There is no other weight class under the UFC banner that can boast the depth of elite-level talent the welterweight division does. The 170-pound collective is home to a crowded upper tier of fighters who are all looking to earn a shot at the championship strap, and the division has consistently produced can't-miss, high-profile matchups.
The race for title contention in the welterweight division was intense in 2013, and it won't be slowing down in the coming year as high-profile bouts continue to be made. The latest of which is a tilt between former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields and former middleweight turned welterweight powerhouse Hector Lombard.
News of the fight was first reported by Brett Okamoto of ESPN.com Sunday as the outlet confirmed the two contenders will step in to handle business at UFC 171 on March 15, when the UFC touches down in Dallas, Texas.
The bout will come at a crucial time for both fighters and will certainly have heavy implications on the future title hopes of both men.
Shields has won back-to-back fights since dropping down from middleweight, as he edged out Tyron Woodley and Brazilian submission ace Demian Maia. The San Francisco native won both bouts via split decision, and while he pulled out victories in both fights by razor-thin margins, those wins kept his quest for the welterweight title alive.
While the welterweight division is a new home for Lombard, the former Olympic judoka certainly made a huge statement upon arrival, as he knocked out Nate Marquardt in devastating fashion in his 170-pound debut at UFC 166 back in October.
The American Top Team fighter had found mixed results in the middleweight ranks, and upon the urging of UFC president Dana White, he decided to make the drop down to welterweight. The decision proved to be wise, as Lombard notched his most impressive showing to date inside the Octagon.
The matchup between Shields and Lombard will pit one of MMA's best submission grapplers against one of the most devastating strikers to step inside the cage. In addition to the stylistic clash, the bout will also determine which fighter will remain in the title hunt and who will get reshuffled into the highly competitive deck at 170.
The race for a championship opportunity in the welterweight division has never been more heated than it is now. So heated in fact, that the weight class was recently the focus of Bleacher Report's Fantasy Matchmaker column, and we proved to be spot on with our call, as both welterweight tilts have now been made official. The first of which was Rory MacDonald vs. Demian Maia, which was confirmed for UFC 170 by the UFC last week, and now there's this matchup between Jake Shields and Hector Lombard.
Both fights make a tremendous amount of sense in the bigger picture at 170 and will ensure the race for gold continues to roll full steam in the coming year.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.