UFC Welterweight in 2017: The Promotion’s Deepest Division

The UFC welterweight division will headline the second pay-per-view event of the year, giving the promotion’s deepest weight class the spotlight early in 2017.

Featuring talent throughout the division, the 170-pound weight class is as stacked as any in the UFC. From top to bottom, interesting matchups are everywhere, and that’s not stopping this year. Taking the spotlight while the likes of Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor, and Jon Jones are away, welterweight will be the promotion’s most exciting division throughout 2017.

At UFC 209, Stephen Thompson will get the rematch that seemed obvious, yet still looked like it might not happen. Officially announced in mid-January, Woodley-Thompson II looked to be in danger. There was talk of McGregor, Nick Diaz, and even Michael Bisping taking on Woodley. In the end, both parties reached the decision most fans wanted, and UFC 209 is the beneficiary.

The duo put on a “Fight of the Night” performance at UFC 205, with the bout ending in a majority draw after five rounds. Many were calling for the immediate rematch, and the promotion is in need of a fight that’ll draw viewers. With major stars mentioned before out for large chunks of 2017, a high-profile main event was a must early in the year.

Unfortunately, there are some losers in the equation. Namely: Demian Maia. The awesomely-skilled Brazilian jiu-jitsu master is on a roll, and by any measure, deserves a title shot. He extended his unbeaten streak to six fights last year, in as impressive fashion as possible. In his most recent bout, Maia defeated Carlos Condit via submission in the first two minutes of the fight.

Maia is handling the situation with class. In response to the announcement, Maia tweeted his support for the fight, and added he hoped for the winner. He’ll continue to be patient, and the 39-year-old knows he’ll never be closer to a shot at the welterweight belt.

So close, that he turned down a fight with former champion Robbie Lawler. Lawler is still looking for his first fight since losing the title to Woodley at UFC 201. He was slated to take on Donald Cerrone at UFC 205, before the fight was quickly removed. Lawler wanted more time to recuperate from his knockout loss to Woodley, and we can’t blame him.

In his two fights before taking on Woodley, Lawler battled Condit and former UFC welterweight contender Rory MacDonald in a couple of the promotion’s best bouts in recent memory. With some rest, and a new camp after moving from American Top Team, we’re interested to see what type of Lawler we see in 2017.

The last person that Lawler defeated, Condit, is also recuperating from a tough 2016. After falling to Lawler in a decision, Condit lost to Maia in fast fashion. Condit questioned his future post-fight, and we’re hoping he returns in 2017. He still has plenty to offer one of the most interesting divisions in the promotion. Potential bouts with Diaz, Cerrone, Lawler, or the rest of the top of the 170-pound weight class are just fine with us.

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While Condit might not have had the greatest 2016, Cerrone was one of the fighters of the year. Going 4-0 since making his move to welterweight from lightweight permanent, “Cowboy” defeated Matt Brown at UFC 206 to cap one of the best years of his career.

He’s fighting Jorge Masvidal at UFC Denver in late-January, looking to continue his hot stretch. Should he win, a matchup with a top-five opponent (cough *Robbie Lawler* cough) would make the most sense for his next bout.

Whenever Cerrone fights, fans are interested. But there are few fighters fans are more excited to see fight this year than Nick Diaz. So excited, that the UFC was reportedly prepared to offer him a title-fight with Woodley in his first fight in the Octagon since January of 2015. Diaz allegedly turned the fight down, wanting more money. Although he hasn’t recorded a victory since defeating BJ Penn in 2011, Diaz’s draw is undeniable.

UFC Nick Diaz vs. Anderson Silva

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Following the year which saw his younger brother skyrocket into superstardom, Diaz is returning to a much different UFC than when he left. New ownership, new weigh-ins, USADA, and more have shifted the landscape of MMA.  Now, whether or not Diaz deserves a shot at the belt doesn’t matter. It’s about whether or not fans will buy the PPV of the event, and you can count us among those who will be watching Diaz’s return, regardless of the circumstances.

There is no shortage of intriguing options for Diaz. Or anyone in the running for the 170-pound title. Especially when/if former champion Georges St. Pierre comes back to the UFC. The last few years of “will he/won’t he” haven’t been fun for anyone. Last year, in particular, was frustrating, as it looked as though GSP would finally be making his return at UFC 206.

St. Pierre last fought in 2013, before voluntarily vacating the welterweight title in December of the same year. Another fighter that would help the new ownership sell plenty of PPVs in 2017, GSP’s return is something everybody should be able to get behind. Whether it’s Reebok, other sponsorships, or whatever else is holding up his return, St. Pierre should be competing in the Octagon this year. Rematches with Diaz and Condit are there, as well as fresh fights with Woodley, Thompson, and more.

These top-tier fighters have put the welterweight division at the forefront of the promotion, and there’s more on the way in 2017. Former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos is making the move to 170-pounds after a down year in 2016. Losing his belt to former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in July, dos Anjos followed up the loss with another, falling to Tony Ferguson in a decision.

The Brazilian faced issues with weight cuts earlier this year. Fresh opponents in a new division, one where dos Anjos can fight top-talent and not destroy his body to do so, is a move we hope other fighters continue to make in the future. Fighters like Johny Hendricks.

Hendricks, a former welterweight champion, is also moving to a more natural weight class. He missed weight at 170-pounds in two of three fights in 2016, going 0-3 with losses to Thompson, Gastelum, and Neil Magny. No slouches by any stretch, but Hendricks was expecting better results, and the weight cuts were obviously taking their toll. Moving up to middleweight seems to make the most sense, and we’ll be watching the former champ’s move to 185 in 2017.

After former champions and top-contenders, the welterweight division boasts plenty of interesting and entertaining fighters to follow. Both Magny and Dong Hyun Kim closed out the year with victories at UFC 207, defeating Hendricks and Tarec Saffiedine respectively. Both fighters are likely due top-10 opponents to begin 2017, looking propel their rise up the ranks this year.

Masvidal is a 170-pound fighter who already has a high-profile matchup lined up for the new year. Taking on Cerrone at UFC Denver in late-January, a win for Masvidal would be his third in a row. Defeating Ross Pearson at UFC 201 and Jake Ellenberger in December of 2016, the Miami-native is on a roll and the fight with Cerrone should be a great one.

Other fighters like Rick Story and Gunnar Nelson will be hoping for more consistent success this year. Story returned to the Octagon in 2016 after an 18-month layoff, going 1-1 with a win over Saffiedine and a loss to Cerrone. Nelson meanwhile went 1-0 last year, submitting Albert Tumenov in May. Faced with injuries in recent years, both fighters will need to be more available and consistent in the Octagon in order to climb up the already packed rankings at 170-pounds.

We’re also hoping the UFC can re-sign welterweight contender Lorenz Larkin. Larkin fought three times last year, going 2-1 and finishing 2016 with a couple of impressive victories. Defeating Masvidal in May, Larkin followed the win up with another, earning the victory over Magny via first round TKO at UFC 202 before his contract with the promotion expired.

Inarguably inconsistent throughout his UFC career, Larkin seems to have turned a corner. The California-native is 30-years-old, and if he has more performances like the most recent we’ve seen ahead of him, he belongs in the UFC. Especially given the amount of talent and made-for-TV matchups available at welterweight.

All in all, the welterweight division provides more for the fight fan than any other in the UFC in 2017. Some major stars, like GSP and Nick Diaz, may be currently missing. And guys like Hendricks and Larkin may not be back. But with former lightweight champion dos Anjos joining the seemingly endless list of top-tier talent competing for Woodley’s 170-pound title, all eyes are on welterweight this year.

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