MMA: Top 10 Welterweights (Part II of IV), Second Quarter 2008

Derek BolenderSenior Analyst IJune 16, 2008

This is part two of a five part series examining the best fighters in the world at each weight class.  This part covers the welterweight class that has a limit of 170 pounds.

I will update the rankings on a quarterly basis.  See where your favorite fighters rank and offer your own opinions.  Let the debate begin.

1) Georges St. Pierre (UFC), (16 – 2), Current UFC Welterweight Champion, 1st Quarter Ranking No. 1.

Last Fight: Win via TKO, Matt Serra, UFC 83: Serra vs. St. Pierre II, April 19, 2008.

Next Fight: Versus Jon Fitch, UFC 87: Seek and Destroy, August 9, 2008.

St. Pierre is currently at the peak of his career and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in all of MMA.  He is coming off the biggest win of his career over Matt Serra and he now has his sights set on Jon Fitch.

We know St. Pierre is a very respectable striker with his hands and that he has K-1 talent with his legs.  However, it is his ground game that is constantly evolving and making him into an even more dangerous and complete fighter.

His last three fights against Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, and Matt Serra are proof that his wrestling skill and strength on the ground at this point are good enough to compete with anyone in the world.

He has also spent some time in Brazilover the past few weeks training extensive jiu-jitsu with a cast of Gracie Barra black belts.

Some fighters tend to relax after they have a belt.  Some start to take opponents for granted.  Some don’t train as hard.  St. Pierre, on the other hand, has not stopped challenging himself.

2) Jon Fitch (UFC), (17 – 2, 1 no contest), 1st Quarter Ranking No. 2.

Last Fight: Win via unanimous decision, Chris Wilson, UFC 82: Pride of a Champion, March 1, 2008.

Next Fight: Versus Georges St. Pierre, UFC 87: Seek and Destroy, August 9, 2008.

Fitch is essentially the silent superstar.  He has not lost a fight since 2003 and he has received little fanfare along the way.  He has quietly run his win streak to fifteen including victories over Diego Sanchez, Thiago Alves, Josh Burkman, Brock Larson, and Chris Wilson.  It should also be noted that both of Fitch’s losses were at light heavyweight (205 pounds).  He is 15 – 0 at 170 pounds.

Fitch is currently training at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, CA in order to prepare himself for the opportunity of a lifetime in the form of Georges St. Pierre.  The UFC Welterweight Championship belt will be on the line.

Fitch will try to impose his will against St. Pierre on the ground like he has done to so many other fighters.  He’s a grinder and he has been known to flat out wear his opponents out.  Eight of his fifteen matches at 170 have gone into the third round and only one has been stopped in the first round.

Josh Koscheck trains alongside Fitch and will be a huge asset in preparation for St. Pierre.  Koscheck took St. Pierre to a decision at UFC 74 and was able to successfully take him down to the mat.

This will certainly be a key element for Fitch because he lives on the ground.  He is a former Division I wrestler at Purdue University and is a brown belt in jiu-jitsu under David Camarillo.  Imposing his will on the ground will be easier said than done against a guy with the strength and takedown defense of St. Pierre.  

3) Josh Koscheck (UFC), (10 – 2), 1st Quarter Ranking No. 3.

Last Fight: Win via TKO, Dustin Hazelett, UFC 82: Pride of a Champion, March 1, 2008.

Next Fight: Versus Chris Lytle, UFC 86: Jackson vs. Griffin, July 5, 2008.

Koscheck is arguably one of the most underrated fighters in the UFC.  He’s one of the best wrestlers in all of MMA.  He was a four time NCAA All-American wrestler in college.

He’s also learned that he cannot take his wrestling for granted.  Prior to his UFC 74 loss to Georges St. Pierre he was almost exclusively training stand up and it caught up with him.

St. Pierre was able to take him down on numerous occasions and eventually won a decision victory.  Losing to St. Pierre, especially via decision, is nothing that any fighter should hand their head about.

Koscheck has underrated standup as well.  He has been gaining confidence along with skill.  Ask Diego Sanchez and Dustin Hazelett how good his stand up has become.  He dominated both of those opponents with his hands.

Those who still doubt the stand up of Koscheck will get to see once and for all when he takes on Chris Lytle in his next fight.  Lytle is a former professional boxer and is about as technical as a boxer as they come in MMA.   

If Koscheck gets past Lytle I foresee a Josh Koscheck/Thiago Alves fight looming on the horizon for the next No. 1 contender spot.

4) Diego Sanchez (UFC), (18 – 2), 1st Quarter Ranking No. 5.

Last Fight: Win via submission, David Bielkheden, UFC 82: Pride of a Champion, March 1, 2008.

Next Fight: Versus Luigi Fioravanti, TUF 7 Finale, June 21, 2008.

Sanchez is another fighter, like Koscheck, who is always underrated by fans and media.  He has beaten Karo Parisyan, Kenny Florian, Jorge Santiago, and Nick Diaz.  Both of Sanchez’s losses are extremely respectable coming at the hands of Koscheck and Fitch.

The Koscheck fight almost never happened because of the severity of Sanchez’s illness leading up to the fight.  Doctors could not figure out what was wrong with him and so the fight went on.  Sanchez did not want to back down from the fight.

The illness was evident the next day.  Sanchez had a very serious staph infection on his thigh.  The bacteria had eaten a saucer size opening and he was immediately put on an extreme dosage of antibiotics for treatment before it could potentially escalate into toxic shock syndrome, which is a fatal disease.

Sanchez is a ground fighter by trade with a background in wrestling and gaidojutsu, which is a form of submission wrestling that has been developed by Greg Jackson at his camp in New Mexico.  Exactly half of his victories have come via submission.  He has great submissions and he is one of the best scramblers out there.

Sanchez has gone on record as saying he wants a rematch with Koscheck.  He has also hinted at dropping to 155 pounds.  In the mean time Luigi Fioravanti is on deck.

5) Thiago Alves (UFC), (15 – 3), Unranked 1st Quarter.

Last Fight: Win via TKO, Matt Hughes, UFC 85: Bedlam, June 7, 2008.

Next Fight: Versus unknown, Event unknown, Date unknown.

Alves has shot up to No. 5 in the rankings.  He has now won six consecutive fights.  He is coming off the biggest win of his career over future UFC hall of famer Matt Hughes at UFC 85.  This was a dominating performance for Alves’ first headlining fight for a UFC event.

He was able to avoid Hughes’ takedown attempts for the most part in the first round, land a couple big punches, and ground and pound Hughes when he pulled guard.  In the second round Hughes ate a couple knees going for takedowns with the last one causing referee Herb Dean to stop the fight.       

Alves’ fight before meeting Hughes was another impressive performance when he knocked out Karo Parisyan at UFC Fight Night 13.  Chris Lytle and Marcus Davis are also on his list of victories.

The sky is the limit for Alves.  He is only 24 years old and he is only going to get better training at one of the best camps in the world at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida.

His instructors include Ricardo Liborio, former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, and Howard Davis, Jr., who is a former Olympic Gold Metalist in boxing.

His training partners, on the other hand, include Gesias Calvancante, Denis Kang, Thiago Silva, and Wilson Gouveia.

Alves is a very well rounded fighter, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, and his punches and knees are ferocious.  His aggressive striking is hard to deal with and will pose problems for anyone at 170 pounds including Georges St. Pierre.

6) Matt Hughes (UFC), (41 – 7), Former UFC Welterweight Champion, 1st Quarter Ranking No. 4.

Last Fight: Loss via TKO, Thiago Alves, UFC 85: Bedlam, June 7, 2008.

Next Fight: Versus unknown, Event unknown, Date unknown.

The future is uncertain for Hughes after coming off losses in three of his last four fights.  It is safe to say that Matt Hughes is on the down slope of his career, however, when the time comes he will go out as the best UFC welterweight of all time.

Hughes has no longer shown the ability to take down opponents at will and use his ground and pound.  Thiago Alves and Georges St. Pierre both overwhelmed him with their strength and striking ability.  Hughes seemed to be a sitting duck in both fights since he was not able to take either one of them down with any success.

Look for Hughes to take on Matt Serra and end his career after the fight regardless of the outcome.  He will likely then turn his focus on his newly opened H.I.T. Squad gym in Granite City, IL where he can teach his craft to a whole new generation of mixed martial artists.

7) Karo Parisyan (UFC), (18 – 5), 1st Quarter Ranking No. 6.

Last Fight: Loss via TKO, Thiago Alves, UFC Fight Night 13, April 2, 2008.

Next Fight: Versus TBD, UFC 87: Seek and Destroy, August 9, 2008.

Parisyan is already a veteran of MMA and he is still only 25 years old.  He has beaten the likes of Matt Serra, Nick Diaz, Josh Burkman, Drew Fickett, and Nick Thompson in his career.  His losses include Georges St. Pierre, Sean Sherk (twice), Diego Sanchez, and most recently Thiago Alves.

He is one of the strongest grapplers on the circuit.  He comes from a predominantly judo background.  He competed in the 2004 Olympic trials in judo.  He has also trained in the Hayastan Grappling System for more than a decade under the tutelage of Gokor Chivichyan and Gene LeBell.

Exactly nine of his eighteen victories have come via submission on the ground.  This is the best chance for Parisyan to end a fight.  A combination of wrestling strength and judo skill allows him to typically takedown his opponents when he desires.  Once on the ground he has never been submitted in a fight himself.  Parisyan will look to get his career back on track when he steps in the octagon at UFC 87.

8)     Matt Serra (UFC), (9 – 5), Former UFC Welterweight Champion, 1st Quarter Ranking No. 7.

Last Fight: Loss via TKO, Georges St. Pierre, UFC 83: Serra vs. St. Pierre II, April 19, 2008.

Next Fight: Versus unknown, Event unknown, Date unknown.

Serra is coming off a disappointing, yet predictable defeat against Georges St. Pierre.  He still has a lot to prove in MMA competition in my opinion.

Frankly, his resume is not that impressive.  If you take away his victory over Georges St. Pierreat UFC 69 his biggest win is over either Jeff Curran or Chris Lytle.  He has also lost to guys like Shonie Carter and Din Thomas.

His Brazilian jiu-jitsu is world class.  His black belt was awarded to him by Renzo Gracie.  He is a Pan American gold medalist in jiu-jitsu as well and is a handful on the ground for any opponent.  Four of his nine wins have come via submission.

On the other hand, his standup has been much improved under the direction of Ray Longo, which was evident the night he defeated Georges St. Pierre for the UFC welterweight title.  That fight remains his only victory via knockout in MMA competition and he will have to continue to improve to be able to compete on a consistent basis with superior strikers.

It has been rumored his next fight will be against Matt Hughes.  He may be able to beat Hughes who is on his way out, however, he would get outclassed by the upper tier of the UFC welterweights including Alves, Sanchez, and Koscheck (Parisyan has already beaten him).

9) Jake Shields (EliteXC), (20 – 4 – 1), 1st Quarter Ranking No. 8.

Last Fight: Win via submission, Mike Pyle, EliteXC: Renegade, November 10, 2007.

Next Fight: Versus unknown, Event unknown, Date unknown.

Shields has nine straight victories including wins over Yushin Okami, Hayato Sakurai, and Carlos Condit.  He has not lost since December 2004.  He is one of the best fighters in the world on the ground.  Shields’ strength is his his wrestling and his Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt skill.

He was a two-time All-American wrestler at Cuesta College.  He next went to study BJJ and earned his black belt under Cesar Gracie.  He went on to become a Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion.  He now is the head BJJ instructor at Fairtex in San Francisco, CA where he teaches other fighters like Gilbert Melendez.

On the other hand, he is still raw as a striker.  Only three of his twenty victories have come by way of knockout.  A match up with Drew Fickett for the vacant EliteXC Welterweight Championship belt is likely for July 26, 2008 when EliteXC has their second event televised on CBS, however, it is yet to be confirmed.

This fight has been postponed twice already because both fighters have been injured during training.    

10) Carlos Condit (WEC), (22 – 4), Current WEC Welterweight Champion, 1st Quarter Ranking No. 10.

Last Fight: Win via submission, Carlo Prater, WEC 32, February 13, 2008.

Next Fight: Versus Hiromitsu Miura, WEC 35, August 3, 2008.

Condit is an extremely talented up-and-coming fighter at the ripe age of 24.  He is the current WEC Welterweight Champion.  He is undefeated in his four WEC fights.  That has included two title defenses against Brock Larson and Carlo Prater.  He also has an impressive submission victory over Frank Trigg on his resume from 2006.

He is an extremely well-rounded fighter.  He has nine victories via knockout and thirteen via submission.

Condit believes he belongs in the upper echelon of welterweight fighters in the world.  He has expressed interest in unifying the UFC and WEC welterweight belts in order to fight the best crop of welterweights in the world.  It’s safe to say he’s not lacking any confidence at this point in his young career.  

Dropped Out: No. 9 Marcus Davis (Coming off unanimous decision loss to Mike Swick at UFC 85.)



Random Thoughts:


-        I believe it is only a matter of time before Matt Hughes and Matt Serra are both off of this list.

-        It is only a matter of time before Thiago Alves gets a title shot, however, I believe he needs to go through Josh Koscheck or Diego Sanchez (or both) to get there.

-        Keep an eye on Mike Swick.  He is 12 – 2 with both losses coming at 185 pounds.  His is now 2 – 0 at 170 pounds.  His victory over Josh Burkman was unimpressive, however, his recent unanimous decision victory over Marcus Davis should have made you take notice.  He is now a force to be reckoned with at 170 pounds in the UFC.

-        Nick Thompson is slowly making his way up the ranks, however, he is not in the top 10 yet.  He has won twelve consecutive matches but the level of competition he has faced over that span has been suspect.


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