With so many fights coming up spread across eight different weight classes, it's easy to lose track of what's happening in every division. Here, we take a look at where a particular division stands right now, and where it's headed.
It's funny how quickly a division can fall into such turmoil. For a few years now the Welterweight division has been a stable place, with Georges St. Pierre calmly dispatching all challengers to his dominance. Now, in the span of 2 months, GSP has gone down to injury, Carlos Condit is the Interim UFC Welterweight champion, Nick Diaz has seen his star rise and fall... In short, the division is a crazy place right now. All bets are off and anything can happen, and that makes it a thrilling time.
So what is on deck at 170? Let's see.
Next in Line:
The next Welterweight title shot hinges entirely on GSP's recovery time. He's hoping for a return near the end of 2012, and the obvious fight will be a title unification bout with the Interim champion. Right now that's the #4 ranked Carlos Condit. But the question is - will Condit defend that belt before GSP comes back, and if he does, against who? It looked like he would face #2 Nick Diaz in a rematch of their controversial UFC 143 fight, but Diaz's positive test for marijuana seems to have ended that idea. And so now we get a big question mark here. What is next for Condit? For GSP? For the belt? We may have to wait awhile before we know.
Key Match Ups:
Still, there's no shortage of Welterweights who are itching to take advantage of GSP's absence and get a shot at Condit, which makes these upcoming fights that much more appealing. And one of the best of these fights comes later this week:
- #3 Jake Ellenberger vs. #12 Diego Sanchez (UFC on Fuel TV) - When I ran through the division in December, I said the winner here was my pick for next challenger after Condit vs. Diaz, and I stick by that. Ellenberger has a stronger case - he's on a great run and a main event win over Diego would give him that extra boost. But Sanchez has more name value, and while he may not really have "earned" the shot in the eyes of many, that name will likely propel him to a shot with a win over Ellenberger.
- #7 Jake Shields vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama (UFC 144) - A tough fight here between two very similar UFC careers. Both men came to the UFC with a lot of hype, both barely won in their debuts, and both have failed to win since. A loss here will be Shields's 3rd straight in the UFC, Akiyama's 4th. Hard to see the loser sticking around, but the winner will be right back in it.
- #10 Martin Kampmann vs. #11 Thiago Alves (UFC on FX 2) - At first this looked like nothing more than a highly entertaining fight, but with all the turmoil above these two in the rankings, it's not inconceivable that the winner would suddenly find himself right in the title hunt. Aside from that this should just be a great fight.
- #19 Paulo Thiago vs. Siyar Bahadurzada (UFC on Fuel TV 2) - In all honesty, this probably shouldn't be up here, as both men are still a few fights away from title contention. But I like Siyar and am excited to see what he brings to the UFC, and Thiago is one of those "always dangerous, always in the mix" kind of fighters.
- #13 Rory MacDonald vs. Che Mills (UFC 145) - This one is primarily about MacDonald. The young rising phenom is ready for big things in the UFC. With his only loss coming against Condit, he'd make a great challenger, but I don't think this is the fight to get him there. It's a shame, as he's a teammate to GSP, so once the champ returns, that will put the young MacDonald at a bit of an impasse.
- #5 Johny Hendricks vs. #6 Josh Koscheck (UFC on Fox 3) - This was just announced, and is a big one. Winner here could make a fine substitute for Ellenberger/Sanchez if that winner is injured. Hendricks is red hot after his shocking KO of Jon Fitch, while Kos struggled against Mike Pierce. Another big win for Hendricks will put him at the very top.
In The Mix:
This is rare, but for the moment, I think everyone who is truly in the mix of title contenders at 170 has a fight scheduled. Again, it's an exciting time.
Others to Consider:
Finally, a few names from outside the title picture that should be mentioned:
- #7 Jon Fitch - Maybe he deserves to be in the "In the Mix" category, but that loss to Hendricks really tanked him. Fitch was struggling for contender status when he was winning. Now with a 0-1-1 record in his last two, he's definitely on the outside. He has a tough road ahead if he wants a second title shot.
- #14 Rick Story - Story had great momentum in 2011, but he's slipped away after two straight loses. He still has the tools to get right back in there, but he needs a few wins.
- Erick Silva - The disqualification loss to Carlo Prater at UFC 142 was a shame, but this young fighter still has a very bright future ahead of him. I think he's a future title contender, and look forward to his next fight.
- Stephen Thompson - Yeah yeah, he's only 1-0 in the UFC and his opponent didn't look good, but Thompson has big momentum going for him right now. His unique style makes him stand out from the pack, and his highlight reel KO earned him a lot of fans. He's facing Matt Brown at UFC 145 - a second KO of the Night could fast track him to the upper levels of the division. Whether or not that would be a good thing for the young fighter remains to be seen.
Rankings based on the USA Today / SB Nation consensus rankings, dated January 27, 2012.