spark a jump to the biggest stage in mixed martial arts when he signed with the UFC back in 2012. And in three short years the Simpsonville-based fighter has not only validated every ounce of hype that has surrounded him during his time inside the Octagon, but has turned in his prospect label for a certified place in the coveted top 10 rankings over that span.

Thompson knew breaking into the elite level of the crowded welterweight ranks was never going to be easy, but it was also a goal he wouldn’t be denied from obtaining. He knew exactly what was on the line when he squared off with Jake Ellenberger in the main event at The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale back in July, and after unleashing a flurry of highlight material offense, his passage into the deeper end of the 170-pound fold was stamped.

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Thumbnail photo via Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Stephen Thompson celebrates his victory over Robert Whittaker (not pictured) during their UFC welterweight bout at Mandalay Bay. Thompson won with a TKO in the first round.