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The Fab Fifteen – Welterweights

You’ve experienced “Brocktober” – now comes “Ranksgiving”!

When I became an editor at Five Ounces of Pain, one of my first orders of business was to re-establish the site’s rankings. Throughout this week I will be providing a list of fifteen Mixed Martial Artists currently competing in a specific weight-class with the intention of subjectively sorting out the involved names from “exceptional” to “pretty frakkin’ good!”

As already alluded to, I’m well-aware that these kinds of lists are not doctrine and won’t insult you by pretending my set of names should be the mirror reflection of your own. In some divisions, it’s difficult to determine who the #1 fighter actually is and the reality is that a sport like MMA thrives on its unpredictable nature. When two finely-tuned individuals step into a cage and let loose the difference between consciousness and looking up at the ceiling is a matter of milliseconds no matter who is ranked where.

That being said, I invite you all to join in on the discussion in the “Comments” section below the article.

Welterweight is a tricky poundage to ponder. While a certain Canadian who recently got an ESPN commercial appears to be the easy favorite for the chief slot, even he has faltered in the past to lesser opposition and has a newly-signed, former middleweight champ hot on his heels. There’s also a sneering, sublimely talented Boilermaker and a son of Stockton to consider towards the top. The rest seem to be poised for “5A” and “5B” designations or are at least skilled enough to dethrone even the best 170er out there under the right circumstances.

And away we go…

1. Georges St. Pierre (20-2)

Was there ever any doubt St. Pierre would be sitting atop the list? While GSP has recently earned a reputation for essentially being too good, and capitalizing on his ability to control opponents in an intelligent fashion, the truth is he’s turned in finishing performances in three of his last six fights and nearly submitted Dan Hardy. It would have also been hard to blame the corners of Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves had they thrown in the towel after the physical abuse each man took at the limbs of St. Pierre.

2. Jake Shields (26-4-1)

Shields receives a lot of criticism based on his approach to competition but his place in the division isn’t based on entertainment value; it’s the result of…well…results. The former Strikeforce champ has racked an impressive number of notches up on his record including wins over Yushin Okami – currently next in line for a middleweight title-shot – and former WEC welterweight champ Carlos Condit on the same night in 2006. Shields also has victories over respected 185-pounders like Dan Henderson, Robbie Lawler, and Jason “Mayhem” Miller. He may not have looked sharp against Martin Kampmann, but he was coming off an extended absence from 170 and still got the win over a “Top 10” adversary. He’s beaten other tough welters and hasn’t lost is nearly six years. Need I say more?

3. Jon Fitch (23-3)

The fan in me wants to rank Fitch at the two-spot but the realist in me doesn’t feel he deserves it. While I’m absolutely an avid supporter of the AKA front-man, he hasn’t shown the ability to finish fighters he should be a definite step above like Mike Pierce, Chris Wilson, or Kuniyoshi Hironaka. He’s a solid #3, but Shields has tapped or TKO’d eight of the last eleven individuals he’s fought and for that fact alone he deserves to come out a nose ahead in the race.

4. Nick Diaz (23-7)

As wonderful as it would be to judge “2010 Diaz” against the essentially 75% of this list competing for the UFC, I can only go by what he’s done outside of the Octagon and as such he definitely deserves to be in the “Top 5”. He’s won eight straight and twelve of his last thirteen while only having been legitimately finished a single time in his thirty-fight career. He’s a threat when standing, or if action hits the canvas, and is more rounded than Fitch or Shields in that regard.

5. Josh Koscheck (15-4)

This is the point the rankings become a little murky for me. Koscheck is only 4-2 in his last six fights and hasn’t beaten a consensus “Top 10” guy since perhaps Diego Sanchez in 2007 (while losing to the other three he faced). Still, he’s an extremely skilled wrestler with good submission skills and the ability to leave an opponent rubber-legged with ever-improving hands.

6. Carlos Condit (26-5)

Condit may deserve to supplant Koscheck in the “Top 5”, as the only blemish on his record since June 2006 is a split-decision loss to the #9 guy on these rankings. However, he hasn’t faced quite as many “Top 10” guys as the polarizing Ultimate Fighter alumnus/coach so it’s difficult to know exactly where he should fall. Still, Condit has won three consecutive fights since the Kampmann loss, including a first-round knockout of the man below him on this list, and had his hands raised in the end leven of the last twelve times he’s entered the ring.

7. Dan Hardy (23-8)

I’m not sure how I can justify Hardy in this spot with back-to-back losses other than to say his relative competition for the designation have also hit hard times over the last 12-18 months and each defeat came to a “Top 10” welterweight. Minus the two losses, and an accidental groin-kick DQ three years ago, the Brit hasn’t lost while racking up eleven victories during the span. He seems to be improving each time out in terms of wrestling and has an underrated ground-game to compliment his speed/striking. As long as he continues to progress, I wouldn’t say he’s too far away from putting it all together and making another legitimate run at the belt.

8. Thiago Alves (17-7)

Also victim of two losses in his previous pair of fights, Alves has beaten a number of highly touted opponents including a trio of competitors on this list. His main fault seems to be an ability to handle high-level wrestling (or the necessary weight-cut to make the 171-pound welterweight limit). If he can figure out a way to slim down without sacrificing his explosiveness, not to mention stuff a hotly-contested takedown, there’s no reason he can’t beat anyone he stands opposite from in the cage.

9.Martin Kampmann (17-4)

Kampmann’s only issue seems to be with taking power-shots to the chin and, frankly, how many fighters can eat leather without crumpling at some point? He took Shields to the limit at UFC 121 and has looked sharp at welterweight since dropping down from a successful stint at 185 pounds. The Dane’s Muay Thai is as crisp as a pretzel and sometimes overshadows his ability to tangle foes up like the baked snack too, as he’s never been tapped in twenty-one fights while having almost an equal number of submissions on his record as he does TKOs.

10. Matt Hughes (45-8)

Like many of you, I found myself starting to believe in Hughes divisional resurgence and was shocked, though satisfied, with the ending to his trilogy with B.J. Penn this past weekend. However, he did beat Ricardo Almeida and Matt Serra prior to the loss, not to mention Chris Lytle before running into GSP and agreeing to fight an overweight Alves on late notice. Hughes has found a lot of success against a number of tough opponents and will remain relevant as long as he fights due to his blend of strength, cardio, and wrestling. The 37-year old may not be able to take a clean strike as well as he might have 5-10 years ago but he will always be a major mountain for any welterweight to climb.

11. Diego Sanchez (22-4)

There’s no question Sanchez is a threat to be reckoned with when he’s focused on the task at hand. He brings great intensity in the cage along with multi-level stand-up and fast, powerful submissions. Still, “Nightmare” hasn’t QUITE been able to get over every highly-ranked hurdle he’s encountered in his career but has wins over some top names like Paulo Thiago, Ken Florian, and the afore-mentioned Diaz. He also took Fitch to a split-decision. I’m willing to write off the Hathaway loss to his return from 155 to 170 but Sanchez was smashed by Penn and still cleanly fell to Fitch, not to mention Koscheck, regardless of how the “L” came about.

12. Tyron Woodley (7-0)

Woodley is the only name you’ll find among the fifteen listed here who has earned his spot based on potential more than who he’s actually beaten. Though none of his seven victories have come against especially notable opponents, “T-Wood” has looked exceptional in every outing. The former Missouri State Champion wrestler has great takedowns, is quick, and can fight from any position. He also reminds me a bit of St. Pierre when the current divisional king first came into the UFC based on pure athleticism.

13. Paul Daley (25-9-2)

Regardless of what you think about Daley’s post-fight sucker-punch of Koscheck, “Semtex” is still a supremely talented striker who has taken out his share of tough fighters. He’s a great addition to Strikeforce and should turn in some classics starting as soon as next week with his upcoming match-up against Scott Smith.

14. Paulo Thiago (13-3)

Similar to a few of the folks who are ranked higher, Thiago is coming off consecutive losses to “Top 10” competition. Dropping decisions to Sanchez, Kampmann, and Fitch a few fights earlier has far less impact than it might if any of the defeats had involved a submission/TKO. It’s also worth considering that Thiago can’t train full time due to his commitments as part of a special Brazilian Police unit.

15. Chris Lytle (30-17-5)

Lytle is still seeking a “career defining” win in the Octagon, which is why he’s this low on the list, but I wouldn’t be surprised to seem him attain at least one of them over the next year or two. The Indiana fireman has won five of his last six fights and is stiff test in any area of the ring. Consider this – Lytle has never been cleanly finished in his 50+ fight career. He’s lost bouts due to cuts and fifteen based on judges’ scorecards but never by a submission or strike-based TKO. It’s a remarkable statistic and one I’d challenge anyone to top.

Honorable Mentions

B.J. Penn (16-7-1): Though Penn’s knockout of Hughes was jaw-droppingly impressive, it was his first win at 170 pounds in six-and-a-half years for Baby Jay. If he can beat Fitch in Februray at UFC 127, which is far from a guarantee in my opinion, he’ll obviously jump up a lot higher in the rankings.
John Hathaway (14-1): The British youngster may have been exposed against Mike Pyle in his first career loss last month, but Hathaway has taken out some tough foes in his short career and appears to have a ton of upside based on the skills he’s exhibited thus far, not to mention his size and age.
Jake Ellenberger (22-5): The 25-year old has won six of his last seven with the lone stumble being a razor-thin decision loss to Condit in which he nearly finished “The Natural Born Killer” on more than one occasion. He’s also beaten the likes of Pyle, John Howard, and Pat Healy, and has upside for days when it comes to how far he could go in MMA if he gets minimally better in all areas.

20 COMMENTS
  • Creature says:

    i pretty much agree with most of this.. i persoanlly believe fitch should be #2 and lytle should be somewhat higher up but other than that. i dont have much beef with this article lol

  • MCM says:

    Well, like you said Mr. Conlan, not everyone will agree when it comes to rankings. Although you have done an excellent job for the most part.

    It’s always tough when you try to factor in How a fighter performed and not just what their W/Lrecord is. With the “How” in mind, I would have to put Kampan in the top 5 or at very least the #6 spot. I might also drop Condit down a notch or two considering how close 3 out of 4 of his UFC fights have gone.
    I also understand the desire to rank based on potential but I believe Woodley has yet to be tested well enough to get an accurate measurement of potential where as (coincidentally two of Condits opponents) Ellenberger and Rory Macdonald have.

    Again, these are based on performances inside the Octagon and not simply W/L record. After all, Bones Jones has a legitimate loss on his record to Hamill, but no one who saw the fight would put Hamill above Jones.

  • Niv says:

    It’s a good list, GSP heads above everyone else, I like Shields at #2 as well, his record speaks for itself and the drop to 170 lbs had to have played a significant role in his performance against Kampman. I honestly think Shields will pose the greatest threat to GSP, though I still think he’ll get dominated.

    The one pick I don’t like is Koscheck at 5, I’d personally rank both Alves and Condit ahead of him and it would be a toss up bewteeen him and Hardy.

    I look forward to seeing GSP completely destroy Koscheck, I know anything can happen in mma, but this is as close to a gimme as it gets in my books.

  • Rece Rock says:

    I know the rankings are subjective and no disrespect but Diaz at # 4…? Don’t get me wrong Nick brings the fight BUT his Last 5 fights were against …

    Noons ( jumped up in weight to take the fight),
    Sakurai (coming off of 2 losses),
    Beat Zarmoskis for the belt… Zarmoskis goes on to get TKO’d in the 1st rd by Cyborg .
    Beat Scott Smith… Scott’s entertaining but he’s not top caliber competition by any means.
    Beat Frank Shamrock at a catchweight… Frank was previously destroyed by Cung Li.

    I truly dislike Nick Diaz BUT I totally respect his abilities, he def. is a Top 15 guy but I can’t see him at # 4…SF needs to get this guy some high profile fights so he can actually excel and make him a even bigger star and help him polish up the resume a bit.

  • Rece Rock says:

    P.S. other than that I do like the rankings and I’m glad they got updated

  • MCM says:

    The problem with Nick Diaz is he’s the best WW fighter not in the UFC. In his entire career, he has never beat a top ranked fighter, but when you dominate 3 other organizations, you’re gonna get ranked pretty high. (although he’s not my top 10 either)

  • larsenator says:

    LOL at Kampmann being Dutch.

    No wonder the rest of the world runs around laughing their arses off when talking about geography AND US citizens, LOL!

    And the classic of course: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ac4KFdM3t4

  • MCM says:

    Dutch – Dane whatever. Just cause my gardeners from El Salvador doesn’t make him any less Mexican. *eye roll*

  • Rece Rock says:

    The rest of the world forgets there geography when it comes to helping foreign countries recover from disasters cause it always seems the US and American charities are the first ones there and hit the ground running… Perhaps us Americans should forget our geography more often and help ourselves instead then when foreigners think were just a greedy culture atleast they’d be right.

  • Brendhan Conlan says:

    It was an honest mistake, not a diss on foreigners. Not sure why I thought he was from Holland. Should’ve double-checked. Thanks for keeping us honest as always! :)

  • Sykotick says:

    1st: I have no problems with Shields being #2 and Fitch being #3, however I hate watching both of them fight cuz they are both innovators of boredom when fighting.

    2nd: great lists, only changes I’d make are swapping Diaz with Kampmann, and Lytle with Hardy

  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    “he has never beat a top ranked fighter”

    Lytle, Lawler, Sakurai, Noons, Gomi, F. Shamrock, Smith, Sakurai, Tibau and Žaromskis have all lost to Diaz . I count at least 9 or 10 top 20 fighters and a no.1 or 2 in the world who was the PRIDE champion. Carwin has 1 top 20 and 1 top 10. Valasquez 2 top 20 and 2 top 10. Dos Santos 3 or 4 top 20s.

    So he has beaten past or present UFC, ELITE XC, Dream, PRIDE and SF champions at LW, MW and WW and is the SF WW champion. Only 2 of his last 12 victories have gone to dec over the last 5 years, he is deadly on the ground and beats pro boxer/kickboxers on his feet.
    He is easily a top 5 and I would put money on him to beat a few of the top 10 listed above.

    1. GSP
    2. Shields
    3. Fitch
    4. Diaz
    5. Kos
    6. Condit
    7. Kampman
    8. Alves
    9. Hughes
    10. Hardy
    11. Sanchez
    12.Thiago
    13. Hathaway
    14. Daley
    15. Lytle

  • Rece Rock says:

    MMALogic,
    Diaz deserves A spot but not top 5…1st off Diaz beat Lytle like eight years ago… 2nd He can fight all the catchweight bouts he wants but in my opinion that shouldn’t help his standings, it’s a WW list?!? If we are going based upon potential and the fact that he’s a champ then I guess based on that criteria Ben Askren should be on the list?!? Shit if it’s based upon fights also had in any other weight class and potential then BJ would be ranked higher, no?? 3rd He can’t be judged upon potential when there’s potentially NO fights for him in SF, Diaz even being the champ should have requested a bout with Daley as soon as the one time UFC contender signed to SF

  • MCM says:

    LOGIC,
    How about Diaz has never beaten a top ranked fighter at the time they fought. F. Shamrock!? He hasn’t been relevant in 11 years. Neither had Sakurai when they fought. The only fighter he fought in their prime was Gomi and that fight got turned over because of Diaz’s drug use.

    I’m not saying he’s not a good fighter, but he’s not top 5. Until he beats someone of relevance (Smith is not relevant) he will stay in the bottom of the of the top 10 or just outside it. Like I said earlier, he’s the best WW not in the UFC, so it’s gonna be hard for him to find anyone at his level to fight. Uless he and Dana can get together and work something out, that’s just the way it is.

  • Dufresne says:

    I personally agree with Diaz being top 5. I can’t think of a single fighter that he wouldn’t pose a serious threat to. His standup is bizarre, but unbelievably effective, his ground game is just filthy, he’s got potentially the best cardio in all of MMA (he’s a competitive triathlete), and he’s got a chin that was evidently made in the same fashion as a bank vault. His opponents may not be top 5 themselves, but none of them were pushovers and he took every one of them down.

  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    Come on!
    He won against Gomi and was suspended for THC in his system. THC is not performance enhancing.
    If you are saying you can fight all of the catch weight bla bla then take Silva off LHW and Belfort off MW top 10s.
    You are just clutching at straws.
    So if he beats Noons at 170, then Daley at 170 then Mayhem at 178, then Heiron at 170, then Bahadurzada, then Hornbuckle, Woodley, Santos, Misvidal and Askren he still stays at low top 10?
    Bullshit. If that was to happen he goes up from 4. You know it too.
    Fact is that a lot of fighters who are not in the UFC are better than the UFC fighters but do not get recognition, I would just about bet my life on it. Why am I so sure? history.. GSP, Machida, A.Silva and Dos Santos were not big names out of the UFC (relatively) but now in the UFC have run through whole divisions. Think outside the square guys, marketing and name recognition does not make a fighter better (although it gets you up the rankings list). Who knows what would happen if guys like Heiron, Diaz, Hornbuckle, Askren and Bahadurzada were let lose in the UFC today.

  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    “…are better than the UFC fighters…” should read “…are better than some UFC fighters…”

  • MCM says:

    LOGIC – Daley, Herion, Mayhem, and Hornbuckle are are high quality opponents and if he beat them in say a two year span, then yeah, I’d probably put him in the top 5. But he hasn’t beaten them. He hasn’t even fought any of them. If he was fighting those guys instead of catch weight fights against guys like Shamrock or Smith, or LW fighters that jump up in weight, than I don’t think anyone would be bitching. I know I wouldn’t. Anyone that knows anything about MMA knows that Diaz is an extremely talented fighter, but until he starts fighting guys at his level he’s getting ranked low IMO.
    I have always agreed with you that there are top quality fighters outside the UFC, but in the WW division %90 of the best ones are there. And you don’t have to take my word for it, ask Jake Shields.

    And THC is a performance enhancer, if you’ve never felt no pain after smoking weed, then you didn’t smoke no weed.

  • GIKE MOLDBERG says:

    Sounds controversially good to me

  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    Oh so alcohol is a performance enhancer too?.
    Well we will have to ban nearly every fighter there is.
    THC is not a performance enhancer as stated in popular science..

    “What are the effects of marijuana on performance?

    Impairs skills requiring eye-hand coordination and a fast reaction time
    Reduces motor coordination, tracking ability and perceptual accuracy
    Impairs concentration, and time appears to move more slowly
    Skill impairment may last up to 24 to 36 hours after usage
    Reduces maximal exercise capacity resulting in increased fatiguability
    Marijuana has no performance-enhancing potential”

    They should have made Gomi take it too because it sounds like it was unfair for Diaz.

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