Like the middleweight division with Anderson Silva at the top, all roads lead to Georges St. Pierre at welterweight. Albeit over a shorter period of time than Silva, GSP has been just as dominant in the division and no challengers inside or outside the UFC pose a serious threat at the moment. Even though they likely won't claim the title, high caliber fighters such as Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves and B.J. Penn are on a holding pattern in Zuffa skies. That doesn't mean the rest of the division lacks exciting fighters, however, as a pair of the UFC's North American rivals have culled some interesting talent of their own at 170 lbs.
The Known Commodities
Diaz has a pair of interesting challengers for the coming year, eventually against Paul Daley but first against Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos. Daley, once on the cusp of title contention in the UFC, is quite possibly the best striker in the entire welterweight division. He has no notable grappling ability and is a very poor wrestler, but he can turn the lights off on anyone who stands with him. Cyborg, who Diaz faces at the end of January, is an old Chute Boxe stalwart who may have found his groove in dropping to welterweight. He's a brawler who probably won't win the Strikeforce title -- or any major title, for that matter -- but will never fail to entertain.
Jay Heiron is a solid wrestler who recently signed with Bellator, so look for him to make waves in next season's Bellator welterweight tournament. His grinding top game has notched notable wins over Jake Ellenberger, Joe Riggs, and Jason High, and while I think he should be a favorite to get to the finals of the tournament I wouldn't expect his ceiling to be far above that.
The Fresh Faces
Marius Zaromskis blazed onto the scene with his run through the 2008 DREAM Welterweight Grand Prix. Since then, he has disappointed in bouts with Nick Diaz and Evangelista Santos, being surgically picked apart by the more disciplined and crisper striker Diaz and being overwhelmed in a brutal, quick slugfest by Cyborg. He returns to Japan on New Year's Eve where his DREAM welterweight championship will be on the line against legendary Kazushi Sakuraba, the Gracie Hunter's first title fight in seven years and his first ever drop to welterweight.
Strikeforce has a pair of exciting prospects in Tyron Woodley and Andre Galvao, who just met each other in October. Woodley is a two-time All American wrestler out of Missouri who's shown an adept submission game, but that grappling prowess wasn't on full display in his quick TKO win over Galvao. It was a disappointing outing for Galvao, who has won multiple medals in the ADCC tournaments yet has struggled to adapt his superior jiu-jitsu for MMA. He still has time to polish his game so that he doesn't become a bust in the mold of Jorge Gurgel, whose BJJ isn't even as good as Galvao's.
The most exciting young talent in the division has got to be in Bellator, however, where current champion Ben Askren may be cultivating a solution for GSP's unparalleled wrestling. Just this year the former Olympian has won a pair of grueling bouts over well-rounded up-and-comers Dan Hornbuckle and Lyman Good. Askren needs to work on tightening up and diversifying his striking so that his relentless takedowns become less predictable. On the mat, he's a monster who glues himself to an opponent's torso and can escape virtually any bad position. If he pursues an aggressive submission game much in the vein of "Mr. Wonderful" Phil Davis, we could see great things out of Askren in the near future.