- Brett Okamoto, ESPN Staff Writer
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OMAHA, Neb. -- Don’t look now, but the UFC welterweight division is quietly making a case for the promotion’s premier weight class.
Rising 170-pound prospect Jake Ellenberger made another splash Wednesday, outpointing a very determined Diego Sanchez in an early "Fight of the year" candidate. It was a big win for the 26-year-old and yet another significant fight in the division -- a division that’s been in big need of significant fights in years past.
As of late, this group of 170-pounders hasn’t exactly been raising heart rates. Not long ago, fans clamored for a fight between Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch not only because of the "teammate versus teammate" angle, but because there weren’t many intriguing options left for each of them.
Dan Hardy earned a title shot in 2010 based on a couple split decisions and a knockout of Rory Markham. Jake Shields earned one a year later for being really good in a different division, fighting for a different promotion.
Not only did the weight class fail in numerous attempts to dethrone champion Georges St. Pierre, for 33 straight rounds, it failed to earn a 10-9 score against him.
Not to say the division has been downright awful, but as far as areas where the UFC needed new blood, it was near the top.
It’s safe to say that new blood has arrived.
Ellenberger represents one of the most intriguing future opponents to St. Pierre. Ahead of him on the division’s ladder is interim champion Carlos Condit. Around him are Johny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald and Nick Diaz. Below him are still Josh Koscheck, John Fitch, Thiago Alves, Martin Kampmann and Jake Shields.
Basically, iron sharpens iron. And there’s finally a ton of iron at 170 pounds.
“There’s no easy fight, that’s for sure,” Ellenberger said. “[The division] is stacked with young, hungry guys. I’ve been that guy for awhile.”
The influx of new talent at welterweight has more than likely killed any shot of a super fight between St. Pierre and UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva -- but if that’s a casualty the UFC and its fans should be able to live with.
This division has played a major part in the organization since Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta purchased the company in 2001. Even though it may have never eclipsed the light heavyweight division in terms of popularity, it was widely viewed as arguably the deepest in talent.
“The welterweight division has been a massive division for us since the first day,” UFC president Dana White said. “From Pat Miletich to Matt Hughes to Carlos Newton.”
For the first time in years, the welterweight division is capable of generating the type of excitement it drew during those years. Part of that excitement comes from the perception one of these guys can beat St. Pierre.
“This guy [Ellenberger], in my opinion, is tougher than St. Pierre,” Sanchez said. “He has a better chin than GSP. This guy is strong and he’s a warrior.”