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Power Ranking Every UFC Welterweight Champion

Dwight WakabayashiCorrespondent IIJanuary 14, 2017

Power Ranking Every UFC Welterweight Champion

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    The welterweight division of the UFC has been occupied by some extremely strong and popular fighters over the years.

    We have been entertained by such top-level fighters and personalities as Frank Trigg, John Alessio, Hayato Sakurai and Sean Sherk.

    More recently, the division has had one of the deepest talent pools out of any in the business with guys like Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Carlos Condit and Jake Shields.

    Amazingly, none of these 170-pound stars have ever held the championship, but they have crossed paths in one way or another with the fighters who have.

    When the UFC was launched in 1993, there were only two weight classes for all participants, lightweight (200 pounds and under) and heavyweight (over 200 pounds).

    But, as the sport grew and became mainstream around 2001, the UFC completely realigned its weight classes based on the model of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, and the welterweight division as we know it today was born.

    There have been six welterweight champions in the eighteen-year history of the UFC.

    Here is my power ranking of all of them. 

6. Matt Serra

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    Title Reign: 378 days

    Title Defenses: 0

    Matt Serra has been involved in mixed martial arts and the UFC for more than 12 years and was right in the mix at the top of the division from 2001 to 2005, but he could never seem to get a win in that big fight to push him to No. 1 contender for the title.

    In 2006, the UFC introduced a new way to get a shot at the title, and Serra jumped at the opportunity.

    Serra entered the fighter house for The Ultimate Fighter 4: The Comeback, which saw many former top-level UFC fighters fight it out for a shot at then-champion George St. Pierre.

    Serra made the most of this opportunity and defeated Pete Spratt, Shonie Carter and Chris Lytle to win the season and earn his shot at GSP.

    The outcome of the title fight seemed a foregone conclusion, and no one gave Serra a chance to beat the champ and take the title.

    It seems GSP did not give Serra a chance either, as he came into the fight mentally distracted.

    Serra scored a surprise knockout at 3:25 of the first round.

    It was a shocking upset, and Serra instantly became a household name, but the focus of the outcome was more on GSP's lack of focus than the punching power and skill of Serra.

    Serra faced GSP one year later in his first defense of the title and lost badly to a vengeful St. Pierre, ending his brief title reign.

    Serra takes last on this list based on the unconventional way he got his title shot, and the fact that he could not defend it.

5. Carlos Newton

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    Title Reign: 182 days

    Title Defenses: 0

    Carlos Newton encountered fear early in his life, as he grew up in one of Canada's most notoriously tough neighborhoods—Jane and Finch in Toronto.

    It was a different era and time when Newton got his shot at UFC gold at UFC 31 in New Jersey. 

    A quick glance at the UFC landscape at the time showed brand new weight classes introduced in that night that included the new welterweight division.

    Newton entered the fight with champion Pat Miletich coming off a loss in his last fight a few months before that.

    Newton got his shot based on his popular fighting style, as well as the fact that he had fought the most established opponents of that time.  

    The fight was a close see-saw battle that saw the younger, stronger Newton beat Miletich via a third-round bulldog choke submission.

    Newton became the champ.

    His first and only title defense saw him defend against the new up-and-comer and feared wrestling phenom Matt Hughes.

    The Newton-Hughes championship fight would end up providing one of the most thrilling and controversial endings in MMA history up to that point.

    Early in the second round, Newton slapped an aggressive Hughes into a triangle choke from the guard position and seemed to have it locked in as tight and secure as it could be.

    Hughes, sensing his danger, picked up and slammed Newton to the canvas violently, just as he was going unconscious from the choke.

    As Newton slammed to the ground he was himself knocked out cold, causing him to release the choke a split-second before Hughes fell completely unconscious. Upon impact, Newton went limp and Hughes revived, causing the referee to award the win and title to Hughes.

    Newton makes No. 5 on this list based on getting his shot off a loss and not being able to defend the title once.

4. B.J. Penn

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    Title Reign: 107 days

    Title Defenses: 0

    B.J. Penn got hooked on Jiu-Jitsu training based on the premise that you could learn and develop the fighting skills to defeat and control a much bigger opponent.

    When you walk around smaller than most guys in everyday life, this is an intoxicating concept.

    A naturally smaller fighter at 155 pounds, B.J. Penn fought mostly at lightweight when he burst on the scene between 2001 and 2003.

    He had already fought for the lightweight title twice, losing a close match to Jens Pulver in 2002 and then settling for a draw against Caol Uno a year later.

    It was clear that B.J. wanted a new challenge, and his time in the UFC hit a snag. Penn then took a much anticipated bout against a much bigger, Japanese champion, Takanori Gomi, in the Rumble on the Rock promotion.

    It was a sign of things to come as Penn was then offered a shot at the UFC welterweight champion Matt Hughes.

    In a highly-anticipated title fight, then-champion Hughes was seen as an unstoppable force who would manhandle the smaller Penn quickly and brutally.

    Fans braced for a one-sided beating.

    In another case of taking a smaller foe lightly, Penn stunned Hughes with his dexterity as he scrambled to top position on Hughes. He landed a heavy shot down on Hughes, hurting him and setting up a rear naked choke submission to win the title.

    Penn won the welterweight title. He has since held the lightweight title as well, and is one of only two fighters to hold a title at two different weight classes (Randy Couture in the other).

    Penn then left the UFC and signed with FEG (K1), stating lack of competition.

    The UFC promptly stripped Penn of his title.

    Penn makes No. 4 based on him being a smaller fighter and stepping up but never successfully defending his title.

3. Pat Miletich

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    Title Reign: 931 days

    Title Defenses: 4 (Jorge Patino, Andre Pederneiras, John Alessio, Kenichi Yamamoto)

    Pat Miletich is the original welterweight bad ass, and his Miletich Fighting Systems is the original top breeding ground for UFC champions.

    Other schools have caught on and caught up to Miletich recently, but he is very much a founding force for mixed martial arts in the United States.

    Miletich mirrored the famed wrestler Dan Gable's philosophy in his mixed martial arts training of aggression and off-the-charts work ethic designed to push to the absolute limits of the human mind and body.

    If you push to the limits time and time again and don't break, you will be a step up from most of your opponents and successful in this sport.

    Miletich won the welterweight title in late 1998 with a split decision win over Mikey Burnett and went on to defend the title four times between 1999 and 2001.

    He remains heavily involved in training and sending fighters to the UFC.

    Miletich makes No. 3 on this list based on him being the original champ, the length of his reign and the four title defences.

2. Matt Hughes

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    Title Reign: 1755 days

    Title Defenses: 7 (Hayato Sakurai, Carlos Newton, Gil Castillo, Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg 2, BJ Penn)

    Matt Hughes is one of the most dominant fighters the welterweight division has ever seen.

    His combination of brute strength and wrestling skill made him one of the most feared champions of all time.

    Hughes dominated during his title reign from the years of 2001 to 2004, defending the title four times before he shockingly lost to B.J. Penn.

    Hughes then regained the vacant title in 2005 with a solid arm bar submission win against current champ George St. Pierre.

    He then made a fifth defense of the title with an epic fight against Frank Trigg, which remains on many people's list as the best UFC fight of all time.

    In that fight, Hughes took a low blow from Trigg which the referee failed to see, and Trigg pounced on the hurt Hughes, slapping him in a rear naked choke that looked sure to end the fight.

    Hughes stayed calm in the choke, rotated to his belly in Frank's guard, picked him up and carried him full across the cage before slamming him down on the floor and reversing the hold to victory.

    Hughes then went on to lose the title in a rematch with St.Pierre, handing the torch to the new and reigning welterweight king.

    Hughes also has a dominant win over UFC Hall of Famer Royce Gracie.

    Matt Hughes makes number two on this list based on his seven title defenses and dominant reign, but does not beat GSP due to their head to head match-ups.

     

1. George St. Pierre

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    Title Reign: 1340 days

    Title Defenses: 6 (Jon Fitch, BJ Penn, Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields)

    The current and reigning welterweight champion George St. Pierre is, without a doubt, the No. 1 welterweight champion in UFC history.

    Mixed martial arts and the athletes in the sport have grown in leaps and bounds over the last 10 years, and GSP has stayed ahead of the curve.

    He is a tremendous athlete and a fighter dedicated to his search to find the best and most cutting edge methods of training possible to keep his oppponents on their toes.

    He has dominated the welterweight division for a string of six years since his first title-shot loss to Hughes with only a blip loss to Serra on his record.

    GSP avenged that loss in his very next fight to regain the title.

    The sport is much more competitive now than in times past, and the division is stacked with fighting machines like Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Josh Koscheck and B.J. Penn—all of whom GSP has dominated in recent fights.

    His next test is against Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz at the end of October.

    GSP takes the top spot in this ranking based on the length of his reign, the six title defenses and the quality of the opponents he has defended against.

    All stats and figures for this article were referenced at Wikipedia.org

    Dwight Wakabayashi is a Feature Columnist for Bleacher Report MMA (also a correspondent for MMACanada.net).

    Catch him on Twitter @wakafightermma .

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