The UFC welterweight division is at one of the most exciting times in the promotion’s history. Numerous veterans still linger near the top as many undefeated and hot prospects are on the rise.
Tyron Woodley lost the belt to Kamaru Usman in March after a long championship reign. Lightweights-turned-welterweights Kevin Lee and Anthony Pettis have both entered the division hoping to have more success without the stress-inducing cut. Once title challengers Stephen Thompson and Darren Till have suddenly stumbled down the ladder. Competitors like Leon Edwards and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos have put together some of the longest win streaks in UFC history alone. Recent debuts of Ben Askren, Ismail Naurdiev, and Ramazan Emeev have put fans around the world on notice.
At this moment, there are not many fights scheduled at 170 pounds. To present some suggestions for this incredible division, I wanted to take the role of UFC matchmakers Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby. As of April 12th, these are the 10 official welterweight fights booked between fighters closer to the top of half of the division.
Tyron Woodley vs. Robbie Lawler (UFC on ESPN 4, June 29)
Jorge Masvidal vs. Ben Askren (UFC 239, July 6)
Rafael dos Anjos vs. Kevin Lee (UFC on ESPN+ 9, May 18)
Neil Magny vs. Vicente Luque (UFC on ESPN+ 9, May 18)
Curtis Millender vs. Belal Muhammad (UFC 236, April 13)
Alex Oliveira vs. Mike Perry (UFC on ESPN 3, April 27)
Sergio Moraes vs. Warlley Alves (UFC 237, May 11)
Max Griffin vs. Zelim Imadaev (UFC 236, April 13)
Alan Jouban vs. Dwight Grant (UFC 236, April 13)
Thiago Alves vs. Laureano Staropoli (UFC 237, May 11)
Michael Chiesa vs. Diego Sanchez (UFC 239, July 6)
Below are 17 suggested pairings for fighters in their next octagon appearance. I tried to keep in mind their location in the rankings, recent losses/victories, and skill level. That being said, I tried to keep them as interesting as possible. Keep in mind that you may agree, disagree, or have your own interesting suggestions (which you can share in the comment section at the bottom of this page). I am missing a good chunk of fighters from this list, so I apologize ahead in case one of your favorites are not included.
Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington
I’m quite surprised this title fight doesn’t have a date yet. Kamaru Usman captured the belt from Tyron Woodley in March of this year, now riding a 14 fight win streak. By fighting for the title, he managed to surpass then-interim champion Colby Covington who lastly battled Rafael Dos Anjos to a unanimous decision victory. The build-up should be good, as both men have a lot of animosity towards one another. This is clearly the front-runner fight to make for the welterweight championship.
Leon Edwards vs. Jorge Masvidal/Ben Askren winner
I understand if you disagree with me here. The winner of Jorge Masvidal vs. Ben Askren may be next in line for a title shot next in the UFC’s eyes. However, Masvidal is only 1-2 in the past two years while Askren had nearly a two-year layoff before returning and submitting (with controversy) Robbie Lawler. Because of that, I would prefer neither to jump into the title picture next. Leon Edwards has won his last seven fights in a row dating back to his last loss against Kamaru Usman in December of 2015. This poses as a more feasible title eliminator, dependent on the executed performance.
Stephen Thompson vs. Neil Magny/Vicente Luque winner
Stephen Thompson lastly suffered a vicious knockout loss to Anthony Pettis via the one-of-a-kind superman punch. There is a chance he takes a long layoff, but I still want to make at least one fight suggestion for him. I do not think Thompson’s stock at welterweight is much lower from this loss. He looked great against Pettis before getting finished, and his last two decision losses were both scored by the majority of media and fans in his favor. I think we could pair him against the winner of Neil Magny and Vicente Luque. With their May fight occurring at UFC Fight Night 151. Magny is coming off a knockout loss to Santiago Ponzinibbio while Luque has finished all eight of his UFC opponents.
Darren Till vs. Anthony Rocco Martin
Back-to-back losses for Darren Till have taken a toll on this young man’s hype train. Not like UFC rankings make a difference, but he still remains surprisingly at number six in the division. In this case, I would prefer the matchmakers not give him another fight against someone high in the rankings since he is still is an essential asset to the European market. I am interested in a fight with Anthony Rocco Martin, who rides a four-fight win streak including a head-kick knockout over Ryan LaFlare and a one-sided decision over Sergio Moraes. His wide stance and various striking attacks could make for a fun fight against Till and an important one for both future endeavors.
Anthony Pettis vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos
What a sensational welterweight debut from former UFC and WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. He was not having success early in the fight until the closing seconds of round two, throwing a superman punch and becoming the first man to finish Stephen Thompson. Pettis now sits at 4-6 in his last 10 fights, and despite the losses, he had moments in each where it looked as though he would come out victorious. For his next fight, I would love a fight against Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos who deserves the step-up in competition. He has won seven UFC fights in a row dating back to April of 2016 with finishes over his last three opponents. A fight between these two will show us if Pettis can maintain his positional stature, or if Zaleski dos Santos can taste victory over a dangerous veteran of the sport.
Demian Maia vs. Claudio Silva
The matchmaking chart in my head got excited when I saw this potential pairing. Demian Maia rebounded following a three-fight skid to rear-naked choke Lyman Good in February. The fighters in that skid came to the best at 170: Kamaru Usman, Colby Covington, and Tyron Woodley. For another big name and test, let’s pit him against the 13 fight win streak of Claudio Silva. Known as “Hannibal,” he sits at 4-0 in the UFC dating back to 2014. Silva returned to the octagon in 2018 after a four-year layoff, since defeating Nordine Taleb and Danny Roberts by submission. A win for Maia here would show us the grappling phenom still has what it takes, while a win for Silva would prove he is the real deal.
Gunnar Nelson vs. Sergio Moraes/Warlley Alves winner
Gunnar Nelson is coming off the fourth loss of his MMA career, falling short to Leon Edwards by split decision in March. The Icelandic fighter out of Mjölnir and SBG Ireland has submitted seven of his eight UFC victories with his last win coming over Alex Oliveira in December of last year. His unorthodox stand-up and submission game would be fun to see against the winner of Sergio Moraes and Warlley Alves. Both Moraes and Alves are also aggressive with their ground game and submission attacks. Nelson still has some holes in his defensive ground game, so giving him another test may be what he needs to get back on track.
Bryan Barberena vs. Niko Price
Talk about a brawl this could be! Bryan Barberena has alternated “win-loss” in his last five fights. In February, Barberena was finished by Vicente Luque in what may be considered the greatest fight in UFC welterweight history. The two slugged it out for 14 minutes at 54 seconds until Luque closed the show. A fight with a guy like Niko Price would definitely be a must-see, both having suffered losses to Luque. Price has finished 12 of his 13 opponents in victory, lastly earning a “Performance of the Night” bonus over Tim Means.
Ismail Naurdiev vs. Sean Strickland
Ismail Naurdiev shocked many in his last outing, dominating and putting an end to the eight-fight UFC win streak of Michel Prazeres. Naurdiev made waves competing in four ACB (now ACA) bouts, losing only one to Ismael de Jesus in 2017. He has finishes in 16 of his 18 wins, eleven coming by knockout with five by submission. A fair second opponent could come against that of former King of the Cage middleweight champion Sean Strickland. He lastly stopped Nordine Taleb by TKO in October earning his 20th professional victory.
Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Alex Oliveira/Mike Perry winner
Aside from controversy surrounding his personal life, Abdul Razak Alhassan is one terrifying force to be reckoned in the octagon. Despite one career loss to Omari Akhmedov, he has knocked out all 10 other opponents inside the first round. I have absolutely no clue if Alhassan is even capable of fighting anytime soon, but I still wanted to throw out an option. How about the winner of Alex Oliveira versus Mike Perry? These two are set to clash later this month in what is intended to be an extremely violent war. More thrilling exchanges would come against Alhassan, and if he is able to make a return soon, this is an idea.
Geoff Neal vs. Li Jingliang
Geoff Neal is one of the hottest prospects in the UFC at the moment. The Fortis MMA fighter has gone 3-0 in the UFC after receiving a contract following a successful performance on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. His last two outings included a dominant decision over Belal Muhammad and a 2018 “Knockout of the Year” candidate head-kick over Frank Camacho. I would love to see him battle Li Jingliang, one of the most thrilling fighters on the UFC’s roster. He has captured four post-fight bonuses in his last five outings, recently stopping David Zawada with a brutal body kick. The fight would be a must-watch.
Michel Prazeres vs. James Krause
For a man who won eight straight fights in the UFC, I did not expect Michel Prazeres to get 30-26’d by debutant Ismail Naurdiev. Depleting his gas tank early on did not benefit his part throughout the fight. This may not be a massive step backward, as he did manage to score wins over notables like Desmond Green and Gilbert Burns on that run. Very impressive for a 37-year-old like himself at this time in his career. An opponent like James Krause would be a good test for both mixed martial artists. Krause already had an active contract with the promotion before falling short on The Ultimate Fighter 25. He rides a five-fight win streak himself, and a win over Prazeres would show how much he has developed in a short period of time.
Alexey Kunchenko vs. Neil Magny/Vicente Luque loser
I expected a lot more aggressiveness out of Alexey Kunchenko through his first two UFC fights. Back-to-back unanimous decision wins over veterans Yushin Okami and Thiago Alves were not as impressive as his resume under M-1 Global. Aside from this, he remains undefeated in his professional mixed martial arts career with 20 straight wins; 13 by knockout. To test his skills, I thought we should give him the loser of Neil Magny and Vicente Luque. Magny presents high volume striking and offensive takedowns while Luque implements powerful boxing and a crafty ground game. One of these two could make Kunchenko break out of his shell or expose potential holes in his game.
Lyman Good vs. Curtis Millender/Belal Muhammad loser
People tend to forget that Lyman Good was the inaugural Bellator welterweight champion nearly 10 years ago. Since signing with the UFC in 2015, he has only competed in four bouts compiling a 2-2 record with the promotion. In his last outing, Good was submitted by Demian Maia halfway into the first round. His entertaining stand-up game could be paired next with another striker around his current position at welterweight. Curtis Millender and Belal Muhammad will battle this weekend, so I would be interested in seeing the defeated man go up against Good next. The UFC might not lean this way, however, since Millender or Muhammad would half two straight back-to-back losses. We will see what happens.
Ramazan Emeev vs. Tarec Saffiedine
I started running low on matchmaking options, but it is intriguing nonetheless. Former M-1 Global middleweight champion Ramazan Emeev is 3-0 in his UFC run. All came by unanimous decision including wins over notables Alberto Mina and Sam Alvey. If former Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine is looking to make a return soon, let’s see if he still has what it takes to compete against the best at 170 pounds.
Jake Matthews vs. Tim Means
Jake Matthews still has a lot of room for growth, being only 24 years of age. He sits at 3-3 in his last six, securing two victories in the first half of 2018. A fight with a scrappy veteran like Tim Means could make for a fun one. Means last battled Niko Price, having the upper hand through most exchanges until getting knocked out late in the first.
Dong Hyun Kim vs. Carlos Condit II
Because who cares about rankings or retirement? Dong Hyun Kim hasn’t won a fight in nearly three years while Carlos Condit has lost his last five in the octagon. Both are nearing the ends of their careers, so let’s just see what happens in a rematch you never saw coming.
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