In the second edition of my UFC rankings I will be taking a look at the Welterweight division.
Of course the prominent man in this division is champion Georges St.-Pierre. St.-Pierre, 28, is just now entering his prime and shows zero signs of letting up. The Canadian has reeled off six straight wins including four title defenses against some of the best welterweights in the world like Jon Fitch (24-3) who's only loss in 12 UFC fights is to GSP.
As the division enters the year of 2010, GSP remains a head above the competition. But in contrast to the last two years of 2008 and 2009, the division isn't stagnant.
In the past, the division, while deep, was really all about a few fighters: GSP, Alves, Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Matt Hughes. In 2010, new names like Dan Hardy, Paul Daley, Ben Saunders and Mike Swick will make the welterweight division perhaps the strongest one thru 10 as any in the UFC.
Champion: Georges St.-Pierre
No. 1 contender level: Thiago Alves, Jon Fitch, Dan Hardy
Two wins away: Mike Swick, Paul Daley, Martin Kampmann, Josh Koscheck
Three wins away (9-13 range): Anthony Johnson, Ben Saunders, Dustin Hazelett, Matt Hughes, Carlos Condit,
Bottom tier (14 and beyond): Matt Serra, Marcus Davis, Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Jake Ellenberger, DaMarques Johnson, Rory Markham, Phil Baroni
Analysis: St.-Pierre will open the 2010 campaign with a title defense against Dan Hardy. While "The Outlaw" certainly deserves a shot at GSP and has dangerous power in his hands, he should really prove no threat to the champion.
What will be interesting to see is whether the winner of the rematch between Thiago Alves and Jon Fitch will get their own rematch against GSP sometime in the summer. While both were dominated by the amazing GSP in their first fights, both remain the elite fighters of the division after the champion and could be the only ones ready for a summer bout with the champion.
After that it gets very interesting. As I noted above, the division now has some stellar young prospects to go with its mainstays. Guys like Ben Saunders (8-1-2) and Anthony "Rumble" Johnson (8-3) at 26 and 25 respectively, are ready to take steps up in competition and perhaps by the close of 2010, be in line for a title shot.
However, the guy in the limelight right now is Paul Daley, 26, who has stormed on the UFC scene with two knockout wins over top competition. Look for Daley to get a fall title shot with two more consecutive wins.
As we look at the future of the division and try to prognosticate who will be champion entering 2011, really the only question is whether St.-Pierre will still be in the division come the new year.
Not only is GSP getting pressure to take a step up in competition by moving to the middleweight division where a potential clash with Anderson Silva awaits, he is strongly considering competing with the Canadian national team as an olympic wrestler. Recently commenting on the situation, GSP noted it is a decision he is still weighing but also something that would require him to take 18 months or so off from MMA to focus on.
First, however, is the March 27th fight and everything will fall into place after. If you ask me though, GSP will see the challenges the 170 lb division is set to offer him in 2010 and beyond and stay in MMA.