Sorting Out the UFC Welterweight Division Heading into 2010
Yesterday we took a look at the state of the UFC's lightweight division. Today we will do so for the welterweight division.
At the top of the mountain, things are similar given that we have a title holder who appears unsolvable. As long as George St-Pierre continues to reign down terror with his blitzkrieg of takedowns, it seems not a soul stands a chance.
Each division has their own dynamic so the welterweight division does not fit into the same box that the lightweight division did. With that said, to get a better grip on the state of affairs at 170 pounds, let’s break down the division into easier-to-digest categories.
George St-Pierre (13-2) and his rule at 170 appears to have no end in sight. He seized the crown from former kingpin Matt Hughes, rendering the future hall-of-famer futile in the process.
St-Pierre went on to deconstruct fighters considered elite competition in Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn, and Thiago Alves. Now St-Pierre is left to take on a brash young Brit in Dan Hardy who has declared he will successfully implement the “Matt Serra” strategy.
If St-Pierre thwarts Hardy's attempted coup, the line of contenders waiting to "defy the odds" will be filled primarily by contenders already battered and bruised.
St-Pierre recently confirmed he is adding muscle to his frame and that it will become increasingly difficult to make the cut to 170, perhaps paving the road to a superfight with Anderson Silva in 2010.
Contenders Left Standing—For Now
Dan Hardy (4-0) certainly has the personality to succeed in this business. He talks a good game and thus far has backed it up. He is the quickest fighter to reach a title fight since Brock Lesnar.
Many will bemoan that Hardy is unworthy of a title shot, but he was able to paint himself into the right corner, with no other unmarked contenders to contest his turn.
Whether or not Hardy can keep the fight upright long enough to “Matt Serra” St. Pierre remains to be seen, but if he can, he would be the first British fighter to adorn UFC gold and more for one of the more colorful champions in UFC history.
Mike Swick (9-2) may not belong in this category after losing to Dan Hardy, but he doesn’t exactly fit into any other category either. Swick still has an impressive record inside the octagon and with the UFC needing fresh contenders; he is still live bait for the moment.
Swick controls his immediate destiny now that he is stepping in for his fallen comrade at UFC 109. Swick will replace the injured Josh Koscheck and assume responsibility for trying to dispose of a dangerous Paulo Thiago.
Swick will need to notch an impressive TKO victory to keep him name in the title picture. If he wins a close decision, he likely falls behind the pack, and if he loses, he can submit an application for the UFC’s senior gatekeeper position recently vacated by Karo Parisian.
Contenders Already Battered and Bruised
Jon Fitch (11-1) is one of the UFC’s best unheralded fighters; he went undefeated in the octagon until his one-sided loss to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 87. He rebounded from that loss by rattling off three straight wins, but none of them have impressed enough to encourage any rematch talk.
In order for Fitch to garner a rematch—assuming he even wants one—is to either finish a few fights in impressive fashion, or beat another top fighter in the division. That was set to happen when a Fitch-Alves rematch was scheduled for UFC 107, but an injury forced Alves to pull out.
Now Fitch waits in limbo, atop the division, waiting for his next opponent.
Thiago Alves (9-3) finds himself in a similar situation to Fitch, a great fighter who was simply broken down by the champion. Alves had little to offer St. Pierre in their title fight at UFC 100 as he spent most of his time on his back.
As previously mentioned, Alves was supposed to rematch Fitch at UFC 107 but an injury intervened. Now Alves is set to make his return at UFC 111, with no opponent named yet. Will Fitch step up?
Or will it be Ricardo Alemeida, also rumored for that card, who is looking to make his welterweight debut after dropping down from Middleweight. How about a rematch with Josh Koscheck, who was recently forced off UFC 109 due to his own injury?
Josh Koscheck (12-4) has never actually gotten a title shot—his UFC 74 fight with St-Pierre was a contender’s match. Koscheck was credited with giving St. Pierre his best competition to date and a title fight between the two seemed inevitable down the road.
If it weren’t for an unknown Brazilian at UFC 95, Koscheck would be in queue for a title shot. But Paulo Thiago rocked Kos with a thunderous uppercut, putting his aspirations of gold on ice.
With Koscheck pulling out of his UFC 109 rematch with Paulo Thiago, it frees Kos up for a more lucrative rematch, one with Alves at UFC 111.
The Senior Circuit
The welterweight division doesn’t have gatekeepers so much as they have veteran fighters still fighting for a paycheck—guys who aren’t looking to climb the ladder or prevent the best up-and-comers from climbing it themselves. All that is left for them are marketable matches, at the moment mostly with each other.
Matt Hughes (16-5) has nothing left to prove inside the octagon and if he retired today he would be a lock for the UFC hall of fame. If it weren’t for the two beat downs he took from St-Pierre, he would be considered the best welterweight of all time without any debate.
Given that Hughes can no longer compete with guys like St-Pierre or Thiago Alves but doesn’t want to play gatekeeper to a younger generation, nor retire, he is left to take “interesting” fights.
The first appears to be a battle with an incoming Renzo Gracie at UFC 112. Can Hughes make it 2-0 against the Gracie family?
Matt Serra (6-6) secured his place in UFC lore when he took the title away from George St-Pierre at UFC 69 to record one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. He quickly gave the belt back at UFC 83, but for a brief moment in time Serra was on top of the world.
Serra would likely be more competitive at 155, a division he once fought BJ Penn at, but this Italian’s love affair with pasta keeps him at a weight where he can no longer remain viable at.
Coming off his decision loss to top dog on the senior circuit, Hughes, Serra will take on Frank Trigg at UFC 109 in a fight that we can all just sit back and enjoy for what it is.
Frank Trigg (2-4) always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Trigg will best be remembered for his two fights against Matt Hughes, where he chocked—literally. He also fought St-Pierre at UFC 54, chocking again.
Despite never being a champion, Trigg has the lively type of personality that keeps him around, if barely. Trigg was scheduled to be axed by Dana White after his loss to Koscheck at UFC 93, but fans wanted him to get one more chance.
That chance will come in the form of a fight with fellow senior circuit member Matt Serra at UFC 109.
Marcus Davis (8-4) went from a top 10 welterweight to gatekeeper to senior circuit in notable fashion. He let Dan Hardy get in his head for their UFC 99 fight, dropping a contested split decision. He followed it up by letting Ben Saunders nearly knee his head off.
It was rumored that Marcus Davis would be taking on another senior circuit colleague in Phil Baroni but “The New York Badass” has since decided to revaluate his career, leaving Davis without opponent for now.
Chris Lytle (6-9) may have the worst octagon record for a fighter still garnering some limelight. Most fighters would have been cut long ago, but Lytle is a likable fighter that puts on entertaining fights, and is willing to fight anyone at anytime.
Lytle will serve as “gatekeeper” to upstart Brian Foster at UFC 110. Win or lose, look for Lytle to be back in action, possibly against Serra, Trigg, a rematch with Marcus Davis, or anyone else the UFC needs him to fight.
Gatekeepers, Sort Of
Martin Kampmann and Carlos Condit (6-2, 1-1) are not officially thought of as gatekeepers yet, but with the cast off of Karo Parisian, the welterweight division doesn’t really have any official doorkeepers to the top 10 of the division and this duo seems most in line to handle that role.
The two fought to a near tie in their compelling UFN fight earlier in the year. Kampmann went on to get blasted by Daley at UFC 103 and Condit all he could handle and them some from UFC newcomer Jake Ellenberger.
At this point they seem like the type of fighters talented enough to stop anyone not deserving of sneaking in the top 10, but also not able to prevent the best fighters from claiming their spot.
Kampmann has undercard duties against Jacob Volkmann at UFC 108 and will need a win to slip into irrelevancy. Condit was actually lined up to fight Daley, before injuring himself and opening things up for Dustin Hazelett to make his much awaited return.
Future Contenders or Merely Pretenders
The welterweight division is riddled with characters that will look to sink or swim in 2010.
Paulo Thiago (2-1) started out on murderers' row, facing Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch in his first two fights. He went 1-1 against the AKA teammates, then getting a reprieve by fighting and defeating Jacob Volkmann at UFC 106.
Thiago was slated to rematch Koscheck at UFC 109, but an injury to Kos will leave Thiago looking to complete the AKA welterweight trilogy when he takes on Mike Swick. A win by Thiago will give him serious consideration for a future title fight, while a loss will set him up as a possible gatekeeper in the division.
Paul Daley (1-0) couldn’t have made a better UFC debut, knocking out a potential contender in Martin Kampmann, and inserting his name into the conversation. At UFC 108, Daley will get the chance to bolster his chances of a title fight in 2010 by knocking out a wily Dustin Hazelett.
For Daley, he will have to avoid the fight going to the ground, as Hazelett will be opportune in going for a submission—something Daley was unable to avoid against Jake Shields prior to signing with the UFC. Will Daley prove to be striker extraordinaire or simply one dimensional?
Ricardo Almeida (4-3) is not the first Middleweight to drop down and test the waters at 170. Martin Kampmann tried it out in 2009 and got rudely interrupted on his way to a title shot against Daley at UFC 103.
Almeida brings one of the best BJJ resumes in MMA to the division and can quickly become a contender with a few impressive performances. Almeida is being rumored to make his UFC debut at UFC 111, possibly against the most recent No. 1 contender in Thiago Alves.
Anthony Johnson (5-3) will always be mentioned as a possible contender given his physical gifts combined with his intimidating striking game. But after his fight with Koscheck at UFC 106, was branded with the MMA tramp stamp: no ground game.
If Johnson ever wants to be a serious contender he will have to tighten up his ground game or continue to knock opponents out before they even think about getting it to the canvas floor.
Future Contenders or Merely Pretenders, Cont'd
Dustin Hazelett (5-2) makes his return to the octagon after being sidelined for over the entire 2009 year.
"McLovin" has impressed in his five UFC wins, securing four of them via submission. But in his biggest test to date he was TKOd by Koscheck at UFC 82.
We will have a fairly good idea whether or not Hazelett is a contender after his UFC 108 encounter with Paul Daley.
Ben Sanders (4-1) got his hype train going with an assault on Brandon Wolff at “Fight for the Troops” but that train got derailed when he looked outclassed by Mike Swick at UFC 99 and found himself on the wrong end of a T(KO).
While beating the heck out of Marcus Davis won’t earn him a title shot, Sanders certainly looked impressive in picking apart a former top 10 fighter. The size and reach of the Jeet Kune Do fighter will pose problems to foes in the division, now its time for Sanders to show consistency.
Matt Brown (4-1) would be undefeated inside the octagon if it weren’t for his controversial decision loss to Kim Dong-Hyun. Look for Brown, who has ended all of his fights by TKO or submission, to be a sleeper in 2010 and possibly crack into the top 10 with an undefeated year.
Brad Blackburn (3-0) hasn’t received much attention thus far but a win over a named opponent in Amir Sadollah will not only run his record to 4-0 but set up a fight with an opponent at the next level of competition.