Tue. Aug 16th, 2022

The late, great Elvis Presley influenced the music industry heavily. But little did you know that the King of Rock & Roll had a lasting impact on what would be MMA’s greatest karate fighter, Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson.

The UFC’s “karate kid” is on the verge of another Welterweight title shot. He looks to secure what looks to be his last opportunity at gold as he crosses paths with Gilbert Burns at UFC 264 this weekend. Another win over a top contender could launch Thompson into the title picture.

‘Wonderboy’ credits much of his success to the “Toughest Man In South Carolina” which would be his father, Ray Thompson. Ray would raise his son to be an undefeated 57-0 kickboxer in the ring. From then on, the Octagon would be the next move, adding more tools to the Thompson karate fighting style.

A young Stephen and Ray Thompson. Courtesy of IKF Kickboxing.

While the story of the ‘NMF’ is mainstream, what about his father Ray? What led him to mastering the art of karate?

‘Mr. T’ had one music icon to thank for that. Hollywood black belt Elvis Presley.

“As a kid, my inspiration for starting karate was Elvis Presley.” Ray told MMA Island. “My mom was an Elvis fan, so if Elvis ever came on the TV, we were watching Elvis movies. I would watch this really cool guy do all of this singing and get all the girls. Every now and then, he played the bad guy. All the methods he used was this karate stuff. Look at this stuff, it’s amazing. I knew I couldn’t sing and I couldn’t dance, I wasn’t pretty like Elvis.”

“Maybe I could do that karate stuff!” Thompson thought. “Maybe be cool like him. That was me as a kid 5 or 6 years old.”

“My dad sent me to military school, he wanted me to learn some things. Over the course of my senior year, this gentleman came to our school and offered to teach karate class. I jumped on it. March of 1974, I started my martial arts training. I’ve been at it (ever since). God blessed me with the ability to work hard.”

Ray Thompson would later explain his favorite Elvis Presley song is “Love Letters.”

Like father, like son, the love for Elvis was there.

“If you’re living in my dad’s house, you’re definitely an Elvis fan for sure.” Thompson said to me on MiddleEasy. “My dad listened to it constantly. I thought it was pretty cool that the reason all of this is here, my legacy is because of Elvis Presley. My dad fell in love with it, he was a big Elvis Presley fan. He couldn’t dance like him, couldn’t sing like him but he loved him. He used to watch his movies all the time. He always did some karate on there.

“He was like a celebrity black belt. I don’t think he was really a seventh degree (black belt), probably brown belt at the best. But Elvis is Elvis. I thought it was pretty sick. I am definitely an Elvis fan for sure.”

Watch my full interview with ‘Wonderboy’ HERE.

“I teach the kids’ (karate) classes and the majority of them don’t even know who Elvis Presley is. I’m like what? Your mom and dad are failing you as parents.” Stephen joked. “Come on, moms and dads.”

Rocking and rolling with the sound of his dad’s favorite music, ‘Wonderboy’ said you simply can not go wrong with listening to ‘Jailhouse Rock’.

It’s safe to say that the Thompson family would not be where they are today without the on-screen karate style of Elvis Presley.

By Chris De Santiago

Chris De Santiago is a 20-year-old journalist out of Texas. He is the founder of MMA Island and also works for MiddleEasy.com.