While the middleweight title changed hands at UFC 162, the welterweight belt remains wrapped tightly around the waist of Georges St-Pierre. But there are several contenders in the 170-pound division prepared to make a run at the division’s gold.
Next in line for a shot at the title is Johny Hendricks, a powerful wrestler who has battered his way to top contention. He will not be included in this list, considering he has already made his run to a matchup against GSP.
The fighters who do make this list, however, are those still on their way up in the division. These welterweights boast the most potential, good standing in the division, a strong body of work and, in most cases, all three.
Please note that this is not a list of prospects who could make a run, considering said prospects likely find themselves a few years out of title contention. Instead, the fighters included are those who could conceivably fight for the belt within the next 12 to 24 months, and preferably sooner rather than later. Here are the top welterweights poised to make a run at the title.
Erick Silva could've been a sleeper in this countdown, but he's yet to fight a quality welterweight and earn a win in the process.
The Brazilian is immensely talented and ready for another challenge.
In his first true test, Silva was topped by Jon Fitch in a close back-and-forth battle. Fitch's wrestling was the difference, and Silva will have to adjust to a division filled with strong wrestlers.
If he can manage to do that, he's a tough fight for anyone. At the moment, however, he just misses this list. Once he can defeat a top-10 welterweight, we'll have a better idea as to what he can accomplish at the 170-pound mark.
Like Silva, Woodley must earn a quality win before anyone can call him a true contender—let alone a top-10 fighter—in the welterweight division.
He blasted Jay Hieron in his UFC debut, earning a brutal knockout win, but, against Jake Shields at UFC 161, in his second fight the Strikeforce import was on the losing end of a decision.
Woodley was inactive throughout the majority of the fight, appearing apathetic at times. Shields was allowed to dictate the pace, and managed to work his way into a clinch war.
Grappling is Shields' game, and the result showed it. Woodley must control the cage in his upcoming bouts in order to battle back in the division.
He's got the talent to achieve great things in the welterweight division, and a win at UFC 161 would've put him in the top 10 in all likelihood. But he's a good two or three wins away from contention at this point.
Last Five Fights: 4-1
The lone loss in Saffiedine's last five fights came against Woodley. But he turned things around, earning victories in his final four contests under the Strikeforce banner.
Most recently, he earned a unanimous decision win over Nate Marquardt at the Strikeforce finale to become the final welterweight champion in the promotion's history.
Now, having made the move to the UFC, Saffiedine has a good deal of momentum, and he could find himself up against a top-10 welterweight in his UFC debut.
He was originally set to face Robbie Lawler at UFC on Fox 8, but an injury forced him out of the contest.
Saffiedine is a talented striker, whose technique could pay dividends in a welterweight division filled with power strikers such as Johny Hendricks and Jake Ellenberger.
If he earns a win in his debut, he could find himself one or two wins away from a shot at gold, allowing the UFC to pit its champion against Strikeforce's final title holder at 170 pounds.
Saffiedine should immediately get a top-10 guy, even if it means he's overmatched. The UFC shouldn't waste time in gauging how successful (or unsuccessful) he can be in his new home.
Josh Koscheck recently withdrew from a bout against Demian Maia due to injury, so a Koscheck-Saffiedine matchup could work.
Better yet, if Nick Diaz should return to the cage, a Diaz-Saffiedine bout would be at least somewhat intriguing, considering Diaz abandoned the Strikeforce welterweight title to join the UFC roster back in 2011. The only trouble is convincing Diaz to fight a guy without much name value.
If the UFC decides to bring Saffiedine along more slowly, he could match up nicely with a guy like Woodley (in a rematch). Jake Shields is another option, considering he, too, was a Strikeforce champ.
Last Five Fights: 4-1
Maia may be 4-1 in his last five, but the middleweight-turned-welterweight is perfect in his new division, earning back-to-back wins over Rick Story and Jon Fitch.
Fitch was once the top contender in the division, while Story was once its top prospect.
Maia was originally slated to face a strong challenge in wrestler Josh Koscheck, a fighter who also was a top contender once. However, Koscheck was injured and withdrew from the fight.
With little time to find a replacement—and few replacements available—Maia was pulled from the UFC 163 fight card.
The Brazilian is an elite grappler with an incredible submission game, something we saw against Story. In the welterweight division, where he is anything but undersized, Maia is a legitimate threat to the wrestlers who have held the top spots for so long.
We saw it against Fitch and we'll likely see it in his next outing.
Now, he should expect to be matched up against a top-10 fighter in the near future.
With Koscheck on the shelf, the UFC could wait it out and match him up with Maia.
However, there are other matchups with more intrigue.
Rory MacDonald and Jake Ellenberger meet at UFC on Fox 8 later this month, and the winner of that fight will likely be next in line for a title shot.
Maia could face the loser of that fight in what would be another interesting contest; either would be the biggest test of his career at welterweight.
But the best fit would be a matchup against the winner of Martin Kampmann vs. Carlos Condit 2. That pair of welterweights meet in August, and a matchup against Maia could yield the next top contender following the MacDonald-Ellenberger winner.
Last Five Fights: 4-1
Ellenberger may be a threat to the UFC welterweight title, but Hendricks gets the first shot.
And Ellenberger will have to get through the extremely talented Rory MacDonald if he hopes to earn a title shot sometime in 2014.
The welterweight contender has strong power, as we've seen against Nate Marquardt and Jake Shields, along with a strong ability to dictate the pace of a fight thanks to his wrestling.
Now, heading into his UFC on Fox 8 contest against MacDonald, we've seen another side to Ellenberger: his trash talking ability.
He and MacDonald have been trading verbal jabs recently, and any promoter in combat sports enjoys a fighter who can promote his fights well. Ellenberger is showing he is capable, and fighters such as Chael Sonnen have displayed a title shot can be earned based almost solely on fight promotion.
Ellenberger must get through MacDonald before he can start trash talking his way to St-Pierre.
As stated, Ellenberger meets MacDonald later this month on Fox. A win in that fight almost certainly earns him a shot at gold, whether GSP or Hendricks holds it.
Last Five Fights: 3-2
Condit is currently on a two-fight losing streak, for which he can thank St-Pierre and Hendricks, who each handed him a unanimous decision loss. But "The Natural Born Killer" is far from irrelevant in this division. In fact, he's right up there with the best of them.
Unfortunately for Condit, his loss to St-Pierre likely means a title shot is going to be difficult to earn. Fortunately, he has the tools and coaching to do so.
We saw him use his technique and strategy against Nick Diaz to earn the interim title at UFC 143, while we saw his relentless killer instinct come out in his comeback win against Rory MacDonald.
Make no mistake, Condit has his work cut out for him. But as we saw against Hendricks (and even against GSP at times), he's talented enough to compete with the division's top guys. His wins over Ellenberger, Diaz and MacDonald should prove that, though.
Condit meets Martin Kampmann in a rematch this August. The former WEC champion lost the first meeting in his UFC debut, but currently finds himself ranked much higher than Kampmann.
A win would set Condit back into the title hunt, but he'll still have more to accomplish before finding himself fighting for the belt again.
Last Five Fights: 4-1
Rory MacDonald is the most talented welterweight not named Georges St-Pierre.
He is the UFC's Mike Trout.
So to say that he is poised to make a run at welterweight gold is an understatement.
Yes, he'll have to get through Ellenberger first to do it, and then he'll be forced to put aside his relationship with St-Pierre if he wants to earn the belt (unless, of course, Hendricks holds the title by year's end). But MacDonald is probably the scariest fighter in the division when age, potential and recent history are considered.
The Canadian is 23 years old and has lost just once in his career; Carlos Condit pulled out a victory from the jaws of defeat against MacDonald at UFC 115. In his latest fight, he battered former champ BJ Penn en route to a unanimous decision victory.
MacDonald is currently a 2:1 favorite heading into UFC on Fox 8, and he should be. At this point, it's not so much a question as to whether or not he becomes champion. It's a question of when.
Ellenberger seeks to steal away MacDonald's momentum at UFC on Fox 8.
The underdog has attempted to get into the Canadian's head via Twitter and other means of trash talk. That may be his best shot to win, considering MacDonald has been on a tear lately.
Two notable top-10 welterweights didn't make this list and, if you haven't figured it out already, those guys are Nick Diaz and Martin Kampmann.
And there's a good reason why neither found a spot.
Diaz is a talented striker and grappler, but he remains reliant on the former in order to earn a victory.
Against strikers such as Condit, Diaz is always going to struggle. In their UFC 143 interim title fight, Condit utilized strong foot movement, working his way in and out of combinations and, in the process, avoiding Diaz's strikes.
When Diaz fails to accumulate strikes against his opponent, he is going to fall short. His forte has long been landing punch after punch until a fighter has taken too many shots to avoid a seemingly inevitable knockout. I'm not bashing that technique, as it's truly impressive. But fighters who avoid a striking war and are technically gifted will manage to beat Diaz.
Also, Diaz struggles against top wrestlers, as we saw in the St-Pierre fight at UFC 158. He probably finds himself well away from a title shot at this point, considering how poorly he did against GSP.
To be fair, those two losses were Diaz's first since 2007, but they also displayed how he can (and probably will continue to) struggle against the sport's elite welterweights.
And there's that whole retirement thing.
Consistency is the name of the game when it comes to earning title shots. And Martin Kampmann fails in that regard.
The longtime UFC veteran is a threat at all times, as we've seen in comeback victories against Thiago Alves and Jake Ellenberger. But he just can't seem to string together enough wins to ever be considered a true elite member of the division.
"The Hitman" is 3-3 in his last six and, while he can pull off wins against a number of talented welterweights, the top of the division competition is too good for him.
He's well on his way to gatekeeper status for the division's top five spots. That is, if he hasn't achieved that title already.