Top 10 Welterweight Title Fights in MMA History
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
One of the biggest stories these days is about the tumultuous relationship between Georges St-Pierre, Nick Diaz and Johny Hendricks. With that comes discussion of the complicated nature of title shots, reflection on the Condit vs. Diaz bout, and study of what past title contenders did to earn their chance at the belt.
Let's set aside that discussion for a moment, though.
Back by popular demand (the Lightweight Edition was quite the hit), we're taking a look at the top 10 Welterweight Title Fights in MMA history. Which bouts rank among the best ever? Who pops up on this super-illustrious list? Is your favorite bout here? What are the defining moments for the men who have lorded it over the other 170-pound fighters?
Find out right here as we look back on some of the best fights in, arguably, the best division in the sport today.
No. 10: Matt Hughes vs. Georges St-Pierre II
St-Pierre became champion for the first time with his big knockout of Matt Hughes.
While not an especially exciting fight, it is impossible not to include the coming-out party of the clear-cut greatest welterweight of all time. It was also, probably, the best knockout in Georges St-Pierre's career.
The first run-in between St-Pierre and Hughes was a fight the former would like to forget. He came out tentatively, obviously nervous and reluctant to initiate any sort of offense. Hughes would dominate St-Pierre with his wrestling, and finished him in the first round.
St-Pierre refused to have a repeat of that.
In the first round, the two tentatively struck until St-Pierre landed a big takedown, followed by some hands which would seal the round. By the second round, it became clear that St-Pierre had found his range, as he freely landed leg kicks and punches.
Then, St-Pierre landed a huge head kick that floored Hughes. He entered guard, and rained down punches and elbows, forcing the referee to wave things off. From this point on, St-Pierre would be the unquestioned greatest welterweight in MMA.
You can check out the full fight on GSP's YouTube channel here.
No. 9: Jake Shields vs. Nick Thompson
Jake Shields' one-handed guillotine is one of the sweetest submissions seen out of the former welterweight and middleweight champ. Photo c/o San Francisco Chronicle.
Remember EliteXC? Showtime's first half-hearted, wholly terrible, foray into MMA?
While the business end of the promotion was an utter mess, the promotion was still home to a slew of excellent fighters. One such fighter was Jake Shields, and the fight where he secured the EliteXC's welterweight belt was one of his greatest performances ever.
Nick Thompson isn't a bad fighter. He beat guys like Josh Neer and Eddie Alvarez. To this day, 22 of his 38 wins have come from submission.
Jake Shields, though, is on another level as a grappler.
Jake Shields is a guy that choked out Jon Fitch in a grappling tournament. Jake Shields is a guy who won the Rumble on the Rock welterweight tournament by beating Dave Menne, Yushin Okami and Carlos Condit, three guys who fought for UFC gold. Jake Shields, once again, is on another level as a grappler.
Shields grabbed Thompson's leg and flipped him onto his back, instantly getting into side control, which quickly became mount. Thompson would use the cage to flip into a better position (in theory), but Shields slapped on a beautiful one-handed guillotine choke, instantly turning him purple and twisting his neck mightily.
Thompson tapped and Shields had the EliteXC belt strapped around his waist. He successfully defended the belt once, against Paul Daley, before the promotion folded.
No. 8: Carlos Newton vs. Matt Hughes I
Whether Matt Hughes really slammed Carlos Newton, or just passed out, remains a mystery. Photo c/o FCFighter.com.
If you want a demonstration of how to physically dominate an opponent, look no further than this bout between Matt Hughes and Carlos Newton.
Carlos Newton, while he lacks the name-brand value of most other UFC champions of this era, was no slouch. He had a very strong grappling game. Strong enough to have eight of his 10 wins at that point, including his belt-grabbing victory over Pat Miletich, come by submission.
Matt Hughes, though only three fights into his UFC career, was already widely regarded as one of the best wrestlers in the promotion. How good, though, was his submission defense? Good enough.
Both fighters showed what made them great in the first round. Hughes landed throw after takedown after slam. Newton expertly pulled off reversal after submission attempt after sweep. The trend continued into the second round.
Newton was deep into a triangle choke. Matt Hughes lifted Newton off the mat and pushed him against the cage. As the choke tightened, Hughes smashed Newton into the floor, knocking him out hard. Hughes came out of the endeavor dazed. Whether or not he was actually cognizant of the powerbombing remains a mystery.
Regardless, this remains one of the best, most iconic knockouts in UFC history, and marks the point where Matt Hughes became an A-list name in the sport.
No. 7: Matt Hughes vs. BJ Penn II
Hughes brutally avenged his loss to BJ Penn by tiring him out and dominating him on the ground. Photo c/o ESPN.com.
After the amazing upset that was Matt Hughes vs. BJ Penn I (more on that later), both fighters were looking to reassert their position at the top of the welterweight division.
Hughes wanted to show that he was still the guy at the top of the welterweight division. The best way to do that would be to beat up the guy that took his belt two years earlier.
Penn, meanwhile, never defended his welterweight belt after beating Matt Hughes at UFC 46. He took his A-list celebrity (and skills) to K-1, fighting the likes of Duane “Bang” Ludwig, Lyoto Machida and Renzo Gracie. In his return to the UFC, he was out-muscled by a young Georges St-Pierre and handed a split decision loss. After St-Pierre withdrew with a groin injury, Penn had a chance to show his win over Hughes was no fluke.
In the first two rounds, Penn got to show off his now-mythical takedown defense. Hughes pulled, yanked and bullied Penn, but just could not bring him down. Unfortunately, the ten minutes of acrobatics Penn performed emptied his gas tank. From that point on, it was all Hughes.
Hughes started Round 3 by pegging Penn over and over again standing. He finally got the takedown he was looking for, advanced to half-guard, to side control, to crucifix and punch, punch, punched his way to victory.
With that, Hughes added a second defense to his second title reign.
No. 6: Georges St-Pierre vs. Carlos Condit
Condit vs. St-Pierre was a war unlike anything we'd seen from GSP before.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
You all remember this fight...partly because it only happened a few weeks ago.
After more than a year out of the Octagon due to a bad knee injury, Georges St-Pierre was in a tough position and about to face a scary opponent in Carlos Condit.
Condit was a smart, savvy knockout artist who could do top-notch work both standing and on the ground. It made many of us seriously question whether St-Pierre's championship reign was coming to a close.
The build-up to the fight was as cordial as one could expect between two classy fighters that share mutual friends. The fight was much, much less kind, however.
In the first round, it seemed very strongly that Carlos Condit was downright scared of Georges St-Pierre. St-Pierre pressed the action, took the fight to the ground and opened a huge cut near Condit's eyebrow.
In the second round, though, Condit flipped the switch, and began unleashing his diverse striking game on St-Pierre, most notably the huge head kick that landed hard in the third round, causing GSP fans to go into hysterics as the champ toppled to the ground.
That was the closest Condit got to ending the fight, however, and the proceedings were ultimately centered around St-Pierre's wrestling against Condit's submission attack.
While nobody was particularly surprised by St-Pierre being awarded the unanimous decision victory, it was still a great fight. Both fighters walked out with multiple shades of purple all over their face, a walking reminder of the war they went through.
No. 5: Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Serra I
Matt Serra winning the welterweight belt remains the biggest upset in MMA history. Photo c/o ESPN.com.
I initially pondered leaving this bout off the list, but in good conscience I just couldn't do it. You cannot ignore the biggest upset in MMA history.
Matt Serra spent the first part of his MMA career as a moderately successful lightweight, most famously losing to BJ Penn in the first round of the lightweight championship tournament. He was not bad by any means. But when BJ Penn moved to welterweight and then left for K-1, Caol Uno got knocked out by Hermes Franca and then left for Hero's, and Din Thomas just up and left, Serra was not good enough to build a division around.
The lightweight division was disbanded, and Serra moved to welterweight. He was slapped around in his debut by Karo Parisyan, but still found himself with a shot at the belt after entering The Ultimate Fighter season 4 (which was similar to other seasons, but featured UFC veterans battling for a title shot). He beat Pete Spratt, Shonie Carter and Chris Lytle, which earned him a shot at GSP.
When the fight came, it started out as everyone expected. St-Pierre out-ranged the substantially smaller Serra, landing jabs and kicks at will. Then, St-Pierre ducked away from a jab and Serra caught him with a haymaker that had “Rush” stumbling. Serra chased him around and landed another big punch that put St-Pierre on the floor. Serra capitalized on it, and was declared the winner as he poured punches down.
It's almost uncomfortable seeing this fight today. The idea of St-Pierre being something other than unbeatable is hard to fathom. St-Pierre would get his revenge in time, but this remains one of the few blemishes on his record, and is still a historic fight.
No. 4: Matt Hughes vs. BJ Penn I
BJ Penn's upset of Matt Hughes is one of the reasons he is still such an in-demand fighter at 170 pounds. Photo c/o ESPN.com.
Lots of people talk about Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Serra being the biggest upset in MMA history. Historically speaking, that's true.
Contextually, though, I don't think it lives up to the shock of BJ Penn choking out Matt Hughes.
Matt Hughes remains one of the most dominant champions in UFC history. As you know, he won the belt by knocking out Carlos Newton with an enormous slam. He then defended the belt five times, finishing four of his opponents.
With essentially no one else to turn to, BJ Penn was slotted against Hughes. The fight was his welterweight debut. His last fight was a split decision draw against Caol Uno for the lightweight belt.
Hughes, at the time 31 years old, was at his physical peak. With 38 pro fights, he was as experienced as anyone. There was no way, it seemed, that Penn could win.
Then he did.
Hughes shot in for a takedown almost immediately after the bell. Penn defended it, and wound up Hughes' guard. He spent the majority of the round there before he stood over Hughes and landed a big punch, rocking him. Penn advanced to mount and Hughes quickly gave up his back, allowing Penn to slip in the rear-naked choke. That had the champ tapping.
It was a stupefying upset that turned the division upside down. It was then turned even more upside down (or, really, right side up) as Penn left the UFC for K-1 a few months later, vacating the title and letting Hughes step back into title contention.
No. 3: Carlos Condit vs. Hiromitsu Miura
Carlos Condit vs. Hiromitsu Miura is a must-see fight, and possibly the most exciting bout Condit has given fans. Photo c/o Zuffa, LLC.
There are a lot of things forgotten about this fight.
Few remember that Carlos Condit was a downright dominant champion in the WEC. He was 4-0 in the promotion, all of those bouts with a belt on the line. He joined the UFC shortly after the promotion was bought out by Zuffa, and has produced so many highlights that few remember that he even fought before he knocked out Rory MacDonald.
When you're talking about judo in MMA these days, the first name that comes up is Ronda Rousey. After that, it's probably Yoshihiro Akiyama. If you're thinking a few years back, it's Karo Parisyan. Hiromitsu Miura, wrongly, gets completely left out of that discussion.
These two extraordinarily talented fighters showed off the best weapons in their arsenal when they met at WEC 35. Condit effectively utilized his diverse striking attack. Miura demonstrated his perfect judo throws again and again. Condit attacked from the bottom. The two would work their way to their feet, and start back from the top.
Fifteen minutes of intense technical battling across the cage. Some of the slickest takedowns and craftiest submission defenses you'll ever see.
Both fighters were spent after three savage rounds, but still came out swinging. Miura took Condit to the ground and unleashed a furious wave of punches. Condit weathered the storm, got back on his feet and landed a knee to Miura's chin that put him on the ground. Condit then returned the favor, ultimately getting pulled off by the ref.
In a career defined by exciting finishes, this is among Condit's greatest moments. If you get the opportunity, look this bout up. You will not be disappointed.
No. 2: Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley
Nick Diaz and Paul Daley rocked and socked like robots, giving the world the second-best welterweight title fight of all time. Photo c/o ESPN.com.
Nick Diaz's last fight in Strikeforce is one of the greatest moments seen in the promotion, and one of the best one-round fights, ever.
The buildup, to reiterate my sentiments from my Ten Most Memorable Moments in Strikeforce History, “was precisely what you would expect out of two fighters known for huge mouths and no impulse control.”
They are two fighters who motivate themselves by wanting to murder their opponent out of the cage, and when they finally got the chance to legally do it, they made the most of the opportunity.
Daley and Diaz went nuts on each other. Daley twice rocked Diaz with huge punches, and pressed the action hard. While Diaz had a huge advantage in terms of the ground game, he was content keeping things standing. Eventually, he caught Daley with a punch, causing him to stumble to the ground. Diaz would run towards him and pounce atop Daley en route to a TKO victory.
It was, in this writer's opinion, the most exhilarating, entertaining fight of Diaz's career. It showed off how tough he is and how heavy his hands are (Daley had never been truly knocked out until that point).
Yeah, sure. Nick Diaz can't formulate even the most straightforward game plans. But it still gave us this amazing bout. It would have easily come in first place if I hadn't remembered this one last war.
No. 1: Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg II
Hughes' comeback victory over Frank Trigg remains one of the greatest MMA fights of all time. Photo c/o SBNation.com.
Dana White, for a long time, pointed to this as his single favorite fight in the UFC. Everyone else regards it as possibly the greatest comeback in MMA history. Either way, it easily ranks as the greatest welterweight title fight of all time.
The two fighters had one of the most vitriolic rivalries of MMA history. They shoved each other at the staredown at the fight and wanted nothing more than to score a knockout.
Frank Trigg, it seemed, would get his wish. After Matt Hughes ate an unintentional groin strike near the cage, Trigg took full advantage. He grounded, he pounded and he sank in a deep rear-naked choke. It seemed that Hughes' second reign as UFC welterweight champ was coming to an end.
Then, suddenly, it wasn't.
Hughes squirmed out of the choke and got into top position. He lifted Trigg, carried him across the cage and slammed him down. He grounded, he pounded and he sank in a deep rear-naked choke. That one, though, stuck.
Trigg tapped and Hughes would remain the winner. It was one of the craziest, most exciting turnarounds seen in the sport. This perfect fight came at the perfect time for the UFC, which was trying to capitalize on the success of The Ultimate Fighter's first finale event with the super-stacked UFC 52 that included this, as well as Chuck Liddell's first-round knockout of Randy Couture.
Needless to say, the UFC has been steadily growing since.