60 plus days into 2012, barely scratching the surface of the new year, and the UFC has two of their stand-up powerhouse welterweights headlining the second FX offering this Friday night. Martin Kampmann and Thiago Alves have become household names at 170lbs, having fought an impressive list of peers, in a division where the talent runs extremely deep in the pool.
In fact, aside from the lightweight division, the UFC’s welterweight class in by far their most stacked. There are a steady amount of guys with enough drawing power to go along with skill to shoulder any type of event in need of top slot quality. The same can’t be said about the other divisions and it has shown throughout the last couple of years, leaving matchmaker Joe Silva with the headache of constantly rotating through the same few guys at any given weight.
Go beyond the ticket selling names of Dominic Cruz, Urijah Faber, Jose Aldo, Kenny Florian (who barely counts because he has only fought at 145lbs twice) at both bantamweight and featherweight and you’re left rummaging through two whole divisions filled with a magnitude of talent, but nobody who can successfully hold down a co and main event on a sizable card.
Even with a champion at the ripe old fighting age of 36—knocking on the door of 37 come April—the middleweight division has a fairly healthy lineup of contenders with names like Mark Munoz, Michael Bisping, Chael Sonnen, Yushin Okami, Wanderlei Silva, Vitor Belfort, Alan Belcher, Tim Boetsch and Chris Weidman. But, nobody comes close to having what it takes to emulate what Silva has accomplished as the kingpin of the division.
Moving on up, the light-heavyweight division plays host to a champion who is only 23 years old, has incredible fighting confidence and finishing skills, is a role model to future generations of prospective fighters and has dominated top 10 competition in his last four fights.
In addition, there are a few guys on the verge of transitioning into the lime light to fill potential top 10 slots like Ryan Bader, Phil Davis and Alexander Gustafsson. Even Rashad Evans is within the most formidable years of his career, fighting for the title in a few months.
Though, over the years this division has slowly corroded away from being the most sought after, having seen nearly all its marque names reach that inevitable stage of their careers that starts begging the obvious question of retirement.
Forrest Griffin, Shogun Rua and Rampage Jackson are old souls with rough mileage from an already long career in the game. Dan Henderson is clearly riding high on a second peaking period in his career—undeniably rare in mixed martial arts—but at 41, his time is around the corner. Rich Franklin, Lyoto Machida, Tito Ortiz and Lil Nog Nogueira are all well into their 30’s. They are a wildly popular generation headed towards the exit without a plentiful group of tantamount competitors to fill their void.
That leaves us with the heavyweights, which are scheduled to get an influx of talent from absorbing Strikeforce’s big boys later this year. After adding faces like Antonio Silva, Josh Barnett, and Daniel Cormier to the likes of Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum, this historically swallow division will have greatly improved its intrigue to fans. Unfortunately during any given year, this unstable roster is always a few guys short of being filled long standing contenders—clearly not an issue with the welterweights.
In contrast to every division—aside from lightweight—the 170 pounders swim in the deepest waters. There are simply more contenders at this weight than any other in the UFC. Just look at the welterweight battles that have taken place already this year. Johny Hendricks ended Jon Fitch’s night with one thunderous right hand in the first round, Carlos Condit edged Nick Diaz in an interim title fight, Josh Koscheck narrowly got past a very game Mike Pierce, Diego Sanchez and Jake Ellenberger put each other through a three round dog fight for a chance to become a top contender and fan favorite Yoshihiro Akiyama locked horns with former Strikeforce and EliteXC champ Jake Shields.
Despite already having a good portion of their top welterweights in action within the first two months of 2012, the UFC still has an equal amount of untapped talent ready to compete. There is such a rich diversity of fighters too—every corner is filled with capable guys. Aside from the belt holders and contenders, the division boasts crafty veterans like Brian Ebersole, Mike Pyle, Matt Sera and young studs looking to claim the torch in the coming years like Rory MacDonald, Stephen Thompson, Charlie Brenneman, John Hathaway, Che Mills, Erick Silva, and Rick Story.
And let’s not forget about BJ Penn and Matt Hughes, lingering legends with a few more octagon cameos left up their sleeves and arguably the most popular face of MMA the undisputed champ Georges St-Pierre.
Even bottom wrung warriors like Dan Hardy and Akiyama, both struggling with unheard of UFC losing streaks, have notable fan bases and remain exciting to watch.
Needless to say, the trend continues with a barn-burning display of the division’s best all around strikers in Kampmann and Alves tomorrow night on FX. This fight will no doubt produce a landscape for these guys to test each other’s technical prowess, determination, and power. If by chance, either guy decides to take the contest to the ground, fans keep winning because both the Dane and Brazilian have very unassuming skills in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu rarely seen in the cage—both having brown belts in the discipline.
Tomorrow’s main event is yet another example of two quality 170lbs fighters headlining the action with an intriguing balance of star power and skill.
Surely a few guys went unmentioned, but the general point stands—no other division is equally concentrated with so much active talent. It’s a dream scenario for both promoters and fans to have a surplus of names that can be shuffled around for high ticket main events.
The UFC welterweight division is setting the bar pretty high this year; time for the others to catch up.