The UFC's welterweight division has recently become a major focal point of discussion around the MMA community and here at BloodyElbow.com. Mike Swick's concussion sustained in training for the #1 contender match-up with Danish kickboxer Martin Kampmann caused a major change in the plans by the UFC to pit the winner of Swick vs. Kampmann against Georges St. Pierre. Swick was replaced by newly-signed British Muay Thai striker Paul Daley, and it was perceived that Kampmann would be given a title shot when he defeated Daley. Unfortunately, Daley abruptly put a stop to that assumption as he stopped Kampmann with quick, heavy punching prowess at UFC 103.
Following the upset victory by Daley, there seems to be no clear-cut contender for Georges St. Pierre. BloodyElbow.com readers responded to our own Kid Nate's post asking whether a Grand Prix could revive the division, and three hundred-plus comments later... the debate hasn't been settled. Some fans felt that a Grand Prix tournament toward the lower-to-mid echelon areas of the division would bring about some solid contenders to the upper-echelon talent, new blood if you want to label them. Others felt that the Grand Prix tournament format could bring about a new #1 contender or a rematch battle for a fighter who has truly earned it. In any case, it's safe to say that the UFC will likely stay away from that format.
What can be done within the division? In order to get a better understanding of what would be a viable solution, let's take a look at a rundown of the upcoming bouts in the division:
Anthony "Rumble" Johnson vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida @ UFC 104
Mike Swick vs. Dan Hardy @ UFC 105
John Hathaway vs. Paul Taylor @ UFC 105
Jon Fitch vs. Ricardo Almeida @ UFC 106
Karo Parisyan vs. Dustin Hazelett @ UFC 106
Marcus Davis vs. Ben Saunders @ UFC 106
Phil Baroni vs. Amir Sadollah @ UFC 106
Thiago Alves vs. Paulo Thiago @ UFC 107
T.J. Grant vs. Kevin Burns @ UFC 107
John Howard vs. Dennis Hallman @ TUF Finale 10
List of Inactives: Matt Hughes, Martin Kampmann, Josh Koscheck, Carlos Condit, Dong Hyun Kim, Matt Serra, Frank Trigg, Paul Daley, Brad Blackburn, Johny Hendricks, Mike Pierce, Mike Pyle, Jake Ellenberger... etc.
Obviously there are an array of match-ups that have no meaning for contention on the list. Johnson vs. Yoshida is probably the cutoff when it comes to relevance. The winner of that fight will be within reach of gaining some more meaningful bouts. Swick vs. Hardy is a #1 contender bout at this point, and I would imagine that Fitch could be in line for a shot after the winner of that bout if he defeats Almeida. What the list does point out more so than the match-ups is the fights that cannot happen.
Matt Hughes is still the most intriguing fighter in the mix in terms of his record and legacy. While he's lost some fights in more recent times, he's only lost to a surging Thiago Alves and current champion Georges St. Pierre twice. I don't find it completely ridiculous that Josh Koscheck, even jokingly, calls out Hughes for a fight, and I don't find it odd that Paul Daley is now doing the same. Hughes is still ranked fairly high (he's #4 on the BloodyElbow.com/SBNation Consensus Rankings) on most sites because the losses were to top-notch fighters.
Daley and Koscheck are two of the names in the mix toward the top of the inactive list, and that might be a fight the UFC is willing to try. It would, however, force Koscheck to revert to his wrestling style, something they may not want to see. Kampmann won't fall down the ladder that far, but I'm wondering if they would be willing to risk a fight with Dong Hyun "Stun Gun" Kim after his loss to Daley. It'd be an intriguing battle as their skill-sets are fairly well-rounded. Trigg vs. Serra might be an interesting fight as well, although I'm still on the bandwagon to see a war of heels in Baroni vs. Trigg.
Ultimately, there isn't a real answer to how to solve the question as to who will take on Georges St. Pierre. The UFC is pushing to put new faces in front of GSP, and Swick or Hardy will suffice for now. Fitch is likely the next in line while the rest of the division battles it out until someone pulls away from the pack. A Grand Prix isn't such a bad idea when looking down the laundry list of names and trying to figure out a #1 contender, but I imagine the UFC will carefully try to create a contender with careful matchmaking.
My money is banking on Paul Daley being eyed as a potential sell for the UFC. Not only does he appeal to the British market, but his style is perfect for attracting both British and American casual fans. If they can somehow put him against competition that doesn't present a huge threat to him on the floor and justify it, I think he'll find his way into contender talk among the UFC brass, but probably not by us. Daley vs. Koscheck could prove to be a fight that could put him over the top, especially if Koscheck continues his hunt to be exciting and strike with such an accomplished puncher like Daley.