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[Opinion] Playing Matchmaker: the state of the welterweight title picture

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In Saturday night’s main event, Stephen Thompson not only picked up the most impressive win of his career with another stunning KO, but also placed himself firmly in the sights of Robbie Lawler as a real threat to his welterweight title reign. However, Thompson is not the only viable challenger who is banging on Dana White’s door looking for a title fight and with welterweight being such a deep division, Joe Silva has a tall order in front of him to separate the wheat from the chaff in the 170lb division.

Possibly leading the pack is Stephen Thompson coming hot off a first round knockout over former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks. Thompson owns a 7-1 record in the UFC and is currently on a six fight win streak with some of the best knockouts in the division, including two head kick KO’s. It’s safe to say Wonderboy’s fights speak for themselves and he would definitely make for an exciting fight with any guy in the division, especially someone who will most likely stand and bang with him like the current champion Robbie Lawler would.

Although his record is impressive, it’s also one of the reasons why it’s hard to give him the next shot at the champion. Thompson only has one win over a current top ten welterweight and, despite all of his other wins being impressive, he hasn’t been fighting guys of the same calibre as other men on this list.

Stephen Thompson is without a doubt one of the most exciting guys in the division, but I would like to see his mettle tested against more top ten guys, especially some from this list to see him truly earn his title shot. It’s not a case of if Thompson is ready for the world champ, but rather there are some guys who have earned the shot more than he has.

One challenger who not only has the UFC experience both in terms of years served in the company, but also in title fights is Demian Maia. The 38-year-old, nine-year UFC veteran has already tasted a title shot against Anderson SIlva at middleweight, but since his move to 170lbs in 2012, he has shown that welterweight is truly the best bracket for him.

Having amassed a 7-2 record since moving down, with his only losses coming by decision to top ranked Rory MacDonald and a razor close split decision to Jake Shields, Maia is still standing out as a real threat despite his age. The brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt is riding a four fight win streak and holds three victories over current top 15 ranked fighters.

However, despite his many accomplishments inside the octagon, Maia’s style has caught him some flack, being criticized for being dull in some contests. This, added to his inconsistency in some of his fights and not holding as big of a win streak as some men on this list means it’s hard to make the claim that he should be next in line. Maia had an extremely impressive win last year snapping Neil Magny’s seven fight win streak with a second round submission, but that one impressive finish doesn’t warrant a title shot in the minds of many fighters and fans alike. Maia probably will need a few more good wins against top five fighters under his belt before he gets his second UFC title fight, but keep an eye on the Brazilian as he has the power to strangle any man at 170lbs on any given night.

If Jon Jones is the leader of the ‘new breed of MMA’ then our next challenger Rory MacDonald is certainly his right hand man. Holding a 9-3 record in the UFC over 6 years with the company and fighting for the welterweight title last year all at the ripe old age of 26, MacDonald has the potential to be one of the greatest talents we have ever seen in MMA and the scary thing is his star just keeps rising.

Rory may be coming off a failed title shot attempt, being stopped by the current champ Robbie Lawler in a fight of the year candidate, but that doesn’t mean the young Canadian is done in the division yet. Since debuting in the UFC in 2010, Rory has been considered by many to be the future of the UFC possessing a near perfect skill set with no obvious weaknesses, being able to submit opponents with his BJJ blackbelt (like vs. Mike Guymon), knock them out with one punch (like vs. Tarec Saffiedine), or dominate them to a decision (vs. BJ Penn). MacDonald is a threat to anyone in any area of the game.

Despite all this praise, Rory has a history of falling when it comes to the biggest fights in his career, suffering his first pro loss to Carlos Condit in a fight he was winning before getting finished with only seven seconds left in the fight, or losing twice to the current kingpin Lawler halting his chance at a title both times. It is this last fact that will probably keep Rory away from another title shot for the foreseeable future, as he is 0-2 against Robbie Lawler and is coming off a match in which he was stopped by the champion. No matter how good your resume is, that’s going to be a hard hurdle for Joe Silva to overcome when setting up the next number one contender.

Despite his hardships, Rory is still one of the very best in the division and is improving with every fight. So, although we probably won’t see ‘MacDonald vs. Lawler 3’ anytime soon, I strongly believe Rory will be in a UFC title fight again in the coming years.

Tyron Woodley may be the best physical specimen in the division and he sure knows how to use his gifts to make it all the way to the number three ranked welterweight in the world. Woodley is a phenomenal wrestler with a lighting quick right hand that can put any 170 pounder to sleep instantly, just ask Josh Koscheck, Dong Hyun Kim or Jay Hieron.

Tyron is 5-2 in the octagon and currently riding a two fight win streak. Despite those not being as impressive numbers as other guys on this list, Tyron has fought some of the best in the division from Carlos Condit, Rory MacDonald and Kelvin Gastelum. However, one thing that has plagued Tyron throughout his seven fight UFC career is inconsistency. Woodley has a habit at crumbling in the bigger fights of his career most notably his loss to Rory MacDonald where he was completely shut down and outclassed in a dull 3 round decision where he barely threw a punch.

It is performances like this that put a bad taste in fans and matchmakers mouths alike and could be a huge reason why Woodley hasn’t received his title shot yet. On the flip side, Woodley is one of the most promising prospects in the division, showing clear improvements in his game and an insatiable appetite to compete and win, even going as far as making weight for his fight against Johny Hendricks despite Hendricks having already pulled of the contest out earlier in the day.

I don’t think Woodley will, or should, get the next title shot based on his record in the cage, but his personality shows me that he is a man who, with one or two more wins over top guys will be 100% ready for a crack at the belt in late 2016 or 2017 and when that time comes, I will find it hard to bet against a man like Tyron Woodley.

Last but no means least on our list is Carlos Condit. Having fought in the WEC and UFC since 2007 and won world titles in both organizations, Condit is surely one of the best welterweight competitors to ever grace the cage. Condit has fought a who’s who of 170lb fighters including Georges St Pierre, Tyron Woodley, Rory MacDonald and Johny Hendricks to name a few and he also won the interim UFC welterweight title against Nick Diaz when he himself looked unstoppable.

It is safe to say Condit’s resume is up there with the best in the world, but the one major downfall for him is he challenged Robbie Lawler for the world title just last month in a close split decision loss. Despite this, the UFC has not been shy in rewarding immediate rematches in the past, but those are normally reserved for long time champions who have lost their title, not the challengers. Although he lost against Lawler, many fans and media members believe Condit won the fight, giving Condit a very good claim for a rematch with the current champion.

However, having a devastating knee injury and a subsequent year-long lay off in 2014 means that Condit hasn’t had a win over a current top ten fighter since 2011 and he has also contemplated retirement after losing to Lawler, claiming the knee injury as a major factor. These two facts won’t fill the UFC brass with much confidence to re-book Condit vs. Lawler for the second time, but I believe, like many, that Condit can beat any welterweight on any given night.

You can make the claim for any man on this list to be the next top contender and few could argue against you, but I feel the resume, style and talent of Carlos Condit means he could be the man to dethrone the streaking champion Robbie Lawler and should be given the next shot to do so and even if he doesn’t succeed, if their rematch is anything like the first fight it will be money well spent for Dana White and the fans alike.

 

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Announcement

Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223

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UFC 223 looks to add a variety of intriguing bouts. With Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta reportedly set for the unannounced UFC 223 card, the promotion looks to add a high stakes female flyweight match-up. According to MMANYTT.com, sources confirmed a bout between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, is in the works for the pay-per-view card.

 

Assuming the match-up does come to be, both women have much to gain from a victory. For Herrig, she currently sits on a four-fight win streak. A streak in which the strawweight contender defeated Kailin Curran, Alexa Grasso, Justine Kish, and Cortney Casey. The MMA veteran, Herrig, began fighting professionally in 2009. As of late, her issues with the marketing machine that is the UFC have intensified.

After demonstrating her technical prowess over Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 122: Chiesa vs. Lee, Herrig put her emotions on display. She stated at the post-fight media scrum, “Sometimes, I feel like, I’m not young and beautiful enough for the UFC to want to promote me. And it’s sad because I’ve really worked so hard to be here and it’s hard to see these people who’ve not been through what I’ve been through. Who just got into the UFC at the right time. They’re getting all these opportunities and I see how hard I work to get here and it’s just like, it doesn’t matter. I just feel like, ‘I’m not pretty enough and I’m not getting any younger'”.

A frustrated Felice Herrig then spoke to MMAJunkie.com in December. She claimed, “Aside from (former UFC women’s strawweight champ) Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), I’m the only strawweight who’s gone on a four-fight winning streak. That’s a fact. At this point, I want to fight someone in the top 10. It doesn’t really make sense for me to keep fighting girls that are ranked below me. That’s the whole point. If I want to keep working my way up. I fight the most dangerous girls outside the top 10”. The #9 ranked women’s flyweight has a point. In her UFC career, she recorded one loss in six appearances. Yet, she has one co-main event booking, while fighters like Michelle Waterson, booked the main event in her second UFC bout. In Waterson’s third bout, she received a co-main event scheduling. Understandably, Felice Herrig is upset with her situation.

Later in her interview, Herrig brought up Kowalkiewicz as a potential next opponent. “For whatever reason, I really want to fight Karolina. I just think that would be an exciting fight… Stylistically, I really like that fight. She’s ranked above (me), and it may be a good gauge for me,” she stated. Right now, it looks like Herrig is close to getting what she wants.

Kowalkiewicz last fought in her native country of Poland on the UFC Fight Pass card, UFC Fight Night 118: Cowboy vs. Till, in October. The Polish star defeated Jody Esquibel, after losing consecutive contests to former UFC female strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejcyk and Claudia Gadelha, respectively.

A win for either makes a good case for the next or an eventual title challenger. Kowalkiewicz holds a victory over current division champion, Rose Namajunas. While a win for Herrig would further establish her impressive win streak and undoubtedly give her the boost in the rankings she deserves.

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Bellator

Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet

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Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.

“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”

Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.

“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”

Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.

“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”

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Fight Announcements

Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April

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MMA fans around the world wept in deep sorrow when Al Iaquinta withdrew from a bout scheduled for UFC 218 against Paul Felder. Weep no more, for Paul Felder faces Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. Rumblings behind the match-up, first reported by FloCombat.com, came Sunday night before MMAFighting.com confirmed the bout scheduled for unannounced pay-per-view card, later in the evening.

 

The original bout fell through due to a severe knee injury to Iaquinta. He spoke to BJ Penn Radio about the injury nearly a week before the December 2nd, PPV event in Detriot. The Long Island real estate agent claimed, “I tore my PCL and my MCL maybe three or four months ago… for me to really put in a full training camp and do what I need to do, I would’ve had to just focus on fighting and physical therapy… it was the kind of thing where all roads led to me not kind of taking a risk and fighting on December 2nd”.

Iaquinta went on to say, “I kind of accepted the fight, but I never signed a bout agreement… I was kind of told I had to give them an answer pretty quick. It was a fight I thought I really wanted. I thought it was a good stylistic match-up for me, so I accepted the fight, and then thinking about it over the course of a day, we realized it probably wasn’t a smart decision for my health, for everything”.

An outspoken lightweight, he is not the first of his kind. Al Iaquinta is no stranger to idly waiting on the sideline for the UFC to make a move. Contract disputes and other bad strokes of luck left the Serra-Longo with three octagon appearances since 2015. The feud between Iaquinta and the promotion comes as a surprise when looking at the credentials of the aforementioned fighter. With an octagon record of 8-2, he earned notoriety as one of the best lightweights in the world. During his time in the UFC, he defeated Kevin Lee, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and most recently Diego Sanchez.

His opponent, “The Irish Dragon”, Paul Felder, holds an impressive UFC record of his own. At 7-3, Felder defeated tough competition as well. His record notes wins over Daron Cruickshank, Jason Saggo, Stevie Ray, and Charles Oliveira. Even more impressive than his record, his knockout ratio. At this stage of his career, Felder knockouts 55% of his opponents (10 knockouts in 18 career pro bouts).

Like his opponent Iaquinta, Paul Felder has a separate career outside of fighting. As many should notice, Felder found a role as a color commentator with the promotion he fights for. Following the footsteps in a long line of fighters before him, Felder announced multiple events alongside another new addition to the UFC broadcast team, Brendan Fitzgerald.

PPV card, UFC 223 and its location are not official yet. Despite a lack of an announcement, the event takes place in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Centre, according to multiple reports. Currently, the card features no official bouts. Reports state Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (per Jim Edwards), and Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov (per Farah Hannoun) are both in the works for UFC 223.

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