Nick Diaz vs KJ Noons” src=”http://www.cagepotato.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Nick_Diaz_vs_KJ_Noons-e1299771478398.jpg” alt=” width=”490″ height=”326″ />
(Lightweights, man. Can’t live with them, can’t unnecessarily pad your record without them. Pic: Heavy)
One way or another, the welterweight division will look dramatically different come the end of UFC 129. Either Mike Goldberg will be screaming about how “the Jake Shields era has begun in the UFC” while the Skrap Pack carries him around the cage on their shoulders, or GSP will be standing in line at the all-you-can eat pasta bar wondering how he’s ever going to pack on enough pounds to look like a credible middleweight. No matter what, the landscape will be changed.
Either that, or GSP will just blow through Shields like Tank Abbott through a 4-pack of Budweiser Cheladas and decide he wants to stay at welterweight (and just keep beating up the Thiago Alveses, Jon Fitches and Josh Koschecks of the world) until his RushFit stock options mature enough to put him on Easy Street. To us at least, the first option is starting to sound more and more acceptable each day. In spite of that impending shakeup, we present to you our picks for the top five welterweights in MMA. These lists will only be current for the next 60 days or so, so get them while they’re hot …
1. Georges St. Pierre: A champion so dominant that I eagerly await his exit from the division. If he beats Jake Shields in April, there’s nothing left for him at 170. Time to swell up to 185 and make a run at another belt.
2. Jon Fitch: I look at his recent draw against BJ Penn as karmic retribution for always, always leaving it in the hands of the judges. (If only Australia followed Stockton Rules!) Still, you can’t argue with the man’s resume, which includes wins over top 170′ers like Thiago Alves (twice), Paulo Thiago, and Diego Sanchez, as well as every other UFC welterweight that GSP never got around to beating up. I don’t have to enjoy it, but I respect it.
3. Nick Diaz: The anti-Fitch, in every way. He favors boxing and jiu-jitsu over wrestling. He’s a fight finisher. He’s a rambling trash-talker, or an uncomfortable mute, depending on what mood he’s in. He’s got a mean streak, and he’s far from humble. His strength of schedule might not always be top notch, yet he always comes to fight, and impresses in every outing. What’s not to love?
4. Jake Shields: Yeah, I know he’s the UFC’s No. 1 welterweight contender right now, but keep in mind that a narrow split-decision over Martin Kampmann is his only accomplishment at 170 over the last two years. And I don’t have high hopes for his performance against GSP, given how ineffective he looked in his Octagon debut.
5. Carlos Condit: Guys like Josh Koscheck, Thiago Alves, and Dong Hyun Kim are in the mix, but I’m giving the five-spot to the Natural Born Killer, whose current three-win streak includes a knockout of a former title contender (Dan Hardy) and a come-from-behind TKO over a then-undefeated Canadian prodigy (Rory MacDonald).
1. Georges St. Pierre: Unless Nick Diaz climbs over the side of the Octagon and hits GSP over the head with a chair at UFC 129, it isn’t likely that the French Canadian is going to lose against Jake Shields. A win over Shields will make six title defenses for the UFC welterweight champ — one short of the mark set by his predecessor Matt Hughes and two shy of Anderson Silva‘s record. Besides Shields, he has beaten every fighter below him. The only problem with St-Pierre is that he only fights twice per year and that we don’t get to see his in-cage mastery more.
2. Jon Fitch: As much as I wanted to argue against Fitch being in the top three, I just couldn’t do it given his stats and record. He’s only ever lost to GSP (unless you’re of the opinion that BJ won at UFC 127) and he has beaten a laundry list of tough opponents including Diego, Paulo Thiago, Thiago Alves and Mike Pierce. Sure, his wins are typically less than exciting to watch, but unfortunately rankings don’t take into account excitement or else our lists would all look *very* different.
3. Nick Diaz: I found it tough to agree with Ben that Diaz deserves the number three slot, considering his most recent wins at welterweight have come against Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos, Marius Zaromskis and KJ Noons. Sure, he dominated all three fighters, but Noons is a lightweight and Santos only had one win as a welterweight, granted it was over Zaromskis, but I think we’re seeing that he too was likely over-hyped considering the overall level of opponents he beat to win the Cage Rage and DREAM belts. I wanted to say Jake Shields was a more suitable candidate for the slot, but considering he has only fought at 170 once since 2008 and he barely won the fight, I couldn’t argue in his favor. I always get flack for incorporating “ifs” into my picks, but I think Diaz would beat Shields if they fought and I think he would beat most of the UFC’s welterweights if he were back in the promotion.
4. Jake Shields: Saying Shields isn’t a top welterweight contender would get you booted out of a Jonathan Snowden book signing, but if you are a level-headed person and you look at the facts, Shields *technically* shouldn’t be currently ranked in the top five of anyone’s list considering who he’s fought the past three years and at what weight. Analysts love to give bonus points for guys who fight and dominate at a class above their natural weight, which is why Shields is so highly regarded. Sure he beat Kampmann, Daley, Pyle and Condit, but most of those wins happened between three and five years ago. Still, looking at the current state of the 170-pound class and the number of contenders coming off of losses, it’s hard to argue that anyone else should be ranked above the former Strikeforce middleweight champ.
5. Martin Kampmann: I’m of the opinion that Kampmann beat Sanchez and that he was one successful takedown defense away from beating Shields. Add to that the fact that he beat Carlos Condit and Paulo Thiago and you really can’t argue that anyone deserves the slot more.
1. Georges St. Pierre: I mean, duh.
2. Jon Fitch: Perhaps Fitch’s greatest sin was simply being born at the wrong time. It must be its own special little brand of hell to be the best 170-pound fighter in the world except for the guy who is the best 170-pound fighter in the world and likely the greatest welterweight of all time, bar none. Especially when you’re as unpopular as Fitch seemingly is, while the only guy better than you is a cute and cuddly French Canadian matinee idol who is beloved by all. Nonetheless, I believe Fitch still has the most credible claim to the No. 2 slot. That hiccup against BJ Penn at UFC 127 was likely just that, more owing to a great game plan from the former lightweight champ than anything else. If they did it again, I don’t think it’d be that close.
3. Nick Diaz: Not to go all broken-record on you, but so long as Diaz continues to be the big, socially-challenged fish in Strikeforce’s comparatively shallow talent puddle it’s totally impossible to tell how good he really is. This much is clear though: He may be dispatching lightweights (KJ Noons) and B-listers (Cyborg), but he’s doing it in style.
4. Josh Koscheck: Kos pretty thoroughly got his lunch eaten by GSP last December but, really, what’s the shame in that? Truth is, aside from St. Pierre, our blond antihero is still a threat to beat anybody on this list. He’ll be in rebuilding mode for a bit, but when I start thinking about the other guys I could be ranking here – Alves, Condit, BJ, Diego – I start to feel more and more comfortable with the Notorious K.O.S’s inclusion.
5. Jake Shields: If not for a couple of questionable decisions, we could be debating Martin Kampmann’s chances against GSP right now. Instead, the Dane is 2-2 in his last four fights and Shields will get the chance to ruin Dana White’s 2011 by attempting to spoil The Potential Biggest Fight in the History of the Sport. For my money, the former Strikeforce middleweight champ just doesn’t have the tools to sideline St. Pierre, but until he gets his chance I don’t see a logical explanation for excluding him from this list.