Ranking the Greatest Welterweight Title Bouts in UFC History
UFC 228 is coming up on Saturday at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas. Atop the bill is a welterweight title tilt between Tyron Woodley and Darren Till.
The hope is that these two will put on an instant classic. And that begs the question: What are the best welterweight title fights in UFC history?
Well, let's help answer that question.
What makes a fight great cannot be quantified. It could be a shocking upset, a comeback performance or a back-and-forth brawl. The variations are as many as there are ways to lose in the MMA game. And the storied welterweight division has given many great contests to the masses.
Without further ado, here are the 10 best welterweight title fights in UFC history.
No. 10 Pat Miletich vs. Carlos Newton
UFC 31: Carlos Newton def. Pat Miletich via submission (bulldog choke) at 2:50 of the third round
The fight was billed as the old savvy vet (Miletich) against the high-flying youngster (Newton). Well, it was the youngster who took the fight to the ground to get the win.
Miletich and Newton had a competitive fight going from the outset. Neither man was getting a firm upperhand. Newton may have had the edge due to his takedowns in the second and third, but Miletich was scoring on the feet.
However, it would not need to go to the judges.
Newton grabbed Mieltich's head, with his arm under the chin, and squeezed. Hard. It was the first, and only, time a bulldog choke finished a title fight in the UFC. Newton captured the UFC belt and started a new era for the welterweight division.
No. 9 Matt Hughes vs. Carlos Newton
UFC 34: Matt Hughes def. Carlos Newton by KO at 1:23 of the second round
The new era Newton created came to an abrupt and crazy end at UFC 34.
Miletich's top pupil, Matt Hughes, got a shot at the champ and made good on the attempt. But not without a bit of controversy.
Newton locked up a triangle choke on Hughes. The dominant wrestler lifted Newton against the cage and, seemingly, gave him a powerbomb to the canvas. Newton's head bounced off the mat and he was knocked unconscious. Hughes was the new champion.
Where was the controversy? Well, Hughes was seemingly choked out as the slam happened.
It is one of the most memorable and crazy finishes to a title fight. The finish can still be argued about today, but this finish launched one of the UFC's biggest modern-age stars in Hughes.
No. 8 Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Serra 1
UFC 69: Matt Serra def. Georges St-Pierre by TKO at 3:25 of the first round
This was not a competitive, back-and-forth battle. It is here because of its shocking result.
Matt Serra won the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter to get a shot at the welterweight title. Problem? Georges St-Pierre was the champion. It looked to a be a one-sided beatdown. And it was, but not for the fighter we expected.
Serra clipped GSP early and never relented.
GSP stumbled across the cage with a former lightweight contender on his tail. Eventually, Serra put the fight away and stunned the MMA world. A true underdog story played out in front of everyone's eyes at UFC 69. Serra's showing elevated his stature and showed that anything can happen inside the octagon.
No. 7 Tyron Woodley vs. Stephen Thompson 1
UFC 205: Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson fight to a majority draw
The rematch was a letdown, but the initial encounter was a surprise battle.
While the fight may have lulled at times, Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson went to war. They pelted each other throughout the fight and the momentum shifted numerous times.
Perhaps the biggest turning point in the fight, and what saved Woodley from losing his title, was a dominant fourth round. Woodley cracked Thompson and looked to be near a finish. But the heart of Thompson would not allow that to happen.
Thompson could have given up and let Woodley coast through a fifth, but he did not do that. Thompson dug deep and took the fifth. He was the better fighter who landed more. It could have easily been his fight if not for being nearly finished a round prior.
UFC 205 was all about Conor McGregor's history-making lightweight title win, but it was Woodley and Thompson who stole the event as the evening's best fight.
No. 6 Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz
UFC 143: Carlos Condit def. Nick Diaz by unanimous decision (48-47, 49-46, 49-46)
This is the fight that sparked the "Diaz 1, 2, 5" meme within MMA circles. Diaz, and his legion of fans, truly believe he won the first, second and fifth rounds at UFC 143 and should have been awarded the interim UFC welterweight crown.
But that, of course, is not what happened.
Condit employed a crafty gameplan and outpointed Diaz over the five rounds. Some fans may have been disappointed in Condit's gameplan, but it was effective. He did not stand and trade with Diaz. He used his mind to overcome and nab the gold.
This fight could have ranked higher on this list if it had more exciting moments, but it clocks in at No. 6 because of the tactics. Condit showed excellent fight IQ and how a well-structured gameplan can be the key piece of a championship fight.
No. 5 Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler 1
UFC 171: Johny Hendricks def. Robbie Lawler by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)
It is quite possible that their UFC 181 battle was snubbed on this list. It was even closer than their initial meeting with Lawler taking the title by split decision. But the first encounter will take the No. 5 as a Fight of the Night stunner.
Hendricks and Lawler battled back and forth.
Hendricks took the first two rounds and to jump out in front. Lawler then battled back to take the next two. It all came down to a fifth and final frame. Lawler got off to the quicker start in the final round, but Hendricks was able to rock him with his power left.
After being hit hard, Lawler faded in the later stages of the fifth. Hendricks escaped with his belt in tow.
UFC 171 provided fans with one of the absolute best title tilts regardless of weight class, and it just chimes in at No. 5 in 170-pound history.
No. 4 Johny Hendricks vs. Georges St-Pierre
UFC 167: Georges St-Pierre def. Johny Hendricks by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)
No. 4 on the list is perhaps one of the most contentious title fight results in UFC history.
Johny Hendricks failed in his bid to end the dominant reign of GSP, but many fans don't agree. They believe it was a bad decision on the part of the judges.
And they have a legitimate argument.
Hendricks was the first man, Serra's upset aside, that truly took the fight to GSP. He battered him and bloodied him in their five-round affair. GSP was able to use his skills and savvy to make life difficult for the challenger as well. Hendricks pushed him to the brink, but just could not dethrone the face of the welterweight division.
After the bout, GSP stepped away for nearly four years until UFC 217 against Michael Bisping. Hendricks may not have won that night, but he forced the division's GOAT out and took over the division with his next fight.
No. 3 Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg 2
UFC 52: Matt Hughes def. Frank Trigg via submission (rear-naked choke) at 4:05 of the first round
Forrest Griffin vs. Stephen Bonnar may be the most important fight in UFC history, or at least in the Zuffa era. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg is probably No. 2. And it is one of the most thrilling one-round fights ever.
Coming on the heels of the first The Ultimate Fighter, UFC 52 was an important event. Coaches Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell were the main event, but rivals Hughes and Trigg were also on the main card. It was a card to showcase the stars of the UFC. Hughes came through.
Trigg blew a kiss after the staredown and then accidentally nailed Hughes with a low blow. The referee didn't see it and Trigg continued his assault. He locked in a rear-naked choke, but Hughes fought out of it while turning purple.
The crowd exploded as Hughes rolled over and grabbed Trigg. He ran him across the cage and slammed him to the mat. Hughes was intent on punishing Trigg before going for the finish. Eventually, the opportunity for a rear-naked choke of his own was too much to pass up. He sunk it in and ended the fight to retain the belt.
There are few times the crowd at a UFC event was hotter than that fight. The drama, the comeback, the emotion. This fight helped to continue to capture fans' imaginations of this new, fun sport they were watching. It kept the momentum going for the company and helped launch the UFC into the mainstream.
No. 2 Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit
UFC 195: Robbie Lawler def. Carlos Condit by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)
It is no surprise you see both Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit on this list multiple times. They are two of the most exciting fighters to ever grace the octagon.
Thus, it is even less of a surprise that their UFC 195 meeting comes in at No. 2.
The split decision score shows how close this fight was. And it was exactly that—a fight. Lawler and Condit had ill-intent from the outset of the contest. They bit down and threw. The title only heightened the stakes of what would have been a sensational bout without it.
Lawler was able to retain in part due to a wild end. Lawler fired away in the final minutes and connected cleanly to hurt Condit. Without the last-ditch effort, perhaps Condit walks out as champ. But Lawler's heart and grit came through to hold the belt for just a bit longer.
No. 1 Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald 2
UFC 189: Robbie Lawler def. Rory MacDonald by TKO at 1:00 of the fifth round
This was the clear choice for No. 1. The images still evoke emotion and tell the tale of the war.
To say that they simply threw down would be underselling this fight. They took each other to the brink through four rounds. Both men were a bloody mess. It was a brutal fight, but one that will forever be remembered.
The missing piece of Lawler's lip. The crushed nose of MacDonald. Standing and staring each other down after 20 minutes of hellacious action. Words cannot do it justice.
And what closed the show? Lawler landing another shot on MacDonald's broken nose. Causing too much pain to continue.
It will be tough to ever top this battle. Lawler and MacDonald somehow continued on with high degrees of success after this fight, but they each left a piece of themselves in the cage that night. There is no way to recover from a fight like what happened at UFC 189.
This fight will go into the UFC Hall of Fame at some point, and it will be the iconic imagery that helps capture future viewers into witnessing something special.