5 Fighters Injecting Life Back into the UFC Welterweight Division

John LocklearContributor IFebruary 17, 2012

5 Fighters Injecting Life Back into the UFC Welterweight Division

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    Three-plus years.

    That’s how long the UFC’s welterweight division has been on lock-down, and how long champion Georges St. Pierre has walked into the octagon a champion and walked out a pound-for-pound kingpin. 

    It is also how long dominance and superior skill have seemingly sapped the life-blood right out of the UFC’s welterweight division. How long it’s been since someone has had more than a puncher’s chance to take the title away.

    Three-plus years.

    But, alas, the times they are a changing. Lost is the unbeatable and almighty aura that is Georges St. Pierre, who sat on the sidelines with a torn ACL, looking on helplessly as Carlos Condit won a title St. Pierre never lost. Gained—an injection of youth, trash-talking, up-and-comers and excitement that hasn't been around since St. Pierre reclaimed his crown in 2008. 

Rory MacDonald

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    Don’t let that loss to Carlos Condit fool you, MacDonald was very much in control of that fight until Condit caught him at the very end of Round 3. It was a fight that if it had made it to the scorecards, MacDonald almost would have surely won.

    Since that speed bump, Rory has physically manhandled his last two opponents, including what now looks like a very impressive win against Nate Diaz and finishing Mike Pyle via brutal ground-and-pound at UFC 133.

    MacDonald still has a little way to go before he can be considered a top-flight welterweight—the lack of wins against the the top 10 cements that train of thought. But, there is little doubt about his future in the UFC—the kid has star written all over him.

Johny Hendricks

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    No one is riding the hype train more than Johny Hendricks.

    UFC 141 aside for a second, Hendricks was already making a name for himself in the business. By knocking out Charlie Brenneman and narrowly getting past Mike Pierce, Hendricks was clamoring for a chance to prove himself to the UFC brass.

    And he got it, in the form of the fighter he was calling for—Jon Fitch.

    Bring in UFC 141, and in a matter of seconds (and one big left hand), Jon Fitch’s perennial No. 2 status was gone and Johny Hendricks was welcomed into title contention.

    Scheduled to fight Josh Koscheck next, Hendricks can put himself right behind Jake Ellenberger for a shot at welterweight gold with a win.

Jake Ellenberger

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    Few welterweights are more exciting to watch than Jake Ellenberger.  Every time he steps into the octagon he is a threat to knockout the guy standing across from him.

    Mike Pyle and Sean Pierson both know of Ellenberger’s knockout prowess—both being finished by “The Juggernaut” before they could see the third round. As does Jake Shields, who had never been knocked out since becoming a welterweight and was a huge player in the UFC’s welterweight division.

    Ellenberger also has very underrated wrestling. While his wrestling pedigree may not be at the level of Jon Fitch or Johny Hendricks, Ellenberger’s ability to take an opponent down, when necessary, keeps fighters honest and contributes mightily to his very dangerous striking.

    With a huge, and very impressive win against another top 10 welterweight in Diego Sanchez, Ellenberger seems likely to be the next opponent for current interim welterweight champion, Carlos Condit—a fighter Ellenberger lost a close (and some would say controversial) split decision to in 2009. That is, of course, assuming GSP is out for the foreseeable future.

Nick Diaz

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    Yes, despite failing his drug test, likely on the road to a suspension and claiming that he is done with MMA, Nick Diaz is still very much in the welterweight mix.

    The bad boy from Stockton needs no list of credentials for every MMA fan to understand why he’s near the very top of the welterweight rankings.

    Nick Diaz can win a fight regardless of where it ends up. Whether it’s from an armbar, kimura or that infamous gogoplata on the ground—or his elite level striking that was on full display against future hall-of-famer BJ Penn, Diaz has proven he is among the best in the business.

    The problem with Diaz is he can’t stay out of his own way. The failed drug test after his UFC 143 fight isn’t his first rodeo with the Nevada State Athletic Commission and he insists on walking a very tight rope with all things leading up to his fights (which is why he lost the opportunity to fight GSP the first time around).

    The hiccup at UFC 143 is also a cause for concern, considering Diaz had five rounds to change his game plan, yet continued down a stubborn path that was obviously leading to nowhere. Whether Carlos was running, executing great strategy, whatever fans want to call it, the fact of the matter is Diaz should have made adjustments, but never did.

    And it cost him.

    That said, Nick Diaz will be much improved next time around. Expect the retirement talk to be just that—talk—and after serving his eventual suspension, he’ll be right back into title contention. There’s no way he leaves before getting a crack at Georges St. Pierre.

Carlos Condit

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    Since losing a very close split decision in his first bout in the UFC, Carlos Condit has been on a warpath through the welterweight division.

    Wins against Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald got the former WEC champion on the map. Condit’s highlight knockout of previously undefeated Dong Hyun Kim got him in the position to fight for what is now his interim welterweight title.

    How about that win over Nick Diaz at UFC 143? Well, that just brings Condit’s shot at No.1 status and GSP one step closer.

    Age is on Condit’s side. Still young (27), Condit is already a well-rounded fighter. While three of his last four fights have ended by knockout, Condit has also had a stretch where he submitted four opponents in consecutive order (13 KOs and 13 sub for his career).