There’s been a lot of talk about who the next #1 welterweight contender is following UFC 171, so much so that we have all but neglected to give the division’s new champ, Johny Hendricks, his due credit for outlasting Robbie Lawler in an absolute war to secure said title last Saturday. Some are saying that Tyron Woodley should get the next shot, regardless of the circumstances that led to his TKO win over Carlos Condit. Other, less creative individuals are calling for an immediate Hendricks/Lawler rematch, and a few loons out there are honestly, unbelievably, rallying to give Nick Diaz another completely unearned title shot. A blindly-devoted, if illogical bunch, us MMA fans oft are.
But one thing’s for the certain, the UFC’s welterweight division — and specifically, the claim of being the true #1 contender — is open for the taking once again. So to clear up any and all confusion regarding this talent-rich division, we’ve decided to definitively rank the top five contenders using only the power of Johny Vision™ (warning: may cause diarrhea, dip-spit mouth, and beard face).
#5 - Carlos Condit
Up until the point that Carlos Condit’s knee decided to implode against Tyron Woodley, well, he was losing his fight with Tyron Woodley. The notoriously slow starter was getting off second and failing to outmaneuver the quick hands of Woodley in most of their early exchanges and was taken down twice in the first round. But getting dominated? Hardly.
When looking over the welterweight division’s list of fighters, it would be hard to find more than a few guys who stand a chance of beating “The Natural Born Killer” on even his worst day. With wins over Rory MacDonald, Nick Diaz, Dong Hyun-Kim, and close losses to Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks, Condit still maintains his top five ranking despite dropping three of his past four fights. A crazy notion perhaps, but a fair one when discussing a perennial upper-echelon contender like Condit. And honestly, we’d still pick a healthy Carlos over a couple of the guys we are about to rank ahead of him.
#4 – Hector Lombard
The fact is, a win over Jake Shields — no matter how ineffective or exhausted or truly garbage-ass he looked — is a win worthy of consideration. Few of us could say that we saw Lombard heading for anything but “Biggest UFC Busts” territory after his first three fights — a pair of unforgettable in their terribleness decision losses to Tim Boetsch and Yushin Okami sandwiched around a first round KO over Rousimar Palhares. And while it’s true that Lombard is still struggling to find consistency in the excitement department since dropping to welterweight, he surely isn’t having any trouble in the win department.
After starching Nate Marquardt at UFC 166, Lombard looked as if he was destined for another first round knockout against Shields last weekend. He had bloodied up the former title challenger inside of two minutes, had defended all of his takedowns, and had even landed a beautiful judo toss of his own. It was absolute dominance; perhaps the best round Lombard has had in the UFC (that didn’t result in a finish).
But then, he just kind of coasted. He played it safe. For a man that is known as such a mean SOB even among MMA fighters, Lombard seemed all too willing to turn on the autopilot for two rounds. Unfortunately, we were all too busy criticizing Lombard to recognize that he had made quite a definitive statement with his performance, lackluster though it may have been. Let me ask you this: Aside from GSP, who has ever dominated Jake Shields on the ground like that? Demian Maia couldn’t. Tyron Woodley sure as hell couldn’t. But Hector Lombard did, and with ease.
Title-ready Lombard may not be, but worthy of consideration? Surely.
#3 – Rory MacDonald
This ranking seems fairly obvious. MacDonald is currently riding a winning streak of one fight, but arguably holds more notable UFC wins than anyone on this list: Maia, Ellenberger, Penn, Nate Diaz, etc. His only loss in the past three years came via a split decision loss to the guy who just narrowly lost a title bid last weekend, so where else should he belong? We say match him up with Lombard next and have Dana White declare it a kinda-sorta-maybe #1 contender fight (a.k.a “not a #1 contender fight”) in a half-hearted attempt to generate interest. Fuck yeah, world domination!
#2 – Tyron Woodley
Despite the fact that he shredded his opponents knee with a takedown/leg kick combo last weekend, Tyron Woodley might have had the worst luck of them all at UFC 171. His win over Condit has already been all but declared as a push in fan’s eyes — a freak accident on par with Anderson Silva’s leg break, to speak in forced comparisons — regardless of the fact that he was taking it to Condit in seven minutes prior.
That said, Woodley has now won three out of his past four fights, over Jay Hieron (heh), Josh Koscheck (in his second straight KO loss and third straight overall), and Carlos Condit via injury. Throw in Woodley’s relatively reserved persona and you don’t exactly end up with the ingredients for a monster pay-per-view. And that is perhaps the most important factor in these post-Sonnen vs. Jones times.
#1 – Robbie Lawler
Again, this seems relatively simple. Lawler holds wins over the #3 guy (according to the recently-established mother of all welterweight rankings) and a former title challenger in Koscheck (his first to come by KO since 2009), and lost a fight with Hendricks that was essentially decided by one takedown in the final minute of the fifth round. Until someone proves us otherwise, Lawler is still the guy to beat at 170 lbs.
Does that mean he should receive an immediate rematch with Hendricks? God no. But matching Lawler up with Woodley next and giving the winner a title shot makes a ton of sense to us. As with Alexander Gustafsson vs. Jon Jones, pairing each fighter up with a worthy opponent instead of immediately rematching them gives the potential rematch some time to simmer (if all goes according to plan) while playing against the idea that the UFC has become a heartless, money-grubbing corporation that hands out title shots regardless of merit or even logical deduction. Everybody wins, you guys!
Tyron Woodley makes the most sense from a time-sensitive standpoint, yes, but there’s no need to rush the newly-crowned champion into another fight before he can even start to build his brand as champion. And in a welterweight division that is still relying on GSP and Nick Diaz to generate interest, Johny Hendricks is a good a star as any.
Of course, this can only mean that Lawler vs. Diaz II has already been booked with a title shot on the line, and we’ve simply yet to hear word of it. And to be completely honest, we’d watch that fight. We’d watch the sh*t out of it.