Changing of the Guard: The New Contenders in the UFC Welterweight Division

Joe WillettSenior Writer IJuly 21, 2011

At the top of the welterweight division (170 lbs), there is a group of fighters who have been at the top for a while. Recently, however, there has been a new group of fighters coming up the ranks.

Carlos Condit is the biggest example of this. He has spent his career being a fan favorite who hasn't been consistent enough to warrant legitimate title consideration.

But on June 12, 2010, he began to make a name for himself as a possible contender in the welterweight division with a stunning comeback stoppage over highly touted youngster Rory MacDonald, who, at 21, is one of the most promising up-and-comers in the 170 lb. division.

After getting dominated for the first two rounds of the fight, Condit came out with an urgency in the third round rarely seen by somebody who is clearly down in the fight.  With that urgency, he dominated MacDonald en route to a stoppage at 4:53 seconds of the third round, just seven seconds before the fight would have ended and Condit would have been knocked down to 1-2 in the UFC.

Condit rode the wave of that victory into a shot as the Co-Main Event of UFC 120 against skilled stand up fighter Dan Hardy. In a brutal stand-up war, he traded vicious shots with Hardy, but his shot landed harder and Hardy went down and didn't get up, ending at 4:57 of the very first round.

The victory earned him Knockout of the Night, at that time his second consecutive fight night award in his fourth UFC bout.

He was then given then undefeated Dong Hyun Kim, who was 14-0 at the time with one draw and one no-contest. Condit finished that fight with a flying knee at 2:58 of the first round, earning his second consecutive Knockout of the Night award and third consecutive fight night award in total.

Condit is now set to fight UFC legend BJ Penn at UFC 137 in October, and a win will give the man who is just 27 years old, but still seasoned veteran, his first chance a UFC championship shot.

The next fighter who has recently made a name for himself at welterweight was recently given his first career loss against Condit.

Rory MacDonald made his UFC debut at Fight Night: Maynard vs. Diaz with an impressive first-round submission over Mike Guymon.

After suffering his first career loss to Condit at UFC 115, he made a beautiful and dominant return over skilled veteran of the sport Nate Diaz, who he controlled with his wrestling for all three rounds including multiple throws, making Diaz look like a ragdoll.

Being just seven seconds from undefeated, MacDonald is one of the youngest fighters in the UFC and is fighting against another veteran in Mike Pyle in just a few weeks at UFC 133.

Another young fighter welcomed himself to the upper echelon of welterweights recently with a dominant victory over Thiago Alves. Rick Story went on a six-fight win streak leading up to a recent decision loss, but still became a legitimate contender in those six fights.

Story's streak began at UFC 103 with a second-round submission over Brian Foster. After decision victories over Jesse Lennox and Nick Osipczak, Story began fighting more veterans of the sport.

He TKO'd Dustin Hazelett at 1:15 of the second round at UFC 117, then won an unanimous decision over Johnny Hendricks at The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale.

Then, Story got the fight of his career against dangerous Muay Thai specialist and top-five welterweight Thiago Alves.

Story was dominant for most of the fight and took the best shots the knockout specialist could throw without even being wobbled.

He then took a fight on short notice against top middleweight contender Nate Marquardt, who ended up backing out of the fight due to high testosterone levels just days before the fight and was then replaced by Charlie Brennerman.

Brennerman won a decisive yet un-exciting decision, knocking Story down the ladder, but the fact that he stepped up to take a fight on short notice then had his opponent changed on him at the last minute will likely factor in to where Dana White places him after the loss.

Finally, there is one new contender who has made a name for himself in Strikeforce and was recently brought into the UFC to battle welterweight juggernaut Georges St-Pierre.

At 25-7 with one no-contest due to testing positive for marijuana, Nick Diaz has gone on a 10-fight win streak that has lasted just over three years. In that time, he has wins over Frank Shamrock, Scott Smith, Hyato Sakurai, KJ Noons, Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos and Paul Daley.

His fight against Paul Daley, despite being ended at 4:57 of the first round, is being considered one of the best fights of the year and one of the best rounds of all time.

The back and forth battle saw both fighters get knocked down and nearly finished before Diaz landed a blow that dropped Daley and followed up with vicious ground n' pound to finish the fight just seconds before the round ended.

Diaz has been the only welterweight champion that Strikeforce has ever had, winning the inaugural title over Marius Zaromskis and defending it three more times, but will now vacate the belt to fight for the UFC title.

In his 10-fight win streak, he has finished all but one fight, which was against KJ Noons and was awarded as the Strikeforce Fight of the Year in 2010.

He also defeated MMA legend Takanori Gomi via gogoplata in a bout that was changed to a no contest because of marijuana, a drug that both Nick and Nate Diaz, along with multiple other fighters, have admitted to using.

Diaz will be the first out of this group of new contenders to fight for the title when he fights St-Pierre at UFC 137.

Diaz will not be the only one of these fighters to fight for the title, as each of these fighters have the potential to not only fight for the belt, but to also hold it.

I'm Joe W.