In 2012, the welterweight division was the most stacked in all of MMA. There was a seemingly endless supply of top contenders and big-name stars to keep things interesting.
In fact, UFC 158 is currently headlined by a trio of welterweight contests that feature all six fighters sitting atop the division's Top 10.
Thinking about a card that features the best welterweights right now had me thinking about the all-time greats of the welterweight division. Although that would make for a nice article, the idea of writing about Jon Fitch and Pat Miletich made me sleepy.
Instead, I decided to put together a piece on the most popular welterweights in history. This is a look at the 20 biggest fan favorites who have ever stepped foot into the UFC at 170 pounds.
The following fighters are undoubtedly notables within their division, but are (or were) so widely hated by fans that they cannot possibly have a spot on our list:
- Frank Trigg
- Josh Koscheck
- Jon Fitch
- Pat Miletich
Aside from the fighters who can't make the list due to their lack of popularity, there is one fighter I feel could have been on this list but had more of an impact at middleweight, despite a quality run at 170 pounds: Robbie Lawler.
Greatest Achievements: UFC Welterweight Champion, UFC 17 Middleweight Tournament Finalist
Carlos Newton is one of those fighters whose record is not indicative of his level of talent.
Despite holding a mark of 16-14 in the sport, Newton notably submitted longtime champion Pat Miletich to win the UFC Welterweight championship, and his jiu-jitsu skill put Matt Hughes to sleep back at UFC 34.
Perhaps his unimpressive record can be attributed to his battles against much larger fighters.
Throughout his career, Newton has lost battles against the likes of Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson, Dave Menne and Matt Lindland.
Who knows what his record would have looked like if he had fought exclusively at 170 pounds?
Newton has a personality that fans find endearing, based on its goofy nature. Inspired heavily by Japanese animation, "The Ronin" was throwing imaginary fireballs during post-fight celebrations a decade ago and even refers to his own martial arts style as "Dragon Ball Jiu-Jitsu."
Greatest Achievements: UFC welterweight contender
In the inaugural bout for the UFC welterweight championship, Mikey Burnett became the first fighter to be royally screwed by judging incompetency.
The Lion's Den fighter had a 21-minute battle with Pat Miletich, in which he appeared to get the better of his opponent but was controversially deemed the loser.
The boxer stopped competing in 1998 when he found out that he was going to be a father. Since that time, he has opened his own gym in Oklahoma.
Burnett was a cast member of The Ultimate Fighter: Comeback season. Breaking his neck during the show, "The Eastside Assassin" was unable to compete again, as his insurance would not cover the cost of surgery that would have allowed him to compete again.
Fight fans commonly take the Burnett's side when discussing his lawsuit against Zuffa, in hopes that they will pay for his surgery since he was injured while fighting on their program.
Greatest Achievements: The Ultimate Fighter contestant, wins over Chris Lytle and Shonie Carter
What do you call an Irish boxer with knockout power, submission skills and an 11-fight winning streak? Popular!
Marcus Davis originally came to the attention of fans when he competed on Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter. After losing his post-TUF debut, Davis left the UFC and won five fights on the independent circuit before returning.
When making his way back into the Octagon, "The Irish Hand Grenade" won six straight fights, including five by way of stoppage. Losing only one of his first nine fights, it was clear that Davis was a contender who could go far in the UFC.
Davis famously won double bonuses for his fight with Paul Taylor back at UFC 75. The battle was back and forth, extremely intense and ended with an armbar that garnered a Submission of the Night nod on top of the Fight of the Night honors it had already earned.
Greatest Achievements: Strikeforce Welterweight Champion, UFC middleweight contender, King of Pancrase
While Nate Marquardt has spent most of his career fighting as a middleweight, I think it's fair to include him on this list due to his current reign as Strikeforce welterweight champion.
In fact, Marquardt needed only one fight at 170 pounds to win a world title that eluded him in 43 fights in his former division.
Marquardt is a soft-spoken pugilist who has tremendous power but no desire to hurt anyone more than is necessary.
His knockout over then-undefeated Demian Maia at UFC 101 illustrated this point.
After tagging Maia with an enormous right hand that knocked him senseless, Marquardt was cocked back and began to draw back for some ground and pound. Mid-swing, "The Great" recognized that his opponent was finished and showed tremendous restraint and integrity by refusing to strike again.
Greatest Achievements: UFC middleweight contender
When talking about the most dangerous grapplers on the planet, welterweight Demian Maia should certainly be on the tip of your tongue.
With six UFC victories by way of submission, there is no doubt that going to the mat with this Brazilian stud will not go in your favor.
Maia famously submitted Chael Sonnen at UFC 95 but has been making major waves since dropping to welterweight this summer. In a combined three minutes and 17 seconds, the southpaw dispatched of well-respected grapplers Dong Hyun Kim and Rick Story.
The Brazilian is beloved not only for his pure superiority on the canvas, but also for his unflinching heart.
At UFC 112, Maia was matched against Anderson Silva and took a beating for the first three rounds. When Silva notoriously decided that he was done fighting and elected to simply avoid contact for the final two rounds, Maia was unwilling to concede. He spent the final 10 minutes courageously chasing down Silva in an attempt to force the action.
Greatest Achievements: UFC welterweight champion, UFC lightweight champion, UFC 41 Lightweight Tournament Finalist
There is no question that Penn will one day find himself in the UFC Hall of Fame, and it will likely occur sometime in the next year.
However, fans will always be left wondering "what if?" when thinking about the potential that Penn seemingly squandered.
Penn actually forfeited his UFC welterweight championship after shocking Matt Hughes to win the belt at UFC 46. The Hawaiian opted to sign with K-1 instead of living up to his championship duties, a move that has long puzzled fans.
"The Prodigy" has long been a pivot man between divisions. Despite having more success at lightweight, Penn has competed at 170 pounds on several occasions, including two wins over longtime champion Matt Hughes.
After consecutive beatings at the hands of Rory MacDonald and Nick Diaz, there is a solid likelihood that Penn is ready to hang up the gloves. Hopefully, he will be motivated to end his career with a win. If not, no one will complain.
There isn't a whole lot more for him to prove, and no one wants to see one of MMA's most beloved figures turn into a punching bag.
Greatest Achievements: Wins over UFC champions Oleg Taktarov, Pat Miletich, Carlos Newton and Frank Shamrock
By the time Renzo Gracie made his UFC debut, he was 43 years old and well past his prime.
If the sixth-degree black belt had competed with the organization in the late 90s, the sport's history could have been much different.
Ultimately, his legacy will come down to his training of professional fighters.
Gracie has been the jiu-jitsu instructor of several top names in the sport, including Georges St-Pierre, Matt Serra, Frankie Edgar, Roy Nelson and Ricardo Almeida.
The charismatic Gracie also coached the New York Pitbulls for the IFL.
Greatest Achievements: WEC welterweight champion, KOTC welterweight champion
When it comes to old-school MMA stars, they don't come much flashier than "Mr. International" Shonie Carter. His fancy suits and bedazzled accessories are matched only by his collection of big gold belts.
The 15-year veteran won titles while fighting for several independent organizations, but his biggest wins came under the WEC and King of the Cage banners.
After a spectacular knockout win, Carter is best known for his friendly rivalry with Matt Serra. At UFC 31, Serra was handling him for most of the contest, but with less than 10 seconds left in the fight, Carter landed an incredible spinning backfist that put "The Terra" to sleep.
That rivalry was renewed on Season 4 of The Ultimate Fighter, where both men were contestants. Serra was victorious in the rematch, but the always-charismatic Carter made him eat another spinning backfist along the way.
Greatest Achievements: WEC welterweight champion, 2006 Fight of the Year (vs. Diego Sanchez)
Karo "The Heat" Parisyan may not go down in history as an all-time great, but he sure is a character.
Anyone who has played UFC Undisputed 2009 is likely familiar with Parisyan's Borat-inspired sing-a-long that went down after his UFC 71 victory over Josh Burkman. It was a moment that showed us that there is a jovial side of the Armenian judo master, and that really allowed us to see him as more of a person than just a fighter.
Parisyan was highly successful inside the Octagon, losing only two of his first 12 fights. The losses came against Georges St-Pierre and at the 2006 Fight of the Year against Diego Sanchez.
A win is a win, but when you defeat notables, that win makes much more of an impact on your career. With victories against the likes of Nick Diaz, Matt Serra and Chris Lytle, Parisyan was considered a shoe-in for a title bout with Matt Hughes. But it never came to fruition.
Greatest Achievements: UFC welterweight contender, knockout win over Hall of Famer Matt Hughes
Violent series of knockouts? Check.
Dominant win over hated fighter? Check.
Awesome nickname? Check.
Ridiculously incredible physique? Check.
Heading into 2009, Thiago Alves had some excellent pieces of the popularity puzzle on his side. Not only did he knock out Hall of Famer Matt Hughes in brutal fashion to earn the respect he deserves, he then dominated America's least favorite welterweight, Josh Koscheck, in his next fight.
"The Pitbull" is an aggressive striker who throws the sort of leg kicks that make a home audience cringe on impact. His style is the frenetic sort that lends itself to massive knockouts.
And who doesn't love a good knockout?
Alves has fallen off in recent years, winning only two of his last six fights, His legacy is in his hands, and at 29 years old, he has plenty of time to get back to his winning ways.
Greatest Achievements: Won nine of first 10 fights in UFC
Of the three notable welterweights who dominated the UFC's welterweight division, The Ultimate Fighter star Mike Swick is the only one America didn't want to punch in the face.
Maybe that is because he didn't start drama on national television and loved to finish fights both quickly and violently.
Swick won his first four fights inside the Octagon in a combined time of five minutes and 10 seconds. His incredible knack for swiftly finishing opponents (including former title challenger Joe Riggs) earned him the nickname "Quick."
A misdiagnosed stomach disease kept Swick out of action for a lengthy period of time, and injuries further prolonged his absence. While M.I.A. from the Octagon, Swick became a popular player in the world of professional poker, alongside UFC personality Bruce Buffer.
These days, Swick is back and continuing to put on exciting fights. His knockout of DaMarques Johnson at UFC on FOX 4 is one of the best that occurred during the calendar year.
Greatest Achievements: UFC interim welterweight champion, WEC welterweight champion
Carlos Condit may have taken considerable flack for his conservative approach against Nick Diaz, but the successful game plan earned him his first taste of UFC gold.
Condit remains one of the most exciting fighters on the roster, as he has big knockouts in three of his last four wins.
"The Natural Born Killer" has the aggressive style of fighter who looks for a finish, regardless of what position he finds himself in. Whether it's searching for a submission (he has 13 of them) or throwing punches and elbows, Condit has one of the best guards in the business.
To this day, Condit serves as the best example of why Greg Jackson's fighters are not boring.
Greatest Achievements: The Ultimate Fighter winner, KOTC welterweight champion, UFC lightweight contender,
Maybe I spoke too soon.
Diego Sanchez might just be the most exciting fighter ever to step foot into the Octagon, and yes, he is a Greg Jackson student.
The quirky winner of the inaugural Ultimate Fighter tournament has put on three Fight of the Year winners against the likes of Nick Diaz, Karo Parisyan and Clay Guida, and he came out victorious in each of them.
Sanchez lost out on his opportunity to challenge for the UFC welterweight title when he fought Josh Koscheck with a staph infection back at UFC 69. It was the only subdued performance we have seen from "The Nightmare," and his lack of energy cost him not only his six-fight win streak in the UFC, but also his undefeated record.
It's hard not to love this loopy nutjob, even if his staredowns make you worry that he has a well dug in the basement of his home where he keeps unfortunate victims waiting for a basket of lotion.
Greatest Achievements: UFC welterweight champion, The Ultimate Fighter winner, biggest upset in UFC history
On a season of The Ultimate Fighter that didn't have coaches, Matt Serra quickly got the attention of America by assuming a coaching role for his team. Apparently it worked, because seven of the eight members of Team Serra won their quarterfinal fights, leaving only Travis Lutter from the opposing team in the semi-finals.
A true teacher leads the way for his students, and Serra himself would go on to win the show.
The tournament championship came along with a title shot against Georges St-Pierre, and after a shocking knockout, "the little New Yorker who could" had somehow overcome the odds to become the biggest underdog in UFC history to win a fight.
Although not officially retired, Serra continues to train fighters, including surging middleweights Chris Weidman and Costa Philippou, who are 9-0 in the division.
A rematch with rival Matt Hughes was always something that "The Terra" wanted, but with Hughes' retirement earlier this year, there aren't many fights the former champion craves anymore.
Greatest Achievements: Strikeforce welterweight champion, WEC welterweight champion, UFC welterweight contender
While it's possible that Nick Diaz should go into the category of fighters who can't qualify for this list based on how many people hate him, it's undeniable that his fanbase is still enormous.
From his in-hospital brawl with Joe Riggs, to his skipping of press conferences and his pair of drug test failures, Diaz is one of the most controversial stars that the MMA world has ever seen.
It keeps his name on the tongue of fight fans across the globe.
In the eyes of many, Diaz represents the old-school brawler that fans came to know and love. He is willing to pummel you with his fists until you crumple up into a ball, and if you choose not to stand and trade with him, he will taunt you from within striking distance.
Diaz has been booked for a third time to fight Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight championship, and if it actually goes down this time, he could be the first member of Camp Cesar Gracie to win gold inside the Octagon.
Greatest Achievements: 10-time winner of Fight Night honors, Ultimate Fighter finalist
In need of a good scrap against an opponent who won't stop coming? Willing to test your skills against a former professional boxer who has the grappling ability to submit black belts?
What if I told you that fighter has never been knocked out or submitted in his career?
The fighter I'm asking about is none other than Chris "Lights Out" Lytle.
Although Lytle's early bouts inside the Octagon weren't too thrilling, after winning his first Fight Night bonus back in 2007, it was like an addiction. He didn't care what he had to put his body through, as long as he took home one of the night's three bonuses for in-cage excitement.
Although his UFC record is a mediocre 10-10, the firefighter picked up the pace in recent years. Before retiring, Lytle won five of his last six fights, including a decision win against Matt Serra that saw the duo break the record for most significant strikes landed in a fight.
Lytle was twice booked to fight Carlos Condit in a contest that had Fight of the Year written all over it; however, injuries to each man saw the fight cancelled in both instances.
Greatest Achievements: UFC welterweight challenger
Dan Hardy is the type of tattooed brawler who jumps straight out of the popular arcade game Final Fight. He has a colorful mohawk and wants nothing more than to stand in the pocket and knock your head off with a nasty hook.
After foiling the title aspirations of both Marcus Davis and Mike Swick, Hardy was granted his own crack at the belt. It was a one-sided affair in which he was repeatedly out-grappled by Georges St-Pierre, but at least he fought for the belt.
Hardy's popularity was never on display more so than after his loss to Chris Lytle in August 2011. It was the fourth consecutive failure for Hardy, yet he wasn't even on the radar of Dana White as a roster member in danger of being fired.
In the post-fight press conference from that event, White ensured fans around the world that "The Outlaw" is a quality fighter who consistently puts on exciting performances. It was a quality they wanted to reward.
Hardy has since bounced back with a pair of wins over Duane Ludwig and Amir Sadollah.
Greatest Achievements: UFC Hall of Fame, UFC 1 tournament winner, UFC 2 tournament winner, UFC 4 tournament winner, most submission wins in UFC history
Let me point this out before somebody screams at me: Royce Gracie never fought as a welterweight in his career.
We are talking about a fighter who fought at a time when there were no weight classes.
Hell, there weren't even rules when this guy in pajamas was submitting men who were three times his weight. However, were Royce to have competed during the modern era of MMA, it is a no-brainer that he would compete at 170 pounds.
Now that we have cleared the air about that, let's talk about this little Brazilian guy who made enormous muscle-bound freaks give up with seemingly minimal effort.
Royce Gracie is the largest reason that people were talking about the Ultimate Fighting Championship after its inaugural event. With a style of fighting that made him seemingly invincible, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu is synonymous with MMA, and the family is treated as royalty.
Greatest Achievements: UFC Hall of Fame, UFC welterweight champion (twice), tied for most title defenses in UFC welterweight history, most wins in UFC history
If you started watching mixed martial arts during the big boom of 2005, Matt Hughes is likely the first dominant champion you got to see. The man won 12 of his first 13 fights in the organization, which includes a fight in which he avenged his only loss.
Hughes coached two seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, which further boosted his star status. It allowed him to remain a top-level PPV draw for years after losing the belt.
After a trio of first-round victories, the UFC brought in Royce Gracie for a superfight against Hughes. It would be a non-title contest at a catch weight of 175 pounds, but the additional weight proved to be of little issue. Hughes dominated the legend in a one-sided beatdown in which Gracie was exposed as a fighter the sport had left behind.
Prior to UFC 114, Hughes was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame. It was a no-brainer to include him in the prestigious group, as he has the most wins in organizational history, with an incredible 18 victories.
Greatest Achievements: UFC welterweight champion (twice), most consecutive title defenses in welterweight history, tied for most title defenses in welterweight history, winner of the only champion vs. champion fight in UFC history
Was there any doubt as to who would sit at the top of this list?
Georges St-Pierre has long been considered the UFC's biggest draw on Pay-Per-View who isn't named Brock Lesnar. Not only is he a genuinely nice guy, he is also the most dominating and imposing figure ever to compete at 170 pounds.
What makes GSP so popular? Is it the fact that fight fans recognize and appreciate the unparalleled skill set of "Rush?" Is it the fact that women swoon at the very sight of his rugged handsomeness?
Maybe it's his soft-spoken nature, which complements his destructive capabilities inside the cage, that makes him so intriguing to fans.
In any case, St-Pierre is considered to be royalty in his home country of Canada and is one of the most identifiable members in the sport. There is no other fighter on the planet who has the mass appeal of GSP.
For further reading, I suggest checking out my other divisional lists. You can thank me later.
All Time Fan Favorite Middleweights (written by Kyle Symes)