With the possible exception of the lightweight division, the list of contenders in the UFC's welterweight division runs deeper than at any other weight. While it was supposed to produce a new top contender, UFC 127 only clouded the welterweight title picture even further.
Prior to the event, Dana White announced that the winner of the main event fight between Jon Fitch and B.J. Penn would receive a title shot. However, the fight ended up being decided by a draw, which left many questioning what would be next for both fighters.
Also on the main card of UFC 127, Chris Lytle was expected to pick up an easy win against late replacement Brian Ebersole. However, Ebersole pulled off a huge upset in his UFC debut and may have become a possible contender himself.
Note - Fighters who have been inactive for more than one year (ex: Mike Swick and Anthony Johnson) are not included in these rankings.
Since dropping from middleweight to welterweight, Ricardo Almeida has gone 2-1 with his only loss coming against former UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes.
Almeida's success at middleweight and welterweight with victories over T.J. Grant and Matt Brown give him the slight nod to round out this list over young prospects Johny Hendricks and Brian Foster.
Almeida's next opponent is scheduled to be Mike Pyle, who is coming off of an impressive upset win over John Hathaway. The fight, scheduled to take place at UFC 128, will give Almeida the opportunity to prove himself as a true contender at welterweight.
Since losing to John Hathaway in June 2009, Rick Story has quickly strung together five consecutive victories. Most recently, Story defeated fellow rising prospect Johny Hendricks who had been undefeated heading into the fight.
In his next fight, Story will have a huge opportunity to skyrocket up the rankings as he will face Thiago Alves at UFC 130. With his only losses in the past five years coming against Jon Fitch and Georges St. Pierre, Alves is widely considered one of the best welterweights in the world.
Former UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Serra has gone 1-3 since that upset victory over Georges St. Pierre gave him the title in April 2007. In his last fight, Serra lost to Chris Lytle in a fight where he used the questionable strategy of standing with the former boxer.
Serra's next opponent remains unknown at the moment. Regardless of who he fights, Serra's days as a top 10 welterweight are now long gone.
Originally scheduled to fight Carlos Condit at UFC 127, Chris Lytle was heavily favored to beat Brian Ebersole, who was a late replacement for Condit due to injury. However, Lytle ended up losing to Ebersole, which may have put an end to any hope of a future title shot.
Prior to the loss against Ebersole, Lytle had been on a four-fight winning streak which included a win over Matt Serra. At 36 years old, it looks like Lytle will end his career without ever getting a shot at the title.
Although he was entering the fight on a seven-fight winning streak, Brian Ebersole was being counted out by almost everyone against Chris Lytle. With more than 60 professional fights, Ebersole used his experience and unique striking to prove everyone wrong.
With the win, Ebersole immediately becomes a contender in the welterweight division. Of course, with so many fighters in the mix at 170 pounds, Ebersole is still a few wins away from even being mentioned for title shot consideration.
After being knocked out quickly by B.J. Penn at UFC 123, Matt Hughes' days as a title contender might be over. However, Hughes' only losses in the last ten years have still only come against elite fighters Georges St. Pierre, B.J. Penn and Thiago Alves.
There is no doubt that Hughes can still be competitive. The question is whether or not being competitive is enough of a reason for a fighter who had been as dominant as Hughes to stick around.
After losing in a title fight against Georges St. Pierre, Dan Hardy faced Carlos Condit at UFC 120. Unfortunately for Hardy, the fight did not go as planned as he lost by knockout in the first round.
Mainly because of the hype from his title fight, Hardy has become a high profile fighter, but he may not be as deserving of praise as it may seem.
Three of the four fighters that Hardy has defeated in the UFC are no longer with the organization. The fourth, Mike Swick, has not fought in more than a year. Additionally, not one fighter that Swick has defeated over the course of his entire career is with the UFC anymore.
Hardy's next opponent, Anthony Johnson, has not fought since November 2009. If Hardy can't take advantage of Johnson's rust from inactivity, he may lose his spot on this list altogether.
After winning his first two fights at welterweight, Nate Diaz dropped a decision to Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 125. The loss derailed Diaz's run at becoming a title contender for the moment, but Diaz is still only 25 years old, so he has plenty of time and room to mature as a fighter.
Diaz is expected to fight Rory MacDonald next. The bout will take place at UFC 129 in April 2011. The decision to remain at welterweight may indicate that Diaz is committed to the 170-pound division for the future.
After a tough loss to John Howard in his return to the UFC, a fight which he had been winning before being knocked out with five seconds left in the fight, Dennis Hallman has rebounded. Hallman has earned victories over Ben Saunders and Karo Parisyan in back-to-back fights.
Although one would think that Hallman would fight another contender after big wins in two straight fights, his next opponent will be T.J. Waldburger. The fight would be Waldburger's second fight in the UFC after defeating David Mitchell in his debut.
John Howard began his UFC career with four consecutive wins. In his last two fights, Howard has shown a lot of heart by going the distance with Thiago Alves and being forced out of a fight with Jake Ellenberger because of a massively swollen eye.
Howard's next opponent has not been determined yet. No matter who it is, Howard's job with the UFC may be on the line with the threat of a third straight loss.
Paulo Thiago is just 2-3 in his last five fights, but those losses came against Jon Fitch, Diego Sanchez, and Martin Kampmann. In determining where Thiago stands in the division, he has wins over Mike Swick and Josh Koscheck to fall back on.
Thiago had been scheduled to fight at this week's event, UFC Live: Sanchez vs. Kampmann. However, an injury forced Thiago to withdraw from his bout with Johny Hendricks.
Although Carlos Eduardo Rocha doesn't have any wins over elite welterweights, his competitive fight with Jake Ellenberger showed that he can cause serious problems for any of the welterweight contenders in the UFC.
Unlike John Howard, Dennis Hallman, and Mike Pyle, Rocha was able to to take Ellenberger the distance and one judge even scored the bout in his favor. Having just recently fought Ellenberger, Rocha is still awaiting word on his next opponent.
Since he had a loss to Karo Parisyan overturned to a no-contest, Dong Hyun Kim still has an undefeated professional record. Kim recently recorded the biggest win of his career, a unanimous decision over Nate Diaz.
Kim's next opponent has not been chosen yet, but he can most likely expect another step up in competition based on his impressive record.
Diego Sanchez's return to the welterweight division got off to a rough start with a loss to John Hathaway. Sanchez rebounded in his last fight by defeating Paulo Thiago, though.
Now, Sanchez will face Martin Kampmann, who established himself as one of the top contenders in the division with his close fight with Jake Shields. This fight will give Sanchez the opportunity to make a big move up the welterweight ladder with a win.
After getting his career off to an outstanding 14-0 start, John Hathaway suffered his first setback against Mike Pyle. Before losing to Pyle, Hathaway defeated fighters such as Diego Sanchez and Rick Story.
Hathaway's next fight will be against Kris McCray. This matchup would appear to heavily favor Hathaway, so it will be very important for him to use the opportunity to get back on track with a win over McCray.
Though inconsistent, Mike Pyle has the potential and experience to be a contender. In his last fight, Pyle made noise with his upset win over John Hathaway.
Prior to joining the UFC, Pyle defeated the likes of Dan Hornbuckle, Shonie Carter, and Jon Fitch. Pyle's next opponent will be Ricardo Almeida, who he will fight at UFC 128.
The only loss of Jake Ellenberger's UFC career came in a split decision in his debut with the organization against Carlos Condit. Since then, Ellenberger has won three in a row against Mike Pyle, John Howard, and Carlos Eduardo Rocha.
Prior to his fight with Rocha, Ellenberger had been scheduled to fight Jon Fitch. However, he was replaced by B.J. Penn and lost an opportunity to become one of the top contenders in the division.
Like Jake Ellenberger, Condit's UFC career began with a loss. In his debut, Condit lost a split decision to Martin Kampmann. Since then, Condit has rattled off three straight wins including a knockout of Dan Hardy.
Condit had been scheduled to fight Chris Lytle at UFC 127, but he was forced out of the fight with a knee injury. A new opponent for Condit has not yet been named.
Since dropping to welterweight, Martin Kampmann has defeated Carlos Condit, Jacob Volkmann, and Paulo Thiago. In his last fight, Kampmann nearly derailed the UFC's plan to give Jake Shields a title shot with a very close decision loss.
Later this week, Kampmann will face Diego Sanchez in a fight that will be very important in determining how close Kampmann is to fighting for the title himself.
Since joining the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter, Josh Koscheck has defeated fighters like Diego Sanchez, Chris Lytle, and Paul Daley. Also, Koscheck's only losses in the past five years have come against Georges St. Pierre, Thiago Alves, and Paulo Thiago.
In his last fight, a title fight against St. Pierre, Koscheck suffered an eye injury that would later require surgery. Still recovering, Koscheck does not have another opponent scheduled at this time.
Having won 15 consecutive fights, Jake Shields is preparing to fight for the UFC Welterweight Championship at UFC 129. During his current winning streak, Shields has defeated Martin Kampmann, Paul Daley, Mike Pyle, Carlos Condit, Dan Henderson and Yushin Okami.
Shields is now the only thing standing between a superfight between Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre. If Shields defeats St. Pierre at UFC 129, the potential bout will most likely be history.
In his last fight, Thiago Alves bounced back from back-to-back losses with a win over John Howard. Over the last five years, Alves' only losses have been against Georges St. Pierre and Jon Fitch, while he has defeated Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes and Chris Lytle.
Alves' next fight is scheduled for UFC 130 against Rick Story. A win over Story wouldn't do much for Alves in terms of rankings, but it would show that he is ready to get back in the mix with the elite fighters in the division.
After knocking out Matt Hughes, B.J. Penn was just one win away from getting a shot at wearing a belt again. However, his draw with Jon Fitch at UFC 127 has brought up many questions about where Penn stands in the welterweight division.
Heading into the third round, Penn was actually winning the fight on two judges' scorecards. Had he not been dominated as badly as he was in the third round, Penn may have walked away as the top contender in the welterweight division.
Despite his draw with B.J. Penn, Jon Fitch is still one of the best welterweights in the world. However, the draw might end up as a major setback for Fitch, who has constantly been overlooked when it comes to title shots.
After the fight, Fitch said that he would be open to a rematch with Penn. Considering Georges St. Pierre's potential move to middleweight, it is possible that a rematch between Fitch and Penn could be for the vacant welterweight title.
With five straight title defenses, Georges St. Pierre is on his way to becoming one of the best fighters in MMA history. A win in a superfight with Anderson Silva would further cement St. Pierre as one of the greatest.
Before a fight with Silva can happen, though, St. Pierre must defeat Jake Shields at UFC 129.
Sean Smith is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report MMA. For the latest insight and updates on everything MMA, you can follow Sean on Twitter @BR_Sean_Smith