STEPHEN THOMPSON admits he's frustrated by the lack of movement at the top of the UFC's welterweight division.
Following his demolition of Vicente Luque last December at UFC 244, fan favourite Thompson was hoping to face one of the top-five ranked 170-pounders in his next outing.
Thompson's plans for 2020, however, didn't come to fruition as the division ground to a halt following Kamaru Usman's second title defence against Jorge Masvidal.
The two-time welterweight title challenger has had to make do with an end-of-year showdown with the No.11-ranked Geoff Neal, whom he'll meet this weekend in the main event of UFC Vegas 17.
And the karate specialist can't help but lament the situation he currently finds himself in.
Thompson told SunSport: "I was setting my sights on somebody in the top five and it didn't pan out.
"But my last fight was against the No.11 or No.12-ranked guy. And here I am fighting them again."
He added: "It definitely is frustrating. I'm left with guys – well not really left with guys – but I'm having to fight guys who are ranked 11 and 12. And I felt like I just did that with Vicente Luque."
Although the match-up with Neal isn't the fight he was looking for, the No.5-ranked Thompson has no issue facing an opponent ranked lower than him.
In fact, 'Wonderboy' is content with throwing down with Neal as he sees shades of his own run up the welterweight ranks when dissecting the match-up.
The South Carolinan, 37, said: "I was in their shoes at one point as well.
"Before I fought Jake Ellenberger or Johny Hendricks, I was ranked, I think, the same as them. So to give them that opportunity, why not?"
Thompson may not have landed the marquee match-up he wanted for his return to the octagon – which he hasn't graced in 13 months – but admits there is an upside to facing 'Handz of Steel'.
He continued: "Not only that, but to test myself against these new up-and-coming guys who have been killing and crushing people.
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"Vicente Luque was super tough, I know Geoff Neal is going to be super tough.
"He's on a five-fight win streak right now and he's finished most of his opponents.
"But yeah, it [the division slowing down] really doesn't matter at this point."
Although Neal is ranked outside of the top ten, snapping the Texan's seven-fight win streak – which boasts the names of Mike Perry and Niko Price – would go a long way to helping Thompson fulfil his dream of a third crack at UFC gold.
Thompson is all too aware of what an impressive win over the Dana White's Contenders Series graduate would do for his title aspirations but is refusing to get ahead of himself.
He said: "It is kind of frustrating at this point – seeing the top five, the guys ranked above me and there's not a whole lot going on.
"So hopefully with a good win over Geoff Neal, things kind of get the ball rolling a little bit with those top guys and get some fights going on and I'll work my way up.
"I'm not giving up on the title. I still feel like I've got another title run in me. I've got to beat Geoff Neal, of course, and I'm not taking this guy lightly."
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