Former MMA champion gives up knockouts for injury law

Former University law student Nick Thompson retired this month.

Nick Thompson, right, demonstrates a hold on training partner Derrick Noble during training Tuesday, July 22, 2008, in Brooklyn Park, Minn., in preparation for an EliteXC  welterweight championship fight Saturday, three days before talking the Minnesota Bar Exam. (AP Photo/Andy King)

AP Photo/Andy King

Nick Thompson, right, demonstrates a hold on training partner Derrick Noble during training Tuesday, July 22, 2008, in Brooklyn Park, Minn., in preparation for an EliteXC welterweight championship fight Saturday, three days before talking the Minnesota Bar Exam. (AP Photo/Andy King)

by Nicolas Hallett

In the spring of 2007, Nick Thompson was just another one of the 810 students in the University of Minnesota Law School, fighting the arduous daily grind of student life.

On April 14 of that year, he flew to St. Petersburg, Russia, to fight some more, only this time in a ring with Welterweight World Champion Eddie Alvarez across from him and the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, sitting in the first row.

âÄúPutin sat ringside and invited me to dinner afterwards,âÄù Thompson said, still sounding thrilled years later. âÄúNot many 20yearolds get to experience that.âÄù

That night, Thompson, a Minneapolis native, defeated Alvarez to claim the BodogFIGHT Welterweight World Championship. He is one of only two to ever beat Alvarez and the only one to do so by knock out.

But on April 10, nearly four years to the day of his world championship, Thompson announced his retirement on his Facebook page.

For those four years, he had juggled mixed martial arts and a burgeoning law career. Finally, something had to give.

âÄúI reached a point in my career where I couldnâÄôt compete at the level I expected from myself,âÄù Thompson wrote. âÄúWith my law career taking off and having a family I canâÄôt put in the time to be at that level. IâÄôd rather retire at the top.âÄù

Thompson lost his final four MMA fights. In a recent interview, he said he felt he was âÄúoverly tentativeâÄù and âÄújust not at the same levelâÄù in his final bouts.

âÄúAs a fighter you donâÄôt ever want to stop,âÄù ThompsonâÄôs striking coach Nat McIntyre said. âÄúBut heâÄôs had a prolific career, and I want to make sure heâÄôs happy and healthy when heâÄôs done fighting.âÄù

ThompsonâÄôs fighting pedigree stems from a Division I wrestling career at the University of Wisconsin.

âÄúI wasnâÄôt good enough to be a starter or anything, but I was good enough to be on the team,âÄù Thompson said.

He was introduced to MMA while attending Wisconsin as an undergraduate. It was there he and a date went to support a friend fighting at a local bar.  Thompson eventually fell in love, with MMA as a sport and with his date, Molly, who is now his wife.

Yet the beginning of ThompsonâÄôs career was no honeymoon. At first, he was bad âÄî really bad.

âÄúWhen I first started training I was awful. I liked the sport, but I was awful,âÄù he said.  âÄúI would get knocked out once a week in practice.âÄù

He soon earned the nickname âÄúThe Fainting Goat,âÄù a particularly insulting reference to goats with a neurological disorder that causes them to be temporarily paralyzed when startled.

Nonetheless, Thompson said he is proud of his âÄútrue nickname,âÄù because at that point, his foray into MMA was more of a hobby.

In time, though, Thompson started winning more than he was losing and started getting paid to fight. 

At first, it was only a couple hundred dollars at a time, which was plenty for âÄúbeer and foodâÄù and âÄúbeat working at a gas station part-time,âÄù he said.

Yet ThompsonâÄôs stock continued to rise, and he was recruited to fight at some of the worldâÄôs best gyms, if only as a glorified punching bag.

âÄúI would be brought in just to be an opponent and get [the other fighter] a win,âÄù he said. But something happened.  âÄúAlong the way I started beating guys I wasnâÄôt supposed to beat.âÄù

It was at this point, in his fifth year at Wisconsin, that ThompsonâÄôs coach pulled him aside and suggested he take the sport more seriously.  He did, dropping down to 170 pounds to reach welterweight status.

That fall, Thompson enrolled in law school at Minnesota, and with this honor came another âÄî an invitation to fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, essentially being called up to the majors.

Attending classes and flying across the world to fight presented obvious time conflicts.

âÄúMy professors were really cool about it,âÄù Thompson said. âÄúI missed out on some things other college kids experience, but on the other hand I traveled the world and had amazing experiences.âÄù

Fighting three to five times per year, the UFC paid Thompson $5,000 per bout. Before long, BodogFIGHT, a competing MMA league which disbanded in 2008, offered Thompson five times that amount.  As a member of BodogFIGHT, Thompson became the No. 1 challenger and fought in the âÄúClash of the NationsâÄù main event in Russia against Alvarez, winning the welterweight title.

McIntyre, ThompsonâÄôs ring man that night, recalls the fight and his preparation leading up to it.

âÄú[Thompson] approached that fight knowing he was going to win,âÄù McIntyre said.  âÄúHe did everything possible in training for it and he really believed he would win.  He is the most meticulous fighter I have ever seen.  We still talk about him in the gym.âÄù

A gym from which Thompson is now absent âÄî heâÄôs traded fighting gloves for a power suit and practices as a personal injury lawyer at OâÄôFlaherty Heim Egan & Birnbaum Ltd. in LaCrosse, Wis. Being intimately familiar with personal injury, Thompson worried at first if it was the right position for him.

âÄúI thought I would hate it, but I absolutely love it,âÄù he said.

Much like his underdog role in the ring, Thompson represents individuals against large corporate insurance companies unwilling to pay their clients.  He likened it to MMA.

âÄúThey are similar in preparation,âÄù he said.  âÄúYou prepare for months in advance for one big event, be it a fight or a trial.âÄù

Thompson is still involved with MMA through his law firm, where he manages a number of young fighters in addition to coaching them.  He wouldnâÄôt have it any other way.

âÄúNow, I get to live vicariously through the guys I represent and have MMA in my life.âÄù