The latest edition of the UFC Fighter Rankings hit the internet Monday, and with UFC 158’s welterweight-heavy card hitting Montreal in less than two weeks, what better time is there than now to look at the 170-pound weight class, home to five of the fighters on the list that will be at the Bell Centre on March 16?
So, will this list remain intact after a series of pivotal fights? We’ll find out soon enough
The Champion: Georges St-Pierre
Sidelined for over 18 months while healing from ACL surgery, Georges St-Pierre returned in prime form at UFC 154 last November, going five hard rounds to earn a unanimous decision win over interim champ Carlos Condit. Seemingly back without a hitch, St-Pierre has made a quick turnaround to get back in the Octagon later this month against a man he has waited a long time to fight, Nick Diaz, as he looks to extend his 10 fight winning streak.
1. Johny Hendricks
After sub-one minute knockouts of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann and a gritty three round decision win over Josh Koscheck, Johny Hendricks wasn’t too happy to see the title shot he expected to get at UFC 158 go to Diaz. And he certainly has a good case for being the next in line. But with Diaz getting the shot at GSP, Hendricks will have to win one more fight – against Condit on March 16 – to finally challenge for the coveted belt.
2. Carlos Condit
After his gallant effort against St-Pierre in their five rounder last November, Carlos Condit’s stock didn’t drop at all, hence his still lofty placement in this week’s rankings. Originally scheduled to face Canadian phenom Rory MacDonald at UFC 158, an injury sidelined “Ares” and put Condit in line to meet Hendricks with an opportunity to spoil the title hopes of the “Bigg Rigg.” So what do you do with Condit if he wins? Does he get a rematch with GSP right away? That may depend on how he wins. But if Diaz takes the belt from St-Pierre, a rematch of their closely-contested 2012 bout makes perfect sense across the board.
3. Nick Diaz
MMA’s most intriguing figure, Nick Diaz will have all eyes on him on March 16 when he steps into the Octagon with GSP. It’s a bout that has been on and off again over the last couple years, and even though the Stockton native is coming off a razor-thin decision loss to Condit at UFC 143 in February of 2012, there has been no one saying that they don’t want to see this fight. And while the bad blood between the two is a nice talking point in the lead-in to this championship showdown, what really intrigues is seeing what will happen if Diaz can stuff the Canadian’s takedown attempts and keep the fight standing for 25 minutes.
4. Rory MacDonald
Despite all the high stakes welterweight action on tap in Montreal, it was a disappointment to see Rory MacDonald scratched from his rematch with Condit due to injury. Seconds away (literally) from defeating Condit back in 2010 before suffering the first loss of his professional career, MacDonald has since won four straight, beating Nate Diaz, Mike Pyle, Che Mills, and BJ Penn. The Condit rematch would have been a nice barometer of where MacDonald is at, and whether he was ready for the next step in his career. But now we’ll just have to wait.
5. Demian Maia
The most impressive newcomer to the division, former middleweight contender Demian Maia is three for three since dropping to 170 pounds, defeating Dong Hyun Kim, Rick Story, and Jon Fitch. There probably won’t be anyone watching UFC 158 more intently than the Brazilian submission king, as he will want to square off with any of the top guns in the division next, making a case for a future title shot in the process.
6. Jake Ellenberger
With his only UFC losses being a controversial decision defeat to Carlos Condit in 2009 and a KO loss to Martin Kampmann in a June 2012 fight that he was winning before getting caught, Jake Ellenberger’s place among the best 170-pounders in the world is secure. But just being in the game isn’t enough for “The Juggernaut,” and with a win over the returning Nate Marquardt at UFC 158, he will make a statement that he’s ready to move even closer to a title shot. Of course, that process would have been even faster if he would have beaten his original foe for later this month, Johny Hendricks.
7. Martin Kampmann
Coming off a UFC 154 loss to Johny Hendricks that took just 46 seconds, Martin Kampmann is on the comeback trail at the moment, but he’s been there before, bouncing back from consecutive (and controversial) defeats to Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez to beat Rick Story, Thiago Alves, and Jake Ellenberger in succession. Another nice three fight winning streak like that will do wonders to get “The Hitman” back in the title race.
8. Tarec Saffiedine
Moving to the UFC from Strikeforce, where he took the promotion’s welterweight title from Nate Marquardt in his most recent bout in January, Tarec Saffiedine was always one of those fighters who showed enormous potential and glimpses of greatness, but never put it all together consistently on fight night. That changed against Marquardt, as Saffiedine proved himself to be a major player in the welterweight division, and one whose Octagon debut is highly-anticipated.
9. Robbie Lawler
Returning to the UFC and the welterweight division in February, Robbie Lawler made a hard-hitting statement in stopping Josh Koscheck in less than a round. Always exciting, especially with opponents willing to stand with him, Lawler’s UFC future contains plenty of interesting matchups, and the scary part is that he’s still only 30 years old.
10. Josh Koscheck
In December of 2012, Josh Koscheck was challenging GSP for the welterweight championship. A little over two years later, the TUF 1 veteran and perennial contender is at a crossroads after losing two straight, most recently a knockout defeat against Robbie Lawler at UFC 157 last month. The rest of Koscheck’s 2013 campaign will determine whether he’s still a threat to the elite at 170 pounds.
Just missing the cut:
Mike Pierce, Dong Hyun Kim, Tyron Woodley, Nate Marquardt.
For a look at the complete UFC Fighter Rankings for this week, click here.