February 10, 2016

UFC Fight Night 82: What To Do With the UFC Welterweight Division Now

By Adam Martin

Last week, I wrote about how Johny Hendricks or Stephen Thompson needed an impressive win to jump in front of the pack in the crowded UFC welterweight division. While most thought that would be Hendricks, it turned out to be Thompson, who stunned the MMA world with a brutal first-round TKO, thrashing Hendricks for his sixth win in a row inside the Octagon.

Fans are now asking what to do with Thompson in such a stacked division. For me, it’s not a difficult question. You give “Wonderboy” the title shot against UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler, and you give it to him next.

Yes, this means that we won’t see an immediate rematch between Lawler and Carlos Condit, whose five-round war at UFC 195 was one of the greatest welterweight title fights of all time, one that ended in a controversial split decision for the champ. But Condit is unsure if he even wants to fight again. Lawler will need some time off to recover from the beating he took in the fight, but once he’s back, the division cannot wait for Condit to make up his mind about whether or not he wants to continue fighting. I feel bad for Condit, because I do think he deserves a rematch, but at the same time, I feel like Thompson deserves it even more.

Giving “Wonderboy” the title shot would also mean Tyron Woodley will have to wait a bit longer. And yes, I know Woodley has been promised a title shot already by UFC brass. But he wouldn’t be the first fighter to have that title shot taken away from him, and to be honest, I don’t even think Woodley is that deserving. Yes, he is on a two-fight win streak over Kelvin Gastelum and Dong Hyun Kim, but the win over Gastelum was hardly impressive, and it was over a year ago. And prior to that, he lost a lopsided decision to another contender, Rory MacDonald. You can point back to his TKO win over Condit at UFC 171 and say he should have gotten a title shot a long time ago, but the fact is, he got outclassed by MacDonald when those two met, and although the win over Kim was impressive, beating Gastelum by split decision shouldn’t earn anyone a title shot.

You also cannot ignore Demian Maia in the title picture. The fact that he has a fight lined up with Matt Brown at UFC 198 means he isn’t really part of the conversation at the moment, but Maia’s four-fight win streak over Gunnar Nelson, Neil Magny, Alexander Yakovlev, and RyanLaFlare has been nothing short of incredible. Maia has dominated those four opponents so badly that none of them could even win a round over him. And if he dominates Brown like he did to those fighters, it would be very difficult to ignore his calls for a title fight.

But while Condit, Woodley, and Maia all have arguments that each deserves the next shot at Lawler, the truth is, Thompson’s recent resume is even stronger. He just trucked Hendricks, a fighter with an iron chin who had gone 25 minutes with Georges St-Pierre and 50 minutes with Lawler, becoming the first man to knock Hendricks out. Before that, he destroyed Jake Ellenberger with a beautiful spinning hook kick. His win at UFC 178 over Patrick Cote, a one-sided drubbing that went to decision, is also looking a lot better considering Cote’s emergence as a dark horse contender. And his knockout win over Robert Whittaker, the next big thing at 185lbs, looks incredible in hindsight considering what Whittaker has been doing as of late. Plus wins over Chris Clements and Nah-Shon Burrell, while not names by any means, also strengthen his six-fight win streak. Thompson did lose to Brown, but that was four years ago, and since then he’s clearly become a better fighter, not just as far as his striking goes, but also asfar as his wrestling goes – training with former middleweight kingpin Chris Weidman is certainly paying off for “Wonderboy.”

What Thompson did to Hendricks was absolutely incredible, and while he wasn’t viewed as a serious title threat before this past weekend, taking out the former champion Hendricks in his prime, something no other fighter could do, was absolutely amazing, and Thompson has earned the right to fight Lawler for the welterweight strap. It’s not going to make the other contenders in the division happy, but ultimately, the UFC has to put on the best fight it can between the two best welterweights on the planet, and right now, it looks like it’s down to Lawler and Thompson to see who that is. May the best man win.

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