In the past week, a major change of guard occurred in the UFC’s storied welterweight division, as the long time former champion Matt Hughes was dismantled and knocked out by Thiago ‘Pitbull’ Alves. With Alves establishing himself as the top contender to the winner of the upcoming title bout between the seemingly unstoppable champion Georges St. Pierre and the challenger Jon Fitch (currently on a record-tying eight win streak in the UFC), it’s a good time to take a step back and look at the current state of the 170 lbs weight class.
Between stars like St. Pierre, veterans such as Hughes & Matt Serra, top contenders like Alves and Fitch, and newcomers such as Dan Hardy & David Baron, UFC has a tight lock on the welterweight division. According to the latest Fightmatrix.com ranking, all of the Top 5, 8 of the Top 10, and 14 of the Top 20 welterweights in the world are currently under UFC contract. The division is so deep that there are over 30 ranked welterweights competing in the UFC today! Here’s a look at the top echelon of the 170 division:
The Champion: [#1] Georges St. Pierre
MMA Record: 16-2 (10-2 UFC)
Last bout: Defeated Matt Serra by TKO at UFC 83
Next bout: A title defense against Jon Fitch at UFC 87
The Canadian superstar has come a long way since earning a decision victory over Karo Parisyan in his Octagon debut. After losing his first title shot to then-champion Matt Hughes, St.Pierre steamrolled his opponents, stopping most in the first or second round. Georges finally received another shot at Hughes, and stopped him in the second round to win his first UFC title. He suffered a setback with an upset loss to Matt Serra in the following bout, but avenged his loss and regained the belt in UFC 83 (the first UFC event held in Canada). St. Pierre will look toward making his first title defense when he takes on Jon Fitch at UFC 87.
[#2] Thiago Alves
MMA Record: 15-3 (8-2 UFC)
Last bout: Defeated Matt Hughes by TKO at UFC 85
Next bout: Unknown
With back-to-back TKO victories over Karo Parisyan and Matt Hughes, Alves vaulted to the top of the division. Thiago was almost certain to get a title shot as the result of defeating Hughes, but after weighting in at four pounds over the 170 lbs limit, his championship ambitions will likely be put on hold for at least one more bout. In the past, Alves has tested positive for a banned diuretic that he claimed to be using for cutting weight. Alves needs to prove that he is able to come in under his contracted weight and test clean before he is injected into the WW title picture.
[#3] Matt Serra
MMA Record: 9-5 (6-5 UFC)
Last bout: Lost to Georges St. Pierre by TKO at UFC 83
Next bout: Against Matt Hughes (rumored, date unknown)
A veteran of the UFC’s lightweight and welterweight divisions, Serra received an opportunity to rejuvenate his career when he became the winner of The Ultimate Fighter ‘comeback’ season. He made the best of this opportunity, knocking out the champion St. Pierre in the first round to win his first UFC title. Serra then became a coach on The Ultimate Fighter, and was slated to face Matt Hughes at the end of the season, but was forced to withdraw from the bout with a back injury. In his comeback bout, Serra lost the title back to St. Pierre. He is once again rumored to face Matt Hughes next, to finally settle their rivalry, though no date has been set yet. Should he defeat Hughes, given the UFC’s love for trilogies and the rumors of MMA being sanctioned in Serra’s home state of New York, it’s very likely that he will have a rubber match with St. Pierre some time down the road.
[#4] Jon Fitch
MMA Record: 17-2 (8-0 UFC)
Last bout: Defeated Chris Wilson by unanimous decision at UFC 82
Next bout: A title shot against Georges St. Pierre at UFC 87
Without much fanfare, Jon Fitch has been slowly and steadily climbing the UFC welterweight ranks. Undefeated in his past 16 fights, Fitch accumulated eight consecutive wins in the Octagon – a record matched only by the great Royce Gracie. Fitch has a reputation of a somewhat boring fighter that has a hard time finishing top opponents; perhaps undeservedly so as he holds submission victories over Roan Carneiro, Luigi Fioravanti, and Josh Burkman, as well as a TKO stoppage of Thiago Alves. Unfortunately most of his UFC bouts were not televised and many fans only remember him for the very close decision victories over Diego Sanchez and Chris Wilson. Fitch is finally getting his dues, and will face his toughest challenge yet when he takes on Georges St. Pierre in a welterweight title bout at UFC 87. Should he persevere, Fitch will not only win the coveted title but will also have an unprecedented nine consecutive UFC victories under his belt.
[#5] Josh Koscheck
MMA Record: 10-2 (8-2 UFC)
Last bout: Defeated Dustin Hazelett by TKO at UFC 82
Next bout: Against Chris Lytle at UFC 86
Former NCAA Division I wrestling champion Josh Koscheck started out his UFC career as a middleweight contender on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter, where he defeated Chris Leben and lost to Diego Sanchez (both close decisions). Since then, he’s dropped a weightclass, built up a respectable Octagon record, avenged his loss to Sanchez and gave St. Pierre his toughest fight in a while. In his last bout, Koscheck earned his first career knockout victory, dropping Dustin Hazelett with a head kick and showing that he’s evolved far from being a one-dimensional wrestler. If Josh gets by the veteran Chris Lytle at UFC 86, he will be a win away from a title shot. I would like to see him face Thiago Alves in a #1 contender eliminator.
On The Fringe:
[#6] Mike Swick
MMA Record: 12-2 (7-1 UFC)
Last bout: Defeated Marcus Davis by unanimous decision at UFC 85
Next bout: Unknown
Like Koscheck, Mike Swick’s UFC career started as a contender on ‘TUF’ Season 1 – where he fought at 205 lbs and lost his first and only bout to a much bigger Stephan Bonnar. He then dropped down to 185 lbs and ran up a five-fight win streak before losing a decision to Yushin Okami. The loss forced Swick to drop down another weightclass, and after decision wins over Josh Burkman and Marcus Davis, Swick will look to make a run at the welterweight title. In his past several bouts, Swick seems to have traded off some of his aggressiveness for a more careful and deliberate strategy. The strategy yielded judges decisions in Swick’s favor, but resulted in mostly lackluster fights. Swick needs to show some of his old form and finish a top welterweight before he can be considered among the division’s elite.
[#7] Diego Sanchez
MMA Record: 18-2 (7-2 UFC)
Last bout: Defeated David Bielkheden by submission (strikes) at UFC 82
Next bout: Against Luigi Fioravanti at The Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale
Completing the trio of ‘TUF’ Season 1 alumni is the former King of the Cage champion Diego Sanchez. After winning the middleweight bracket, Sanchez also moved down a weight class, then posted another five victories in the Octagon and appeared to be on the fast track to a title shot when his undefeated record was marred by a decision loss to Josh Koscheck. He then dropped another decision to Jon Fitch, further squashing his championship ambitions. Diego came back with a dominant performance over UFC newcomer David Bielkheden, and will look to start another streak when he faces Luigi Fioravanti.
[#10] Matt Hughes
MMA Record: 42-7 (15-5 UFC)
Last bout: Lost to Thiago Alves by TKO at UFC 85
Next bout:Against Matt Serra (rumored, date unknown)
A UFC icon and one of the most accomplished fighters in MMA history, Matt Hughes has been at or near the top of the welterweight division for the most of his long and illustrious career. After losing three of his last four bouts, it looks like the road is nearing it’s end for the former champion. Hughes is struggling to keep up with today’s elite welterweights, and it’s hard to imagine him playing a gatekeeper role. He still has one more big bout (and big payday) in his future: a long-anticipated grudge match with Matt Serra. Beyond that, a retirement and induction into the UFC Hall of Fame are almost a certain outcome.
[#11] Akihiro Gono
MMA Record: 28-12-7 (1-0 UFC)
Last bout: Defeated Tamdan McCrory by submission (armbar) at UFC 78
Next bout: Unknown
Historically, very few Japanese fighters have enjoyed success in the Octagon. After a successful welterweight debut with a beautiful armbar submission victory over Tamdan McCrory at UFC 78, the Pancrase, Shooto, and Pride veteran Akihiro Gono is looking to break the mold. Gono has faced much bigger fighters for the majority of his career, including Dan Henderson and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua. Now that he is fighting at his true weight class, Gono may become a force in the division. It is not known yet when he is fighting next, or who his opponent may be.
[#13] Karo Parisyan
MMA Record: 18-5 (9-3 UFC)
Last bout: Lost to Thiago Alves by TKO at UFC Fight Night 13
Next bout: Unknown
Karo ‘The Heat’ Parisyan has been a perennial contender in the welterweight division since his UFC debut in 2003. Though all of his subsequent bouts in the UFC have gone the distance, no one could ever accuse Karo of not being an exciting fighter or not trying to finish his opponents. Parisyan would have been next in line for a title shot but after suffering a second-round TKO at the hands and knees of Thiago Alves, Karo once again finds himself at the back of the line.
[#14] David Baron
MMA Record: 15-2 (0-0 UFC)
Last bout: Defeated Hayato Sakurai by submission (guillotine choke) at Shooto – Tradition 1
Next bout: Unknown
French fighter David Baron built up a solid record fighting in European and Japanese organization, but it was his most recent victory over Hayato ‘Mach’ Sakurai that made the UFC brass take notice. Though his UFC debut is not yet scheduled, Baron has signed a UFC contract, but may end up back in the Lightweight division.
[#16] Yoshiyuki Yoshida
MMA Record: 10-2 (1-0 UFC)
Last bout:Defeated Jon Koppenhaver by submission (anaconda choke) at UFC 84
Next bout: Unknown
After an eight-fight win streak in Japan’s Shooto & GMC promotions, Yoshiyuki Yoshida made an impressive UFC debut, choking out Jon Koppenhaver in under a minute. Yoshida’s next bout is undetermined, but he is certain to be a tough task for anyone he faces.
[#17] Dan Hardy
MMA Record: 19-6 (0-0 UFC)
Last bout: Defeated Daniel Weichel at Ultimate Force – Punishment
Next bout: Unknown
With the UFC aggressively expanding into UK, it was no surprise that they signed Dan Hardy – one of the England’s top young fighters. It is not known when Hardy will make his first Octagon appearance, but it is likely to be in a UK event. Hardy has in the past been defeated by David Baron and Yoshiyuki Yoshida, so it is possible that his first UFC bout will be a rematch.
[#19] Chris Wilson
MMA Record: 13-4 (0-1 UFC)
Last bout: Lost to Jon Fitch by unanimous decision at UFC 82
Next bout: Against Steve Bruno at UFC 86
No one gave Wilson much of a chance when he was scheduled to face Jon Fitch in his very first UFC matchup. Wilson surprised and impressed the fans, giving Fitch trouble early in the fight and eventually losing a close decision. In his next fight, Wilson will have the opportunity to pick up his first Octagon win against another UFC newcomer, Steve Bruno.
[#23] Josh Burkman
MMA Record: 10-5 (5-3 UFC)
Last bout:Lost to Mike Swick by majority decision at UFC Fight Night 12
Next bout: Against Dustin Hazelett at The Ultimate Fighter 7 finale
Burkman’s first UFC appearance was on Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter, where he defeated Melvin Guillard but was forced to withdraw from the competition with a broken arm. Since then, he had somewhat of a rough time in the Octagon, maintaining a winning record but not able to string together more than two consecutive victories. Burkman needs to win his next bout in an impressive fashion to keep competing at this level.
[#24] Marcus Davis
MMA Record: 14-5 (6-2 UFC)
Last bout: Lost to Mike Swick by unanimous decision at UFC 85
Next bout: Unknown
Former proffesional boxer (with a respectable 17-1-2 record), Marcus Davis also appeared on ‘TUF’ Season 2. Davis did not fare well due to sorely lacking ground skills, and contemplated retirement after losing to Guillard in the finale. Instead, he ended up rounding out his MMA skill set and went on to win his next eleven bouts – six of them in the UFC – before losing a decision to Mike Swick in his most recent outing. Davis has not yet proven to be an elite fighter, but his entertaining style made him a crowd favorite, and he is certain to be back in the Octagon in near future.
Next week: the top ten welterweights outside of the UFC!