By Adam Martin
Just a few years ago, when Georges St-Pierre was the king of the MMA world, the UFC welterweight division had very few legitimate title contenders.
That’s because St-Pierre, arguably the most dominant UFC champion of all time, had run through them all, and very few of his opponents even gave him any sort of challenge. The French-Canadian superstar had defended his 170-pound title nine times against the likes of
Johny Hendricks, Carlos Condit, Josh Koscheck, Dan Hardy, Jon Fitch, Jake Shields, Nick Diaz, Thiago Alves, and BJ Penn, and there were barely any fights left in the division for him except for rematches, rematches that he was likely going to win because he was that much better than everyone else.
Fast forward to now, and you have Lawler as the champion of the UFC, with lots of challengers waiting to fight him. First is Condit, who many believe should have beat Lawler at UFC 195. And then there’s Hendricks, who many thought beat Lawler at UFC 181. But those aren’t the only title fights the UFC can make. There’s Tyron Woodley who wants to fight Lawler for the belt, there’s Demian Maia, there’s Hector Lombard, there’s Matt Brown, there’s Stephen Thompson, there’s even a rematch between Lawler and Diaz that would sell huge pay-per-views.
The division is exciting again, and it’s a nice problem to have for the UFC, as the fans have been treated to a string of incredibly-exciting title fights since GSP left the sport. Because let’s face it, while GSP was an amazing fighter and a successful one, many (but certainly not all) of his fights were stale wrestling matches. But now that he’s gone, it seems like most of the welterweight title fights we’ve seen have been standup wars, and the fans have really embraced the welterweight division again.
Now this isn’t to say that standup fights necessarily make for better MMA fights, but let’s be real here, the majority of fight fans prefer striking battles over wrestling matches, and there was no one except for maybe Hendricks who was ever going to beat GSP in a wrestling match. Since he left the sport (and yes, it sucks he left because he was an icon of MMA) the division has gotten a lot more interesting, because unlike when GSP was the champion and it was almost a lock he was going to defend his title, now we are being treated to fights between the best welterweights in the world and we have no idea who is going to win them.
For the UFC, this is a nice problem to have, because it is allowing the matchmakers to put together some incredible title fights that are getting a new generation of fans to buy into the product, and it’s getting the fans who have been watching for years excited about a division that was not unlike what the flyweight division is right now, in that it featured a dominant champion like Demetrious Johnson and a bunch of fighters who couldn’t beat him.
Dong Hyun Kim, Benson Henderson, Rick Story, Neil Magny, Kelvin Gastelum, and Tarec Saffiedine who are all great fighters as well. You can mix and match any of these guys and you’re very likely to come up with a matchup that no one knows what will happen in, and these are the fights that are getting fans excited again for the division.
I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m blaming GSP for the welterweight division getting stale a few years ago, because it’s not GSP’s fault that he was so ahead of the game. My point is, he was so much better than everyone else that barely anyone had a chance against him. Now, though, the rest of the top title contenders are so evenly matched that there isn’t a fight you could make between two of the top 10 fighters in the division that anyone could say hey, that fight is a lock for so-and-so to win. Every fight is basically a coin flip, and you’ve been seeing a lot of closely-fought fights that end in controversial split decisions because of that very reason, unlike a few years ago, where basically every title fight ended in a 50-45 unanimous decision for GSP.
The UFC has a lot of top contenders at 170 lbs, and it’s a nice problem for the promotion to have. Nearly every major card now has a fight between two top welterweights, and it seems like nearly every card we have a new contender being born. And this is even better for the fans, because the welterweight division is now by far the most exciting weight class in the sport, and the best thing is, there’s no slowing down. 2016 started off great for the division with Condit vs. Lawler, and by this time next year, it’s likely to have been the most exciting 12 months the weight class has ever seen.
UFC 195: Lawler vs. Condit took place on January 2, 2016 at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.