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Top 10 MMA Fighters of 2010s: Welterweight

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Georges St-Pierre was the dominant force at welterweight to begin the decade... but was his reign long enough to make him the kingpin for the entire decade?

MMA: UFC 217-Bisping vs St-Pierre Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Welterweight features several worthy candidates to be considered the kingpin of the 2010’s. For most, the obvious choice would be Georges St-Pierre, he of nine successful welterweight title defenses. However, not all of those defenses came within the 2010’s. One must also take into account the notable reign of Tyron Woodley that saw him defend the strap four times. Or the epic run of all-time classics Robbie Lawler put on after GSP vacated the title. Kamaru Usman proved unstoppable to end the decade. That’s not even mentioning those who plied their trade outside the confines of the Octagon for most of the decade like Ben Askren and Douglas Lima. There’s no easy way to judge the welterweight division.

1. Georges St-Pierre: Even if his run during the 2010’s was truncated, GSP’s 6-0 record against the best the division had to offer at the time allows him to maintain the top spot for the decade. Even if many want to devalue his win over Dan Hardy, the rest of his victims all would have made credible champions had GSP not ruled with an iron fist. Josh Koscheck. Jake Shields. Carlos Condit. Nick Diaz. Johny Hendricks. None were successful in ending GSP’s reign. Some might say an all-time classic is missing from the list, but I’d encourage you to go check out his controversial decision over Hendricks as it is one of the more underrated contests from an entertainment standpoint.

2. Kamaru Usman: No recency bias here. Usman may only have a single title defense under his belt – a hell of a banger against Colby Covington – but a closer look at who he beat to earn his way to the title should say all that needs to be said. Leon Edwards. Rafael dos Anjos. Demian Maia. Few have faced a tougher road to simply receive a shot at the title. When he finally got the opportunity, Usman proceeded to mop the mat with Woodley in one of the most one-sided contests in UFC title history. If the Nigerian Nightmare can maintain his momentum, it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to be the welterweight of the 2020’s.

3. Tyron Woodley: Many like to dismiss Woodley for a variety of reasons. He suffered some stops and starts in the first half of the decade, stalling his momentum with losses to Nate Narquardt and Jake Shields. His boring title defenses over Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia don’t help either, even if they were successful. However, Woodley also has vicious KO’s of Lawler, Dong Hyun Kim, and Jay Hieron that any fighter would be proud to have on their highlight reel. Don’t forget that three of his title defenses came within a year of first claiming the title. Who does that anymore? Only Woodley.

4. Robbie Lawler: The sentimental favorite of many, Lawler deliver a run the likes that had never been seen before and probably will never be seen again from 2013-16. Returning to the UFC after eight years away, Lawler went 8-1, the lone loss the FOTY for 2014 for the title to Hendricks. All of the fights during that run were either violent finishes or instant classics. I already mentioned his FOTY with Hendricks. Their sequel later in the year was almost as good, Lawler emerging with the title that time. 2015 saw him deliver not just the FOTY with Rory MacDonald, but the Fight of the Decade. He kicked of 2016 with another FOTY with Carlos Condit. The toll eventually caught up to Lawler and he has secured only one win since losing the title to Woodley. But what a run….

5. Johny Hendricks: An unpopular choice I’m sure, Hendricks’ run in the first half of the decade was up there with the likes of GSP and Lawler. Following an early loss in the decade to Rick Story, Hendricks went on a tear, KOing Jon Fitch (the perennial #2 welterweight in the world at the time), edging Josh Koscheck, blasting the historically underrated Martin Kampmann, and taking a forgotten classic against Condit. It resulted in his title fight with GSP that many still believe to this day saw Hendricks get robbed by the judges. He did grab the title after GSP retired the first time, but lost it in another contest many believed went his way before falling apart.

6. Rory MacDonald: There have been many iterations of MacDonald during the decade. Initially, he was known as the Waterboy, a 20-year old phenom. He soon became known as Ares, devouring his opposition behind the patented Tristar jab. His title aspirations were derailed by Lawler, but an evolution into the Red King saw him meet Lawler one more time for the belt after disposing of the likes of Maia and Woodley. We all know MacDonald fell short in that bid, but cemented a place in MMA history with that contest. MacDonald hasn’t been the same since, but he’s been good enough to take the Bellator title from Douglas Lima and defending it twice before losing it to close the decade. Imagine if his nose hadn’t been shattered by Lawler….

7. Douglas Lima: Not only is Lima the only man to have multiple reigns as the Bellator welterweight champion, he’s held the title three times. Going 18-3 over the entirety of the decade, Lima’s only losses came in title fights. However, Lima also comes back from every single loss looking better than ever, avenging his last two losses to the likes of Andrey Koreshkov and MacDonald to regain the gold he lost. Though there is a lot of curiosity how he would do against the best in the UFC, I can’t help but believe he’d do more than hold his own.

8. Demian Maia: The best pure grappler in the history of MMA, Maia didn’t slide down to 170 until he was likely past his physical prime. Despite that, Maia managed to put together a more than respectable 13-5 record, his only losses coming to current (at the time), past, or future champions of major MMA organizations. Perhaps even more impressive is none were able to put him away while Maia racked up wins over the likes of Fitch, Condit, Jorge Masvidal, and Ben Askren. Did I mention Maia may very well be the nicest guy in the sport as well? A class act all the way.

9. Colby Covington: Amongst the least popular figures in the sport of MMA, much of that is due to how good Covington is. After all, is there a reason to hold onto hate if it’s directed at someone who is insignificant? Aside from a hiccup against Warlley Alves in 2015, Covington came thisclose to going undefeated for the rest of the decade, falling short in the final round of the final UFC title fight of the decade to Usman. Had he survived the round, Covington would likely be top five as he has wins over Lawler, Maia, and dos Anjos under his belt. Based on how entertaining his battle with Usman was, here’s hoping we see it again someday.

10. Carlos Condit: For some, Condit’s name is the first that comes to mind when they think of the ultimate action fighter in the history of MMA. That may not be the case in the current age, but when Condit was in his prime, that was as plausible an argument as anyone could make. It’s not like he was a bad fighter either. Condit opened up the decade with several violent finishes over MacDonald, Dan Hardy, and Dong Hyun Kim. His crowning moment of the decade was either his UFC interim title win over Nick Diaz or his FOTY with Lawler in which many believed Condit should have been awarded the championship. He fell off badly after that fight – hasn’t come close to winning a fight since – but his peak was truly magnificent.

Honorable Mention: Ben Askren, Nick Diaz, Jorge Masvidal, Stephen Thompson, Jon Fitch, Jake Shields, Jake Ellenberger

Askren may very well deserve to be on this list, but it’s impossible to know just how good he was beating up on opposition far worse than himself when he was in his physical prime. Diaz’s work early in the decade was awesome, but his self-exile limited his body of work. Masvidal earned the BMF moniker late in the decade, but his work at 170 was spotty before then. Thompson’s best wins look worse in retrospective while he couldn’t ever get over the hump. Fitch rebounded with a strong finish to the decade, but his fade during the early to mid-part of the decade hurts him too much. Shields’ late fade was too much to overcome in comparison to his acceptable start. Ellenberger’s decline was so steep, most forget he was a win away from fighting for the UFC title.