The Welterweight division has always been one of the most prized divisions. When longtime champion Georges St. Pierre left the division, he left it wide open.
After 28 months, three champions have hailed the top of the 170-pound division. The first draw in Welterweight title history and a second controversial decision win, the division is more confusing than ever.
Here is my state of the Welterweight division. It’s divided into five categories; champion, next-in-line, the present (contenders who are title ready), the future (contenders who still need a few more fights to be title ready) and the odd one out (the division’s gatekeeper).
The champion has had a rough go of putting Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson away and definitively keeping his title. After 30 rounds, the two are split at 15 rounds a piece with Woodley earning four 10-8 rounds.
This rivalry is far from over as the two are so competitively close, the fans and those two deserve a clear winner.
For now, Woodley has fought twice in five months and has earned a break. With all cards from here to July filled with headliners, expect a late summer, early fall come back for the St. Louis native.
Demian Maia-Jorge Masvidal Winner
The division had its clear cut next title challenger waiting after Woodley and Thompson’s first fight in November. The rematch four months later cost Demian Maia his title shot and now he must fight to earn his shot again.
After a first round submission of Carlos Condit in August, Maia was promised a title shot and he could wait as long as it took to settle it. Six months later, Maia is the true definition of a martial artist and accepted to fight Jorge Masvidal at UFC 211.
It’s pretty clear that if Maia wins, he will be the next challenger to Woodley. It’s unclear if the same rules apply to Jorge Masvidal who has just one top 15 win in the Welterweight division.
Either fight makes senses and would leave a full camp cycle between their fight in May and an expected late summer return for Woodley.
After less than two years in the division, Masvidal has put himself in title contention with three consecutive wins, none more impressive and important than his second round TKO of Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone.
His UFC 211 fight with Demian Maia might not spell title shot for Masvidal, but a good showing, even in a loss, could keep him facing top 10 opponents and staying in the title shot reach.
Magny snuck into the top 5 after his win over former Welterweight champion Johny Hendricks in December.
With four wins in his last five fights, Magny has been able to keep active and continue to rack up wins. He has 16 UFC fights in just four years. His lone two losses in the last three years have come to Demian Maia and Lorenz Larkin, both top five Welterweights.
A win over a high profile opponent like Stephen Thompson or Jorge Masvidal could prove to be the tipping point for Magnys long-awaited shot at gold.
Dong Hyun Kim
What’s he doing here? Well, Dong Hyun Kim has won three straight bouts and seven wins in his last eight fights with the lone loss coming to the champion.
Sitting at number seven in the UFC rankings, the hard part for Kim is getting a fight with someone above him. The only available, and viable, options for Kim are Stephen Thompson, Robbie Lawler, Carlos Condit or Donald Cerrone.
A spring return for ‘Stun Gun’ seems reasonable. Best case scenario, Robbie Lawler or Stephen Thompson are ready. Worst case scenario, Ryan LaFlare needs an opponent and Kim picks up another top 15 win to add his already impressive resume.
The 170-pound future is bright with budding stars looking to make their name in the sport. None are bigger names than the Iceland native Gunnar Nelson. The submission specialist is 6-2 inside the octagon with five submission finishes to his name.
At just 28 and with his no-weight-cut approach, Nelson is young in the sport and should have time to grow into a true title contender. The UFC will likely look to match him against fighters ranked within three spots of him, bringing him along slowly.
He will face Alan Jouban in two weeks in London. A win over Jouban in impressive fashion should see ‘Gunni’ father into the top 10 and continue his rise towards the top 5.
We first saw Usman on The Ultimate Fighter 21 where he won two decisions and a submission on the finale card.
Usman is 4-0 in the UFC with wins over Hayder Hassan, Leon Edwards, Alexander Yakovlev and Warlley Alves. He sits at number 11 in the rankings and will look to continue his success against Sean Strickland at UFC 210.
A win would be big for Usman and likely land him in the top 10. From there, matchups with guys like Dong Hyun Kim, Donald Cerrone and Gunnar Nelson are ahead.
The young Brazilian has made his mark on the deepest division in the UFC. Ponzinibbio has picked up four straight wins with six in his last seven fights.
At 30, he’s in the right age frame to make a move. Consecutive losses and bad performances would drop him past the point of returning to being a contender.
His win over Ben Saunders in January lifted him back into the top 15. A Ryan LaFlare rematch or about with a Matt Brown or Tarec Saffiedine would be the next step in getting into a better spot in the division.
Odd One Out
The Welterweight division is so deep, even the top 5 can be out of touch. Carlos Condit has conveyed his willingness to retire and be out of the fight game. That might be the best scenario for him.
With the ultimate goal of any fighter is to become a champion, Condit has a tough time for a case with the four fighters above him as he has recent losses to Tyron Woodley, Robbie Lawler and Demian Maia.
Even a return to fighting will see opponents below him that have no advantage for Condit. With losses and victories against already established competition, a comeback to being a top contender again is very unlikely.