Throughout the past week, MMA For Real has taken a look at each of the UFC's classic five divisions while discussing the hierarchy in each division in regards to fighters are championship contention or could one day be. Today, we wrap up the series with the UFC's welterweight division, a division that is loaded with quality fighters, making it extremely difficult to break in to. See things differently? Want to give your thoughts on which track the division should go? Express yourself in the comments section!
Georges St. Pierre: The undisputed No. 1 welterweight in the world has won seven fights in a row and barely has been challenged in that time. He hasn't lost a round in nearly three and a half years and has utterly dominated his opposition. At 20-2-0, St. Pierre is one of the best fighters in MMA history. What makes St. Pierre special is his ability to adapt and stay ahead of the curve. GSP has developed his wrestling into something special in MMA despite lacking the same amateur pedigree of many of his contemporaries. His conditioning and solid striking have only added to his game. He is one of MMA's most complete fighters, not to mention one of its most popular. St. Pierre is in it to win it, as he will execute whatever game plan it takes to win a given fight. He is MMA's most popular fighter.
Josh Koscheck: A standout collegiate wrestler who adapted to the game quickly, Koscheck will get his first championship shot Saturday when he faces St. Pierre at UFC 124 in Montreal. Koscheck has complemented his excellent wrestling by adding in a solid striking game that he has used to knock out many fellow welterweights. Koscheck has had a knack to lose at the most inopportune times in his career, as losses to Drew Fickett, St. Pierre and especially Paulo Thiago could not have come at worse times. This fight with St. Pierre will be Koscheck's 18th inside the Octagon, if you can believe that. Koscheck should continue to be "in the mix" throughout his career.
Jake Shields: The former EliteXC welterweight and Strikeforce middleweight champion made a successful UFC debut at UFC 121, beating Martin Kampmann by decision. He looks to be in line to fight the winner of the St. Pierre/Koscheck fight. Although a talented fighter, Shields likely will have trouble with either St. Pierre or Koscheck. St. Pierre is basically a much better version of Shields and Koscheck's wrestling will make it hard for Shields to take the fight to the mat. Shields' stand-up is not at the level it needs to be at to compete with those two, making them extremely difficult style matchups. It remains to be seen if his future lies at 170 pounds, though, as his weight cut for his fight with Kampmann did not go well, leaving him in rough shape for the fight.
Jon Fitch: If Koscheck wins the title, Fitch (13-1 UFC) has already said he will move to middleweight. Even so, he has at least one more 170-pound fight on his docket, an extremely intriguing bout with B.J. Penn at UFC 127 in late February. Fitch has won five straight since losing to St. Pierre in August 2008, his only UFC loss. Fitch's grinding style, however, while extremely effective, has not endeared him to fans nor management. A win against Penn, though, combined with a GSP win, will force management's hand once again. Fitch's issue is St. Pierre is basically Fitch-Plus. Fitch was utterly dominated when the two met to the tune of 50-43, 50-44 and 50-44 on the judge's scorecards. That's a problem. Still, with a win against Penn, he will have earned another opportunity to prove himself.
B.J. Penn: Well, this is real interesting. We all know Penn has all the talent in the world, it's just a matter of putting the entire package together. Well, if Koscheck beats St. Pierre and Penn beats Fitch, Penn has a real chance of challenging for the welterweight title for the fourth time in his career. Penn still remains interesting at 170 because the only people he's ever fought in that division in the UFC have been St. Pierre and Matt Hughes. So we don't really know how those other fights would go for him. That's what makes his fight with Fitch so interesting. After his swift knockout of Hughes, Penn is once again a name in the division. We'll see what happens, but the Fitch fight will say a lot about both fighters.
Stay with us after the jump for "Getting there," "The two-loss club" and "Others."
Carlos Condit: The former WEC welterweight champion made a big jump in a lot of minds when he devastated Dan Hardy with one punch in the first round at UFC 120 in October. He has now won three in a row in the UFC and likely will face Chris Lytle in February. That win, plus another, depending on how everything shakes out, could be enough for him to get a shot at the crown. Condit is interesting because he is an extremely well-rounded fighter with power in his hands and a very good ground game to back that up. It's going to be interesting to see how his career plays out in the UFC.
Jake Ellenberger: Ellenberger is a solid wrestler with powerful striking. He is 2-1 in the UFC with his only loss coming in his debut to Condit. Since, he has stopped both Mike Pyle and John Howard. He'll face prospect Carlos Eduardo Rocha in February in what should be an intriguing fight.
Diego Sanchez: Sanchez jumps onto this list for his performance against Paulo Thiago at UFC 121. In one of the more action-packed fights of the year, Sanchez used an absolutely relentless pace to wear down and beat Thiago. We all know what Sanchez brings to the table: Decent striking and a good ground game. It remains to be seen where his long-term future lies, but he was so impressive that it seems like it'd be a big loss to have him go back to lightweight now without seeing what can be done with him here first.
Dong-Hyun Kim: At 4-0 (1 NC) in the UFC, "Stun Gun" has quietly creeped into the mix. He'll get a step up in competition when he meets the resurgent Nate Diaz at UFC 125, another fighter who could be considered here, as well.
The two-loss club:
Thiago Alves: Alves has the skills to compete but has now lost two in a row, including not making weight for his last fight with Fitch in August. If he fails to make the limit this weekend against John Howard, he could be forced to 185 by the UFC, making this completely irrelevant.
Dan Hardy: Hardy's title shot mainly came from good timing. After his loss to Condit, he's lost two in a row and will have a long climb to get back to the top again.
Paulo Thiago: Boy has his stock fallen. After impressive wins against Koscheck and Mike Swick, Thiago has dropped two straight to Kampmann and Sanchez, fading fast in both. Thiago has a very interesting skill-set, but until he turns his conditioning around, he's going nowhere fast, which is unfortunate.
There are so many names here, but two other names to consider are Martin Kampmann and John Hathaway. Both are coming off tough losses but have the skills to make an impact in the division.