Now that International Fight Week is over, we have a lot to talk about.
UFC 200 became the largest event in MMA history, three new champions were crowned, Brock Lesnar won in his return and the UFC was sold for $4 billion. With all the excitement that has taken place over the last week, it is important to take stock and see where the sport stands. Here is the state of the UFC's welterweight division.
If Robbie Lawler has shown MMA fans anything, it is that he puts on exciting fights. Not only did he earn the honor of winning the 2015 Fight of the Year against Rory MacDonald, he has also made an argument for the 2016 award when he defeated Carlos Condit back in January. He is now set up to take on Tyron Woodley at the end of the month at UFC 201. Woodley is coming off an 18-month layoff that saw him calling for his chance at the belt after a Performance of the Night honor against Dong Hyun Kim and beating TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 183.
Though both of these fighters will be focusing on the fight ahead, the winner may already have their next opponent lined up. No. 1 Stephan Thompson has been on an absolute tear through the 170-pound division. "Wonderboy" has won seven straight inside the Octagon which included a dismantling of former champion Johny Hendricks. His most recent fight saw him methodically beat MacDonald which all but guaranteed he would have the next title shot.
The loss to Thompson has left MacDonald in a funky place within the division. While he nearly won the belt last year in an incredible war with Lawler, he was picked apart when he fought Wonderboy. He also broke his nose again, which will take some time to heal. MacDonald has proven that he belongs among the divisions elite, but he has lost to the two top prospects and can't seem to break through that barrier. With Thompson waiting for his title shot, Woodley and Lawler squaring off, Condit and No. 3 Demian Maia fighting at UFC 202 and MacDonald's broken nose, it may be a while before Rory can face a top five fighter.
Two other exciting prospects within the welterweight division are Gastelum and Neil Magny. Gastelum jumped six spots in the rankings after beating Hendricks at UFC 200 and Magny has won 10 of his last 11 fights. Magny will next face Kim, but then there are a lot of questions for this two fighters. With the top five congested, they may be on the outside looking in for some time. They are likely to face the loser of the Maia-Condit fight or MacDonald once he is able to fight again. The two could square off themselves considering the won FOTN in a split decision win for Magny, but that would not help either of them advance in the division.
The rest of the top 10 has men who are in a bit of an identity crisis. Hendricks has now lost his last two fights to drop to No. 8 in the rankings and recently missed weight at UFC 200. The former champion seems to have lost what he had as a champion. The will to push through fights. No. 9 Matt Brown has lost three of his last four after previously going on a seven-fight win streak. Whereas he use to always be a person who could challenge for the belt, he has definitely digressed in his MMA career. These two men may need to fight each other to see which one of them, if either, can survive now that the division is more competitive than it has ever been.
No. 10 Rick Story missed all of 2015 after a near career-ending injury in his neck and shoulder. Though he won his last fight, it is still not clear if his skill level is back to where it was prior to his hiatus. But he will be facing the most exciting new prospect at 170 in Donald Cerrone. While Cowboy has fought for most of his career at lightweight, he has spent his last two as a welterweight, winning both. The two will next meet at UFC 202, a card that currently has four welterweight bouts — if you don't count the rematch between featherweight Conor McGregor and lightweight Nate Diaz.
Between UFC 201 and 202, the landscape of the division can be completely different. We could have a new champion, Cerrone can cement himself as a true welterweight, Wonderboy will know who he is fighting next, and MacDonald may have finally finished his soul searching. While there is a lot of movement on the horizon across all of the UFC's divisions, welterweight may be the most volatile at this point. The next couple of months will be amongst the most exciting for the 170ers in the history of the weight class.
(Image via MMAWeekly.com)