If not for some guy named Anderson Silva, the UFC welterweight division would boast the game’s greatest fighter, pound for pound, in Georges St-Pierre.
No matter, it remains the deepest division in the sport, with more talent from top to bottom than any of its counterparts. The tremendous parity makes for a ton of interesting fights and a continued sense of unpredictability, once you get beyond the champion.
Can anyone step up and loosen GSP’s kung fu grip on the title? Will any of the young guys elevate themselves into the fraternity of top contenders? What about recent TUF alumni or, better yet, the handful of recent signees, which includes the return of Matt Hughes, Frank Trigg and the New York Bad Ass, Phil Baroni? Can any of those guys shake up the welterweight hierarchy?
Let’s address those questions and a few others in this survey of the 170-lb division.
TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN
Georges St-Pierre: Nobody in mixed martial arts blends striking and wrestling better than GSP. That allows him to outstrike deadly strikers and outwrestle former NCAA national champions. The French Canadian superstar is at the absolute top of his game, as evidenced by his current six-fight winning streak. Of course, the scariest part is that the guy is just now entering his fighting prime at 28 years old, and there is nobody out there who would be a clear betting favorite against the champion. In fact, there is only one name among the division’s current top five who he hasn’t already thoroughly thrashed—Mike Swick. Will the lack of a deep bench of new challengers cause the reigning welterweight champion to lose focus? I doubt it, since Matt Serra already gave him a crash course in Remain Focused 101. If I were GSP, I’d forget about all of the talk surrounding a potential fight with Anderson Silva. He is just too small, in my opinion, even with an additional 15 lbs of muscle, to pose any true threat to the middleweight champion. If I were GSP, I’d stay put and focus becoming the greatest 170-lb champion of all time by shattering existing records for longest title reign and most successful title defenses. Then again, I’m not GSP; who knows what he will opt to do next?
Last: UD over Thiago Alves at UFC 100.
NEXT IN LINE?
Who is next for GSP? Is there an official number one contender? Not necessarily, but there remains one obvious choice as the next in line.
Mike Swick : Talk about bad breaks. Swick was preparing for a 170-lb title eliminator against Martin Kampmann in his home state of Texas when he suffered a concussion in training in the days leading up to the bout. The bad news is that by being forced off the card, Swick lost a golden opportunity to earn his first shot at UFC gold. The good news is that Paul Daley obliterated Kampmann, thereby eliminating him from short-term consideration for a title challenge. If GSP decides to stay at 170 lbs, Swick is his most logical next opponent, assuming he prevails at UFC 105. A win over a tough-as-nails guy like Dan Hardy is not guaranteed. If he can get past Hardy, Swick presents some matchup problems for the champ. His quickness and length allow him to set the distance with his jab and leg kicks, and his explosiveness and commitment to throwing shots in combination open the door for an overwhelming attack. I don’t know if he can defeat GSP, but it will be one heck of a fight, and I’m certainly not counting him out.
Last: TKO2 over Ben Saunders at UFC 99.
Next: Dan Hardy at UFC 105.
BEST OF THE BEST
The UFC does not maintain official rankings. Nonetheless, these guys are universally regarded as the division’s top dogs, along with Swick. It would not shock me to see one of them step up and win the title sometime in the next year.
Josh Koscheck : Very few fighters in the welterweight division have more pure athletic ability than Kos. His collegiate wrestling accomplishments are certainly impressive, but his hockey-stick improvement in the striking arena over the last four years is nothing short of amazing. Kos recently welcomed back former contender Frank Trigg to the Octagon with a vicious assault on the feet. If he can string together a few more wins, a second shot at the title seems likely. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again here: this guy has future champion written all over him if he can find a way to seamlessly blend together his striking and wrestling. Until then, strikers with excellent takedown defense could pose some matchup problems. Whatever the case, Kos continues to sit comfortably among the 170-lb elite.
Last: TKO1 over Frank Trigg at UFC 103.
Jon Fitch: This guy is as big and strong as any welterweight in the world. Fitch rebounded nicely in 2009 with two solid wins after suffering his lone UFC loss to GSP one year ago. That is the positive. The negative is that he still hasn’t shown the confidence in his standup that he displays when sparring, and that is holding back his progression a bit. That is obviously a nit-picky criticism, since Fitch sits comfortably within the division’s top five, along with his two AKA teammates. Just like with Kos, a few more wins and it will be difficult to keep him out of a second title challenge.
Last: UD over Paulo Thiago at UFC 100.
Thiago Alves : Alves, who just celebrated his 26th birthday, is the youngest fighter among the 170-lb ultra elite. Nevertheless, he is one of the division’s more experienced competitors with 22 wins in 27 professional fights, including nine wins inside the Octagon. Alves came up short in his July title challenge, ending a seven-fight winning streak in the process. If Alves is able to bring his takedown defense up to the same level as his ferocious Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills, then he could very well be the next UFC Welterweight Champion.
Last: UD loss to Georges St-Pierre at UFC 100.
Martin Kampmann: There is little doubt that Kampmann entered the Octagon a bit deflated after losing the opportunity to participate in a title eliminator thanks to Swick’s training mishap. Whether that played a part in his technical knockout loss to Paul Daley is open for debate, though it certainly didn’t help matters. The loss dropped Kampmann’s overall record to a still impressive 15-3. The Danish fighter now needs another win or two to put him back into the welterweight title mix.
Last: TKO by 1 Paul Daley at UFC 103.
Karo Parisyan: It has been more than six years since Parisyan made his debut in the UFC welterweight division. During that time, he has accumulated 10 wins in 13 UFC bouts, though his most recent win, a yeoman-like split decision over Dong Hyun Kim in January, was subsequently changed to a no contest after Parisyan tested positive for banned painkillers. The misdeed also resulted in a nine-month suspension, which expires in the coming days. Parisyan is long overdue for a title shot, though his recent misfortunes leave little doubt that he needs to string together at least a couple of impressive wins if he wants to secure the opportunity to fight for UFC gold. Regardless, he still maintains his seat at the table of the division’s top contenders.
Last: Win changed to no contest against Dong Hyun Kim at UFC 94.
In a division filled excellent fighters, it is somewhat surprising that there are only two former champions still competing. Both have fallen on some hard times as of late, but both desperately want to return to their glory days. Is it possible? Can either reclaim their former place atop the division?
Matt Hughes: The future Hall of Famer and two-time UFC 170-lb champion recently signed a brand new six-fight deal to continue his career in the Octagon. The all-time great turns 36 in just a few short days, so many believe he is getting a bit long in the tooth. Guys like Randy Couture, Mark Coleman, Chuck Liddell and others are living proof that 36 years old is not what it used to be in professional sports. If Hughes can improve his striking and learn to better blend it with his already dominant wrestling, then he should remain relevant in the division for the duration of his new contract. In fact, if GSP were to vacate the belt to venture 15 lbs to the north in search of a bout with Silva, Hughes could very well find himself back in the title hunt. Until then, he will likely participate in meaningful feature bouts against other top contenders, serving as a litmus test for those who believe they are ready to challenge the champion. Last: UD over Matt Serra at UFC 98.
Matt Serra: Serra remains a marquee name in the division, despite suffering back-to-back defeats in his last two visits to the Octagon. Serra has just three fights since winning Season Four of The Ultimate Fighter on November 11, 2006. There is little doubt that his lack of active competition is hurting his career. Nonetheless, the guy comes to fight each and every night, so the fans get full value out of their ticket or pay-per-view dollars. The self-proclaimed pasta lover despises losing weight, but I still believe that he is better suited for the 155-lb division. His diminutive stature wouldn’t be as big of a hindrance in the land of the lightweights, and it would give him the best opportunity to win another championship. Last: UD loss to Matt Hughes at UFC 98.
There is always at least one guy who doesn’t fit squarely into any category. Is he a contender? Is he a gatekeeper? Is he a prospect (that is an easy one in this case)? You get the point. One fight into his UFC return, this guy still has more questions than answers surrounding his rightful place in the division.
Frank Trigg: At 37 years old, he is the division’s elder statesman, so the former two-time title challenger needs to start winning sooner rather than later if he wants to regain his place among the division’s top dogs, as his UFC record now stands at a paltry 2-6. “Twinkle Toes” put together a four-fight winning streak prior to facing Kos, so there should be plenty of gas left in the tank. Is that the case? Was his first-round blowout loss to Kos a definitive sign that Trigg is on the downside of his career? Or, was the loss to Kos a brutal reminder that styles make fights? Truth be told, Kos appeared to have an edge on paper in every possible category heading into the fight, so the result was as expected and probably doesn’t tell us much other than the fact that he cannot beat a guy with superior wrestling, better striking and more general athletic ability. Not every contender can make such a claim over Trigg, if he still has a full gas tank, which remains to be seen.
Last: TKO1 loss to Josh Koscheck at UFC 103.