I hadn’t done a heavyweight analysis since about November, but it’s been even longer since I’ve evaluated the welterweight division. The last time we visited the magical land of 170 pounders, Matt Hughes was still the dominant, reigning champ who had just vanquished BJ Penn and knocked that particular monkey from his back, and Matt Serra hadn’t fought in the UFC for over a year. My, how the times have changed. Let’s have a look at this stacked division.
Matt Serra (9-4): If you had told me a month ago that this particular fighter would be in this particular category (or even any category other than in the lightweight division), I’d have laughed in your face. And yet here we are. And unless, Serra goes on a tear and wins two or three more fights in a row, I don’t believe he’ll be favored in any of his title defenses. Can you see him favored against Hughes after the interminable wait between now and the end of the next season of TUF? I can’t.
Matt Hughes (41-5): Hughes shoots to the top of the contenders list, being the legend that he is, and considering that he’ll be the first to challenge “The Terror” for his title. True, Hughes wasn’t all that impressive in his win over Chris Lytle at UFC 68, but honestly, has anyone looked impressive against Lytle? (Besides Joe Riggs, who scored an elbow from the bottom to win on a cut stoppage.) I don’t remember any impressive win over Lytle, as many times as I’ve seen him lose, so you can’t really hold that against Hughes. He’s got 40 other wins to his credit too, remember.
Georges St. Pierre (13-2): Fortunately for the affable St. Pierre, I don’t think his loss to Serra really diminished him in anyone’s eyes. Everyone loses a fight, and if you’re going to lose, get knocked out quick instead of being dominated for five rounds. I’m not saying that the Serra fight was a fluke, because I don’t think it was. But I do think that St. Pierre wins that fight eight out of ten times (I would have said 9.5 before the fight). So GSP faces a major potential hurdle in August, as it is rumored that he will fight Josh Koscheck at UFC 74, but if he can get past Koscheck, it would seem that all roads lead to either Serra or Hughes, depending on what happens down the road.
Karo Parisyan (16-4): “The Heat” was supposed to get a title shot at UFC 56 in 2005, but had to bow out due to injury, resulting in the debacle that was Joe Riggs’ shot at the belt, where he ended up not making weight. There hasn’t been a lot of talk about Parisyan getting another chance to win the title, but I can hardly think there would be any doubt that the Armenian deserves it. He even holds a win over the current champ. Parysian has lost only to Georges St. Pierre, Diego Sanchez, and Sean Sherk.
A STEP OR TWO AWAY
Jon Fitch (13-2): Let’s recap here. Fitch is now 5-0 in the UFC, taking out Brock Larson, Josh Burkman, Thiago Alves, Kuniyoshi Hironaka, and Luigi Fioravanti. That is no small feat, let me assure you. And yet, he’s graced the main card but one time since his UFC debut. He’s scheduled to fight at the TUF 5 finale against Roan Carneiro, and if he wins this one, can the man get a fight against a top name? There’s certainly enough of them in the welterweight division, and with one win against a well-known guy, I don’t see how Fitch wouldn’t challenge for the title.
Thiago Alves (11-3): Recent steroid suspension aside, Thiago Alves was very impressive in his last two wins against John Alessio and Tony DeSouza, respectively. Alves is a jiu-jitsu expert, but he put on a striking clinic in pounding Alessio into oblivion last year, then showed explosive power in his KO of “The Peruvian Necktie”. I’m not sure when Alves will be back, but I’m excited to see him fight again.
Josh Koscheck (9-1): It was said that the winner of Koscheck-Sanchez gets a title shot down the line, but if you ask me, both guys took a step back with this fight. Koscheck won, but what did it get him? Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to win the fight. But he didn’t exactly prove anything by beating Sanchez when he didn’t really, well, beat him. Koscheck took a step in the right direction to be sure, but he’s going to need another win over a top name before he gets to go for the gold. (It looks like he’ll get a shot at Georges St. Pierre in August—I’d love to see him fight Jon Fitch instead, but they’re from the same camp.)
Diego Sanchez (17-1): I know he lost to Koscheck, but I see them pretty much in the same place right now. Sanchez was higher up on the totem pole before the fight, and with a decisive victory, Koscheck could have leapfrogged “The Nightmare”. But as it happened, I believe he pretty much pulled even with Sanchez. They’re both in a pretty good place right now, and I believe Sanchez will probably need a couple more wins before a title shot comes his way, depending on how things go over the next few months. There are so many quality contenders at welterweight right now that it’s easy for a guy to stay in this category for quite a while.
UP AND COMERS
Marcus Davis (11-3): Davis is a unique case. The former TUF 2 cast member was at one time a mostly one-dimensional striker, but has become a complete threat now, with a very good ground game. As a rule, he wouldn’t normally qualify for this section since he has four fights in the UFC, but it’s almost like he’s had two stages with the promotion. There was the TUF 2 era, which ended with a TKO loss to Melvin Guillard at the finale of that season, then there’s now, where Davis has won three straight in the Octagon and eight straight overall. Davis has a lot of upside, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens when he starts facing guys in the upper echelon of the division.
Jeff Joslin (5-3): Jeff Joslin may not have the most impressive record, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s that records don’t mean too much in this sport. “The Inferno” has lost to Jonathan Goulet, Jon Fitch (though he gave Fitch all he could handle en route to a decision loss), and most recently Josh Koscheck, where Joslin simply didn’t have an answer for Koscheck’s superior grappling (he can join the club). But the Canadian also has a ton of upside, and he’s definitely a marketable guy if the UFC decides to give him a push. If they ever make it to Canada for a show, I’d be very surprised if Joslin didn’t make an appearance there. He’s got quite a following north of the border.
Paul Taylor (8-1-1): Taylor was quite impressive in his Octagon debut at UFC 70. He pummeled the dangerous and then-undefeated Edilberto de Oliveira for two rounds and some change before finally stopping the Brazilian in the third. He was able to impose his will until the end, and that was no small feat against “Crocota”. Taylor also holds a TKO victory over vaunted middleweight striker Zelg “Little Cro Cop” Galesic, and has the chance to really make some noise in the division when he gets a chance.
As this is a loaded division, the pool is quite crowded. You’ve got proven, tough veterans like Tony DeSouza (10-3), who lost to Thiago Alves in his last outing, then there’s guys who have been hanging around in the middle of the division for a while, like Josh Burkman (8-3), who has been largely solid, but didn’t produce against Jon Fitch, and Drew Fickett (29-5), who has proven to be a good litmus test for guys like Burkman and Keita Nakamura (13-2-2), who has yet to prove that he can hang in the Octagon.
Then there’s your Brock Larson (20-1), who was brought in to make a run in the UFC, but ran into a wall named Fitch (we’re seeing his name quite a bit, and it’s no coincidence). Larson then went on a tear, winning eight in a row, but he may have found a home in the WEC, where he fought last in December. Time will tell. And you can’t leave out the scrappy Luigi Fioravanti (10-2), who has very heavy hands (just ask Dave Menne) and is always entertaining.
Then there’s the trio of welterweights who debuted with different degrees of success at UFC 70. Jess Liaudin (11-8) won his fight with German Dennis Siver (10-4), and time may prove me wrong, but I really think that Siver may have a brighter future with the UFC. Liaudin’s mindset coming into the fight was to prove himself, while it seemed to me that Siver had a case of the first-time jitters. Add to that the fact that Liaudin was fighting in front of his home crowd (adopted home, anyway), and there was a lot of emotion involved for “The Joker”. And it’s no secret that the way fighters come into the cage mentally can greatly influence the outcome of a fight.
Then there’s the aforementioned Edilberto de Oliveira, who will prove to be better than Paul Taylor made him look. And you know what? Let’s not forget Luke Cummo (5-4), who knocked Josh Haynes cold with one punch. Haynes fought Michael Bisping without getting knocked out (well, he lost by TKO, but he wasn’t out, so to speak. What I’m trying to say is that the guy can take a punch.) If Cummo can continue to develop at the rate he’s going, he may be a force to contend with in a couple of years. And that will just about wrap it up in the welterweight division.
There are quite a few intriguing storylines in this division that could play out this year, so it’s definitely a weight class to watch. Next up, I’ll be giving an overview of the light heavyweight division after UFC 71.
The Champ: Self-explanatory
The Contenders: Fighters who could fight for the title immediately and be taken as legitimate contenders. Fighters coming off of a loss will not typically be in this category.
A Step or Two Away: Fighters who could be in contention for a title with another victory or two over legitimate competition.
Up and Comers: Fighters who have no more than three fights in the UFC, who have shown promise. They’re not always undefeated, but they have potential.
On the Rebound: Coming off of a high-profile loss or a loss in a fight that they should have won, and it will take a while to get the momentum back. Typically a champion who just lost his belt, as there’s really nowhere else to put them.
The Pool: Other fighters of note within the division, who could work their way into the top three categories by going on a run and/or proving themselves/proving themselves again in the Octagon.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS FLASHBACK: 5 YRS AGO – ENNIS’S TAKE: UFC 145 Thumbs up and Thumbs down including Jones, Rashad, Rory, Danzig, Matt Brown, Stephen Thompson, more