With Johny Hendricks now holding the UFC welterweight title, the race for the next shot at gold is underway.
While the road to title contention in the welterweight ranks isn't necessarily clear cut at the present time, several major players in the divisional upper tier are all within striking distance of earning a championship opportunity. Of the pack at the top of the 170-pound collective, both Rory MacDonald and Tyron Woodley have made their respective plays with the UFC to get the next shot at "Bigg Rigg's" strap.
Yet, with the newly crowned champion on the mend after having a torn bicep repaired, it is going to take several months before the title will come back into play, and it appears the UFC may have other plans for two of the welterweight division's top contenders.
On Wednesday, MMA Junkie's Steven Marrocco reported the promotion is targeting a matchup between the talented young Canadian and the former University of Missouri wrestling standout for UFC 174, which is slated for June 14 in Vancouver. The event will mark the UFC's return to the Canadian province, where they've not been since June 2011, when Junior dos Santos and Shane Carwin squared-off in the main event at UFC 131.
While there is yet to be any official word on the bout between MacDonald and Woodley, the bout would make solid sense due to the current landscape of the title picture at 170 pounds.
"Ares" is coming off of an impressive showing where he earned the unanimous-decision victory over Demian Maia at UFC 170 back in February, which put him back into the win column after dropping a split decision to Robbie Lawler several months prior.
His win over the Brazilian submission ace made MacDonald successful in seven of his nine showings under the UFC banner since debuting with the organization back in 2010, and it put him back into the realm of potential title contenders in the welterweight mix.
Where MacDonald returned to form against the former middleweight title challenger, Woodley's role as a championship contender is the latest chapter in what has been an impressive rise through the welterweight ranks. "The Chosen One" has notched back-to-back victories, with his most recent showing resulting in a win over former WEC and UFC interim champion Carlos Condit at UFC 171 in Dallas.
The St. Louis native has found victory in three of his four showings since coming over from Strikeforce, with his only setback coming in a razor-thin split-decision loss to Jake Shields at UFC 161 last June.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.