Is the pinnacle of the UFC Welterweight division at risk of becoming stale? It may seem like an absurd question, considering that it is one of the most talent-rich divisions in the entire sport. Perhaps even more so when you consider that just 18 months ago, with a new champion in Tyron Woodley leading the way, the division seemed to be in such good shape.
The New King
Woodley had just defeated Robbie Lawler with a blistering first round KO. A mouth-watering bout with #1 contender Stephen Thompson beckoned. Perhaps the less said about that fight the better. Whilst the hardcore MMA-purist may have enjoyed watching a strategical chess match between two world-class fighters, the casual fan certainly wasn’t as thrilled with the first fight. Nor the subsequent rematch.
A Chore to Watch
Woodley proceeded to decrease his stock further with another lackluster performance during his third title defense, against elite grappler Demian Maia. If you follow the sport closely, you’ll know that Woodley suffered a nasty shoulder injury early on in that bout. However, the majority of fans don’t keep their ears to the ground at all times. Through the eyes of the masses, we’ve had 75 drab minutes with almost no action, in the past three Welterweight title fights.
It feels ridiculous to question the credentials of the current champion. After all, to be the best you have to beat the best, and Woodley has done that time and time again. It’s just unfortunate (for him) that his title reign has come in an era where selling a fight is just as important as actually being victorious.
I understand the purists’ side of the argument, it goes along the lines of “It doesn’t matter how you win, just that you do”. I get it, and I’m a strong advocate of it. However, to a large percentage of MMA fans, and more importantly, Dana White; how you win is everything.
The UFC Welterweight Title Picture.
As we move down the rankings, the #1 contender spot is still held by Thompson. The issue is that unless the title changes hands, we won’t see Wonderboy get a title shot any time soon. He’s had his crack at the champ, and a third bout between him and Woodley is almost an impossible sell.
Without doubt, the next title shot will go to the winner of the upcoming interim title fight between Rafael Dos Anjos and Colby Covington; neither of which are huge PPV draws. Despite Dos Anjos looking unstoppable since making the transition up to Welterweight, he doesn’t quite have “superstar marketability”. Unfortunately, the UFC just doesn’t put a lot of promotion into fighters with more introverted personalities.
Covington, on the other hand, has certainly gained fans’ attention. But, for the most part, for all the wrong reasons.
His obnoxious pro-wrestling style of fight promotion hasn’t gone down spectacularly with the mass audience. In a short space of time, he’s managed to agitate huge sections of the UFC’s fan base. I mean, you can’t deny that Colby’s trash-talk has done its job. His infamous Sao Paulo post-fight interview is currently sitting at 500,000 views on YouTube and he’s fighting for a title next month.
An Impressive Win-streak?
Making up the rest of the top 5 contenders are #4, Robbie Lawler, and #5, Kamaru Usman. Lawler has been relatively inactive since his devastating title loss to Woodley and, at this time, doesn’t have a bout scheduled. He’s had only two fights since the title changed hands, one of which was his destruction at the hands of Dos Anjos. Lawler is, without doubt, a legend of the sport. But it looks like father time, and one too many blows to the head, may have caught up with him.
Usman is on an impressive eight-fight win streak in the UFC, with his most recent victory coming in the form of a dominant unanimous decision against Maia. Usually, a resume like that would guarantee a title shot, but can you think of another title fight less appealing to the mass audience than Woodley vs. Usman? Two very cautious fighters that don’t like to take risks and have bored fans half to death in their most recent contests. It’s a hard sell for sure.
Passing the Torch
This coming Sunday, Thompson faces arguably the hottest prospect in the UFC right now, Darren Till. The two collide in UFC Liverpool’s headline bout. Till is, potentially, the remedy to the UFC Welterweight division’s ailments. Should he win on Sunday, he will catapult himself into title contention. Till is an exceptional striker and only 25 years of age. He has the looks and personality to be the UFC’s next superstar and adopt Michael Bisping’s vacant role of the fighting pride of England.
Many believe the challenges Thompson present Till have come just a little too early in his MMA career. There’s certainly an argument there, Thompson is an incredibly decorated striker with an unbelievable kickboxing and MMA record. However, it was also widely regarded that Till was going to be a walk in the park for Donald Cerrone.
It’s a case of experience vs. youth. Thompson’s wealth of championship experience facing world class opposition, vs. the arrogance of Till’s youth. Till knows that even if he doesn’t win this contest, he will still learn a great deal that will help him progress in his MMA career. That kind of knowledge can be freeing in a high-pressure situation like this.
I personally hope that Darren Till can get the victory on Sunday at UFC Liverpool. I believe it might just be the shake-up that the UFC Welterweight division needs right now.
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