On December 13, 2013, Georges St. Pierre, the greatest UFC welterweight fighter decided to finally walk away from the sport he loved. This was coming after a very controversial win over Johny Hendricks, who punished the champion for five rounds back in UFC 167. Plenty, including myself, thought Hendricks had won but even if he lost the decision, he can settle for a moral victory having hurt the legend enough to force him into early retirement.
Whether you love GSP’s decision or hate it, I think you would agree he stepped out of the sport at the right time. GSP’s last four fights suggest he absorbed more punishment than his other fights combined (240 strikes absorbed, over 50% of his total strikes absorbed). Hendricks, Condit, Diaz and Shields (all on this list) pounded him more than the dozen who came before.
GSP made the sane proper choice to quit now while he’s ahead because as I would outline, here’s the next 15 guys who have struck me as not only contenders but entertaining and violent brawlers and grapplers. Welcome to the new Welterweight Division. A division filled with knockouts and submissions and wars… THE DIVISION OF DEATH.
Johny Hendricks (15-2, 10-2 UFC)
UFC Rank: #1
The aforementioned Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks is fighting for the title in UFC 170 in his hometown of Dallas, Texas. Big Rig is notorious for arguably the most powerful leftie in MMA today, which floored two former title contenders within seconds. Big Rig isn’t only one of the strongest strikers but is a huge NCAA Division I wrestler. With GSP gone, he’s the favourite to take over the division. He’s the to-be-crowned Alpha Dog in the making.
THE NATURAL BORN KILLER
Carlos Condit (29-7, 6-3 UFC)
UFC Rank: #2
Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit isn’t far behind Big Rig as a favourite to win the division. NBK once engaged Hendricks in a Fight of the Year caliber brawl that saw him lose a razor thin decision. But the Killer out-struck Hendricks (number) and also floored GSP and was a few punches away from winning his belt. Condit may not have GSP or Hendricks’s wrestling pedigree but he is arguably the division’s best striker.
Robbie Lawler (22-9, 7-3 UFC)
UFC Rank: #3
Ruthless Robbie Lawler is easily 2013’s Comeback Fighter of the Year. On his second go-round with the UFC, he went on to knock out long-time gatekeeper Josh Koscheck, Strikeforce tough guy, Bobby Voelker and put a beating on a contender and GSP teammate, Rory “Ares” Macdonald. He’ll be facing Bigg Rigg for the championship soon. Lawler has always been a deadly striker but his improvement in takedown defense, precision and game planning has made him reach a new elite level.
Nick Diaz (26-9, 7-7 UFC)
UFC Rank: n/a
Although he remains “retired”, whenever “El Diablo” Nick Diaz decides to return to the octagon, he will be an immediate championship threat. The division’s best boxer and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert has fought the best and was both a Strikeforce and WEC Welterweight Champion. His colourful nature makes him a polarizing figure but he’ll earn fans’ and haters’ respect alike with his artistic display of boxing destruction whenever he steps in the octagon.
Rory Macdonald (15-2, 6-2 UFC)
UFC Rank: #4
With GSP retired, Rory “Ares” Macdonald now stands as Tristar Gym’s and Canada’s top fighter. Growing tired of his old name, Macdonald gave himself his own nickname although his tentative fighting style has led to much criticism. Regardless, Ares has all the tools to be a champion – size, topnotch grappling skills and toughness. He recently lost to Ruthless but he’s only one big win away from being back in the title picture.
Jake Ellenberger (29-7, 8-3 UFC)
UFC Rank: #5
The Juggernaut has been injured as of late and always seems to be overshadowed by the top fighters but he didn’t earn his moniker as an X-Men fan. Juggernaut is a powerful force and has won the majority of his UFC fights by way of knockout. He’s a wrestler by nature but prefers to stand and bang and even the toughest fighters should be weary to go toe-to-toe with The Juggernaut.
UFC Rank: #7
While not as physically imposing or powerful as some of the fighters here, Shields was once the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion and was undefeated for six years. His lack of striking power shouldn’t undersell his prowess as he’s undefeated at welterweight and has wins over four fighters on this list (Condit, Lawler, Woodley, Maia). Shields flies under the radar but he can beat the best at any moment’s notice. PS I gave him the nickname. 😉
THE SUBMISSION DEMON
Demian Maia (18-5, 12-5 UFC)
UFC Rank: #6
I made up his nickname but “Submission Demon” seems apt for the man who’s submitted Chael Sonnen and Rick Story – the latter’s first time being finished. Maia is a large welterweight having fought the best at middleweight before moving down and going on an unbeaten streak before a paper-thin decision loss to Jake Shields. He’s probably the best BJJ grappler in the division.
THE CHOSEN ONE
Tyron Woodley (12-2, 2-1 UFC)
UFC Rank: #11
Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley is on the fast track to winning the welterweight title as he’ll be going against The Natural Born Killer later this year. A wrestler who combines power with speed and athleticism, he’s a force who despite having only fought since 2009 has already beaten some of the big names in the division including Paul Daley, Josh Koscheck and former champion, Tarec Saffiedine.
Hector Lombard (33-4-1-1, 2-2 UFC)
UFC Rank: #13
The Cuban version of Hulk aka Hector “Lightning” Lombard finally made the cut to welterweight and it has paid massive (pun intended) dividends in a first-round demolition of former title contender, Nate Marquardt. Lombard’s imposing muscular frame paired with his Judoka expertise and killer power has led him to win 33 of his 39 official fights with majority of those wins coming by knockout.
Tarec Saffiedine (15-3, 1-0 UFC)
UFC Rank: #9
Former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Tarec “Sponge” Saffiedine finally made his much-anticipated debut in a five-round victory over Korean standout, Lim Gyun-Hyu. He didn’t finish Lim but dominated the much larger Korean and kicked his legs to oblivion. Saffiedine is one of the more polished and technical fighters in the division. He won’t have many highlight reel knockouts but he’s as much a contender as most of the ones on this list.
Matt Brown (18-11, 11-5 UFC)
UFC Rank: #8
Before training in MMA, Matt Brown survived a heroin overdose thus prompting his nickname. He would then dedicate himself to martial arts and make his way to the UFC, where he would again survive a life-altering event, losing three in a row and 4 of 5 matches. That usually spells death sentence for most fighters but not the Immortal. Now a winner of six straight, with five of those coming by KO, the Immortal is in prime position to challenge the best in the division.
Rick Story (16-7, 9-5 UFC)
UFC Rank: #15
Once upon a time, Rick “Horror” Story was on his way to a title shot with huge wins over former title challenger Thiago “Pitbull” Alves and even Johny Hendricks. Then an upset loss to Charlie Brenneman and he never seemed to get back in rhythm having a spotty record since. But his most recent domination of Brian Ebersole, a result of training with Tristar has the wrestling standout back in the game. A rejuvenated Horror Story could spell terror for the rest of the division.
Lim Hyun-Gyu (12-4, 2-1 UFC)
UFC Rank: n/a
Too early? The Korean standout is relatively new to the UFC but already has two Fight of the Night awards along with two big knockouts. He most recently took Saffiedine to a five-round war that nearly saw him upset the former champion despite having his legs all-but kicked off. Lim is unranked in the division but with more polish, he’s sure to shoot up the rankings.
Brandon Thatch (11-1 2-0 UFC)
UFC Rank: n/a
Brandon “Rukus” Thatch may be a relative unknown to the casual UFC fanbase but he shouldn’t be for long. Though just having two UFC fights, he’s won both by stoppages. He’s the first to KO Justin “Fast Eddie” Edwards and just the 2nd to finish Paulo Thiago. Get this: 100% of the Karate master’s victories have all come by round 1 stoppage. Rukus is still new and thus unranked within the UFC but will look to keep his killer ways through 2014.
Watch for these other Killers:
Kim “Stun Gun” Dong-Hyun, Ryan LaFlare, Kelvin Gastelum, John “The Hitman” Hathaway, Mike “Quicksand” Pyle, Erick “Indio” Silva