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State of the Welterweight Division

Vinny Craig

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This is not the same Welterweight division of which Georges St. Pierre was champion  for the better part of seven years. Saturday proved that as two sluggers fought till the very end and gave us an early Fight of the Year candidate. The division has a lot of moving parts that will be in action before the next title fight, likely around late spring or early summer. Here’s how the division stacks up and who goes where.

Champion

Robbie Lawler

The new found youth of Robbie Lawler is inspiring to see someone use their knowledge and skills together to achieve greatness. Two consecutive five-round Fight of the Night title defenses has the ever popular Lawler in the right position to call the shots. Look for Robbie to be ready to go within the next four to six months again, coincidentally when the division will come to a set after the next series of fights.

 

Next-In-Line

Carlos Condit

In the age of the rematch, this is one justified immediate title shot rematch. Condit threw with the champ for five rounds and made a case for his hand to be raised as the new champion. If Condit decides to stick around for a few more fights, a rematch for the title is very possible. Condit landed 176 Significant Strikes and gave the champ all he could handle and a match up with anyone else right now doesn’t seem like the right match up.

Tyron Woodley

If the last title challenger forgoes his rematch, the man promised a title shot is still waiting. Tyron Woodley has had the worst luck of any fighter when it comes to weigh-ins, and that has helped him get his title chance. A winner of four of five, Woodley has set himself up with a fight against the champ with wins over Condit, Dong Hyun-Kim and Kelvin Gastelum. If the title shot isn’t there, a fight with the Hendricks-Thompson winner to determine the true number one contender would be ideal.

The Present

Rory MacDonald

After a grueling bout with the champ at UFC 189, MacDonald gained a ton of respect from fans and experts alike with his performance. Still without a fight since then, a rumor has floated around thar he will face a formerly expected opponent in Hector Lombard some time in April. A good showing there, and a new champion, could help the case for the ‘Red King’ on the path to being a champion.

Matt Brown

A winner of eight of ten fights, Brown is always at the top of the contender pile. A July win over Tim Means by Guillotine started off another chance for a long win streak. Currently out on injury after having a November fight with Kelvin Gastelum cancellled, Brown is still looking for a fight at the beginning part of the year with a higher ranked guy.

Demian Maia

Age ain’t nothing but a number! The 38-year-old submission ace is finding a career resurgence with four straight wins. This comes after two close losses to high-profile guys in Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald. His last fight was a grappler’s dream as Maia just out-classed Gunnar Nelson at UFC 194. With four straight wins and a previous Middleweight title challenger, Maia is right there for a big fight and eventual title shot.

Neil Magny

The busiest fighter in the UFC has done so by taking any fight put in front of him. A winner of nine of ten in last 21 months, Magny has went from fighting on the prelims to the main event of his last fight. After a loss to Maia at UFC 190, two straight wins over Erick Silva in Saskatoon and Kelvin Gastelum in a main event slot in Monterrey. Look for an appearance soon by Magny, who should take a step back and look for the bigger fight.

Benson Henderson

The former Lightweight champion has successfully made the move to 170 and is a player in the division. After a main event win over Jorge Masvidal, Henderson is currently seeking a new contract and may leave the biggest MMA organization. If he stays, a fight with a top 15 guy is evident for the new contender in town.

The Future

Kelvin Gastelum

The highly touted fighter out of TUF 17 looked prime for a title run after five straight wins off the show. Weight issues and endurance problems from that weight cut have seen Gastelum lose two of three with the lone win coming at 185. At just 24, the young Gastelum has a lot of upside and may not have even hit his prime yet.

Tarec Saffiedine

The former Strikeforce champion has yet to really show his chops in the UFC. He has had to pull out of more fights (3) than he has fought in the UFC (2). Despite the injuries, Saffiedine has found himself in two high profile fights against Hyun Gyu-Lim and Rory MacDonald going 1-1. Fights with Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown have been scrapped in the past. He does currently have a fight scheduled and at just 29 years old still has time for a title run.

Stephen Thompson

Wonderboy is a winner of five in a row and has climbed into the top ten. After a KO of Jake Ellenberger at TUF 21 Finale, Thompson is set for a co-main event showdown with Johny Hendricks at UFC 196. At 32, the future is a little shorter for Wonderboy at 32 years old, but a win over Hendricks would be a rocket launch to the top.

 

Gunnar Nelson

The talented SBG product is not quite there, but can do it soon. A loss to Damian Maia at UFC 194 has set the Iceland native back a little, but a good showing in the near future will keep him relevant. With the grappling skills, his striking has improved over his time at SBG. I could see a fight with anyone in this futures group a good match up for ‘Gunni’.

Albert Tumenov

On a night when the actual Robbie Lawler retained the belt, Albert Tumenov impressed on the main card. Despite a barrage of leg kicks, Tumenov kept on keeping on and walked forward against Lorenz Larkin to take the decision. A winner of five in a row and sitting just outside the top 15 in the division, a bout with Gunnar Nelson would be an interesting clash of styles.

Long Shot

Jake Ellenberger

The once highly touted striker has come to a screeching halt as of late. Despite having 9 UFC wins, he has lost 3 of his last four with three times being finished. The lone win came over Josh Koscheck at UFC 184 with a North-South choke, but that has been the only good in a timeline of awful. He still seems to pulling in big time opponents as he will face Tarec Saffeidine at UFC on FOX 18.

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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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