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Sunday, March 17, 2013
State of the welters post-UFC 158

By Josh Gross

Georges St-Pierre is the most dominant 170-pound mixed martial artist the sport has produced.

His supreme class was on display Saturday in Montreal during yet another shutout of an experienced fighter inside the Octagon. And so it has reached the point with St-Pierre and the welterweights that clean-slate title defenses are expected, and therefore dismissed as if they aren't incredibly impressive. Thus the division itself, long residing beside light heavyweight as the UFC's money class, is perceived to be less than interesting because no one can seem to touch the man at the top.

Well, stop all that.

Welterweight has never been better, and St-Pierre is lined up to face the most difficult challenges of his career. An emerging contingent of contenders appear capable of beating the French-Canadian fighter. And not just in the maybe-he'll-win-a-round-or-make-it-competitive sort of of way. Like actually stopping St-Pierre from doing what he wants, and maybe, just maybe, stopping him outright.

There are, in my estimation, three fighters at 170 right now that can do this: Johny Hendricks, Demian Maia, and Jake Ellenberger. And others appear to be legitimate threats. Carlos Condit is young enough and dangerous enough to pull something off if he gets another shot.

Tyron Woodley looks specially built to test GSP. You’d be a fool to sleep on Tarec Saffiedine, even if wrestling isn’t in his blood.

First up, according to UFC president Dana White, comes a deserving Hendricks, whose fight of the night brawl with Condit stacks up just fine against anything 2013 has produced thus far.


Hendricks comes off like a smaller, left-handed version of Dan Henderson. He believes he's the best. He simply has no fear. He can punch with anyone. And if a fighter is going to wrestle with St-Pierre, the physical two-time national champion wrestler from Oklahoma State would be the guy.

Hendricks is so dangerous that St-Pierre could come to the conclusion it's finally time to fight Anderson Silva. Don’t be surprised if that's how it went down, presuming Silva handles Chris Weidman in July. Both bouts provide the UFC and its fans everything they could ever want, though at this stage, crazy as it sounds, I'd rather see St-Pierre against Hendricks. To me it’s the best intra-divisional fight the UFC can make.

Ellenberger's first-round destruction of Nathan Marquardt signaled that "The Juggernaut" won't go away before all the hard work he's put in over the years pays off in a title shot. Should it come against St-Pierre, the champ will have to contend with a heavy hitter who can wrestle and scramble and do so for a high pace over a long stretch. Bottom line: No one wants to be hit by Ellenberger.

Then there's Maia, the Brazilian grappling master who made it look too easy against Fitch in February. Maia's entry into the class has been a delight. If he can own Dong Hyun Kim, Rick Story and Fitch on the canvas, doesn't he at least seem like a fighter who can hang with St-Pierre? Sure does to me. At a minimum, he's not a contender the current champion will want to spend much time on the floor with, because Maia is that good at jiu-jitsu.

Since regaining the belt in 2007, St-Pierre has lost only seven of the 43 rounds he's fought in the Octagon -- that includes duplicates based on three judges scoring a contest. He's essentially been perfect. But what's done is done. There are new threats on the horizon, a beckoning group eager for a chance.

As that gets sorted out, UFC welterweights will jockey for their spot. UFC 158, which featured 12 170-pounders, offered a revealing showcase for what's to come. A warhorse like Rick Story looked great. A kid like Jordan Mein made a statement in his UFC debut. A veteran seeking new life like Patrick Cote squeezed by, while his opponent, Bobby Voelker, looked good too. Rory MacDonald, who was originally scheduled to fight on Saturday but fell off the card with an injury, has all the tools. And on and on.

The division that produced Pat Miletich and Matt Hughes has never been better, and that seems indisputable.