Divisional superiority is, and always has been, one of the most heated debates in the world of MMA.
Simply put, it’s easy to agree on who the top dog in the yard is, but it’s a bit more difficult to determine which yard has the toughest dogs.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is currently home to seven total weight classes from the heavyweights (that max out at 265 lbs) all the way down to the miniature bad-asses in the 135 lbs division.
Everyone who follows the sport seems to have their own opinion on which division is the most stacked. Truthfully, you could easily make a case for any one of those seven categories because each class is loaded with elite competitors.
Tonight, the welterweight division will be on display as top contenders Jake Shields and Jake Ellenberger collide in the main event of UFC Fight Night 25 in New Orleans, Louisiana. That bout is just one of several upcoming welterweight fights featuring the division’s cream of the crop.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at those matchups and the current title picture within the division.
UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre is the undisputed king of the 170 lbs division and has sat atop the throne for the past three years. He is the aforementioned top dog of the division and, despite there being an entire pack of man-eating wolves in his yard, none of them seem to have much of a bite compared to the champion.
St. Pierre was originally slated to compete against former Strikeforce champion Nick Diaz, but when Diaz misplaced his binky and bottle somewhere in the mean streets of Stockton, he was unable to attend his media obligations and was replaced by a more deserving contender in Carlos Condit.
Condit was preparing for B.J Penn, so stepping in on short notice shouldn’t play a factor. The switch in opponents also shouldn’t scramble St. Pierre’s gameplan too much, because Condit and Diaz are very similar in style—with Diaz being more of a threat on the ground.
St. Pierre is the heavy favorite heading into this fight, but Condit’s dangerous striking and relentless attacking could put the champion in danger.
Early Prediction: St. Pierre by unanimous decision
Say what you want about Nick Diaz—and I’ve said, and will say, plenty about his immature childish behavior—but he really is a fantastic fighter. He might not have the mentality of a professional athlete but few can handle Diaz in the cage.
Many pundits viewed Diaz as a major threat to St. Pierre due to the way the Stockton native dismantled his opposition in Strikeforce. The problem with that theory, though, is that, while impressive, Diaz was defeating opponents who were primarily considered strikers.
St. Pierre would have been the first dominant wrestler that Diaz would have faced since his 2006 loss to Sean Sherk at UFC 59. It would have been an epic headliner, but unfortunately Diaz no-showed two press conferences and was demoted to the co-main event—in what might even be a more exciting matchup against B.J Penn.
This fight is unofficially going to determine the next No. 1 contender, it goes without saying. Penn is fresh off a 28 second knockout victory over Matt Hughes at UFC 123 and a draw against No. 2 ranked Jon Fitch at UFC 127.
Both Penn and Diaz possess deadly technical boxing and are high level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts, so it is going to be very intriguing to see how this scrap unfolds.
Early Prediction: Penn via 2nd RD TKO
While not quite as talked about as the previously mentioned UFC 137 welterweight bouts, tonight’s UFC Fight Night 25 headliner between Jake Shields and Jake Ellenberger does have some serious title implications surrounding it.
After his last fight—a unanimous decision loss to St. Pierre at UFC 129 for the welterweight title—Shields is very eager to catapult his way back up the ladder. With the recent passing of his father and manager, Jack Shields, the former Strikeforce and Elite XC champion will step into the Octagon tonight with more motivation than ever thought humanly possible.
Ellenberger will not be an easy opponent though. In fact, the Nebraska native might prove to be the toughest opponent of Shields career. Nicknamed “The Juggernaut” for his relentless power, Ellenberger is riding an impressive four fight win streak—with victories over Sean Pierson, Carlos Eduardo Rocha, John Howard and Mike Pyle.
In his UFC debut, Ellenberger took Carlos Condit to the limit in a losing effort at UFC Fight Night 19. A win over Shields would all but seal his fate to compete for the welterweight championship, possibly against an old nemesis in Condit.
For Shields, he would likely need one more major win since the St. Pierre loss is still fresh in fan’s minds.
Prediction: Shields by unanimous decision
Originally set to meet Diego Sanchez, UFC hall of famer Matt Hughes will now square off with last minute replacement Josh Koscheck. Neither fighter is anywhere near a title shot at the present time, and a win wouldn’t launch either of them into No. 1 or even No, 2 contender status.
However, Hughes was one of the most dominant champions in the history of the division and Koscheck is still recognized as a top 10 welterweight. Both are coming off dominant losses to Georges St. Pierre and B.J Penn respectively.
Hughes still has some of the strongest takedowns in the game today, and is a master of submission grappling. On the contrary, Hughes doesn’t have the best standup technique and it is going to be very difficult to bring Koscheck, a former NCAA Division I wrestler, to the mat.
Koscheck might just send Hughes into retirement with a massive overhand right. You can never count Hughes out, but the odds aren’t in his favor here.
Early Prediction: Koscheck by first round TKO
Perennial top contender Jon Fitch has been regarded as the second best welterweight in the world for the past three years, yet has only received one opportunity at the title. Following a 2008 decision loss to St. Pierre, Fitch has been victorious in one sided affairs in his last five out of six bouts.
The latter was a draw against the legendary B.J Penn at UFC 127, and many scored the fight in Fitch’s favor. Instead of getting a rightfully deserved rematch with the Hawaiian, Fitch will compete against a very game Johny Hendricks at UFC 141 in December.
In an alternate universe, Hendricks would be Fitch’s twin. Just like Fitch, Hendricks has only tasted defeat in the UFC once, and that was at the hands of Rick Story at the TUF 12 Finale. Other than that, Hendricks has dominated the rest of his UFC opponents including Amir Sadollah, Charlie Brenneman and Mike Pierce.
A win for Fitch won’t really boost him higher up the rankings since he’s already in the No. 2 spot and, unless he finishes the fight, a victory also wouldn’t guarantee him a title shot either.
If Hendricks pulled off the upset though, it would change his career forever. Hendricks would jolt up the rankings and position himself very close to a shot at the belt.
Early prediction: Fitch by unanimous decision
After stealing Rick Story’s momentum away from him at UFC on Versus 5, Charlie Brenneman now has the opportunity to build his own path to a welterweight title shot. If Brenneman can get past Anthony Johnson, the door will open for the AMA Fight Club product to start competing in higher profile bouts on pay-per-view broadcasts.
Johnson has been rather inconsistent as of late. He was supposed to fight Nate Marquardt on the same card Brenneman defeated Story, but an injury forced him out of the matchup. His last fight was a unanimous decision over Dan Hardy at UFC Fight Night 24, but prior to that he was choked out by Josh Koscheck at UFC 106 in 2009.
Injuries may or may not come back to haunt Johnson in this matchup. His explosive striking and solid wrestling base make Johnson a threat to a vast majority of welterweights. If Johnson is able to maintain consistency in 2012, he could absolutely become one of the best in the entire division.
Brenneman is a bad matchup for him, though, wrestling wise.
Early prediction: Brenneman by unanimous decision
At UFC on Versus 4, a six fight win streak (including an exciting victory over former title challenger Thiago Alves) was all taken away from Rick Story. Story stepped up on short notice and dropped a decision to Charlie Brenneman.
Prior to the loss, Story was considered to be only a win or two away from fighting St. Pierre for the championship, but now he has to work his way back into the mix.
Martin Kampmann is in a similar situation. He lost his last two fights to Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez, but they were both controversial, especially the “loss” to Sanchez.
Kampmann is as talented as they come, and is certainly qualified to fight for the title on his skill alone, but will need to get a new win streak going.
Early prediction: Story by 3rd RD TKO
Rory MacDonald and Brian Ebersole are polar opposites in almost every way imaginable but they do share one thing—they are both on an absolute tear in the welterweight division, and are bursting their way into the top 10.
The 22-year-old MacDonald has drawn comparisons to a young St. Pierre in his most recent trips to the Octagon, which include dominant wins over Nate Diaz and Mike Pyle. MacDonald represents the new generation of MMA fighters, whereas his 30-year-old opponent Ebersole has been fighting since the year 2000.
Despite being a bit older in the game, Ebersole is proving himself to be a handful for any welterweight put in front of him. Debuting in the UFC with over 50 fights, Ebersole defeated Chris Lytle and followed up with a win over Dennis Hallman.
The winner of this fight will get a top contender in their next outing, while the loser takes a step back in the pecking order.
Early prediction: MacDonald by unanimous decision
Born on the Planet Sexy, Mitch Ciccarelli is the best looking columnist on the face of the earth. In addition to being the longest running featured columnist in B/R MMA history and hosting the podcast MMA Mass Debation Radio, Ciccarelli is also a proud Airman in the United States Air Force.
Follow Ciccarelli on Twitter @ mitchciccarelli