Top 5 Reasons Why the UFC Welterweight Division Is Not Close to Cleaned out
The public’s attention has been directed at the UFC’s welterweight division over the past couple of weeks, especially after the organization officially announced a very intriguing title fight between champion Georges St-Pierre and contender/Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz.
What has made this particular division a hotbed of headlines has been the developments of key match-ups, injuries, replacements, talent depth and the future of some of its most notable and young competitors.
The UFC’s 170-pound stable is fresher than ever, stockpiled with legitimate contenders to challenge the champ, if he manages to get past Diaz.
Obviously, most eyeballs have been firmly locked on the division’s highly touted, pound-for-pound title holder and his surrounding possibilities—a natural obsession from fans that love or hate him for being so dominant.
GSP may be the eye of the welterweight hurricane, the center of gravity, but he is accompanied by a line of eager contenders aiming to continually change the landscape.
Comparatively, the most intriguing divisional possibilities in the UFC are at 170 pounds right now, regardless of the misconception that the division is on the brink of being cleaned out. That sentiment couldn’t be further from the truth.
Here are the top five welterweight puzzle pieces, who have made impressive strides within the last year and will be within arm’s reach of a shot at the prized belt soon, keeping the champion busy enough to bury ideas of moving up weight classes.
Nick Diaz is only the beginning.
5. Rory MacDonald
Speaking of a Diaz, the younger sibling got man-handled and simply outclassed by this welterweight prospect from Canada. MacDonald is a vital member of that new generation of fighters, spearheading their way of training as the new standard.
No longer will entering the top level of mixed martial arts competition, with a background in a single discipline, be enough to sustain a successful career as a contender or champion.
Like many of his young peers, MacDonald is purely a hybrid MMA athlete with such a compete grasp on the sport having started training as a mixed martial artist in the beginning.
Such an advantage of not having to over compensate for the lack of fundamentals in a certain discipline has help MacDonald get into the big show at a green age of 20, win a fight of the night against Carlos Condit and destroy Ultimate Fighter winner Nate Diaz.
After three fights in the octagon, MacDonald is really starting to put it all together from all angles of the game.
Having the luxury of piecing the puzzle together so early in his career, the sky will be the limit for the Canadian, especially once he gets more experience under his belt. Look for him to become a contender for the belt by the end of 2012.
4. Rick Story
Defeating top five welterweight Thiago Alves at UFC 130 has propelled Story into the spotlight. It wasn’t just beating an elite fighter like Alves, it was more the way Story accomplished it: getting the better of the stand-up exchanges.
Nobody thought Story would risk striking with Alves, let alone win. Instead, he executed a great plan by pushing Alves into the cage, mixing levels well, scoring take downs when needed and landing more punches than his opponent. His biggest attribute, which became abundantly clear in that fight, was his fearless forward movement.
Even after absorbing a few thunderous shots from Alves, Story resorted to his wrestling, recovered his composure and kept on coming forward with a willful, unwavering tenacity.
As soon as his hand was raised after three hard fought rounds, his position in the division was greatly upgraded, breaking into the top ten with his six-fight win streak.
Now, merely days after beating Alves, Story stepped up for the UFC by replacing an injured Anthony Johnson, who was slated to meet Nate Marquardt at UFC Live on Versus.
If he can capitalize on an opportunity to headline his first card against another top-flight guy, carry his winning momentum into the winner’s column, he could find himself now more than two fights removed from a shot at the title.
3. Carlos Condit
Photo by Tracy Lee
As a former three-time defending WEC welterweight champion, Condit has an abundance of experience dealing with the pressure of being a top level competitor.
Out of his last 12 matches, the New Mexico native has only dropped one, to divisional contender Martin Kampmann at his UFC debut.
Since that loss, he has defeated stiff competition in the likes of Jake Ellenberger, Rory MacDonald and Dan Hardy—earning a fight of the night and a knockout of the night.
Condit is another well-versed welterweight with a lot of tools at his disposal. He clearly has enough power, along with his striking technique, to drop former No. 1 contenders like Hardy to the mat unconscious.
As a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, his ground game is not to be overlooked either, sporting 12 submission victories throughout his career.
Moving forward, Condit will be faced against Dong Hyun-Kim at UFC 132 in July, another tough contender who is within striking distance of a title shot with another win.
For all practical reasons, the winner of this showdown could find themselves signing a contract to square off against the winner of GSP vs. Diaz by the end of the year.
2. Jon Fitch
There is no other perennial contender in all of MMA with a more impressive record and deserving shot at the title like Fitch. After suffering a lopsided defeat to GSP during his first chance at the belt back in 2008, Fitch has spent the last three years in the same spot: the No. 2 UFC welterweight.
His road back to the title has been one filled with disappointment, delay and risk without reward. In fact, that journey continues to this day without a final destination.
St-Pierre has already signed to fight Strikeforce welterweight champ Nick Diaz in October—essentially meaning he will not compete again until the new year, assuming his wins—and Fitch has just undergone shoulder surgery which will keep him sidelined from around six to eight months.
Despite being so accomplished at welterweight, Fitch will have to wait once more before getting another crack at the title, being surpassed by other less deserving contenders due to circumstances.
Overall though, on paper Fitch is a constant threat to whoever possesses the welterweight strap. He is one of the most efficient grinders the sport has ever seen, imposing his wrestling core without much trouble against everybody the UFC has put in front of him (minus the obvious exception).
As Fitch gets older, his stand up has improved to a point where he doesn’t have to rely on his take-downs as much. He might not be known for his ability to finish opponents, but on the other side of the token, he has only been finished once in 28 fights.
If a title shot doesn’t materialize next year, Fitch should seriously consider moving up to middleweight for a potential shot at Anderson.
1. Wild Cards: Diego Sanchez and Martin Kampmann
Photo by Tracy Lee
Dangerous Danish striker Martin Kampmann has proven he belongs at the top level of his division enough times to consistently be a few great performances away from being a top contender.
Many thought he got the shaft in a close decision to Diego Sanchez back in March. That loss was his second in a row, but that loss was controversial and the loss before that was against Jake Shields, who just fought for the title.
Ironically, Sanchez is also in the same boat as Kampmann in the respect that they both have the potential to challenge and beat anyone at 170 pounds to become a top contender. In fact, their fight was deemed by many pundits as a contender bout, winner moving on to a possible shot at GSP.
Each man has the tools to shift the momentum in their favor within a few fights. Sanchez has an incredible wrestling instinct and can fight like a caged animal with unmatched ferocity when mentality prepared.
Kampmann is one of the most technically gifted kickboxers at welterweight and has formidable ground skills to make him an all around threat.
A convincing win against fellow striker John Howard at UFC on Versus in a couple weeks will get the Dane back on track to fight in another contender showdown.