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The Changing Of The Guard In The UFC’s Welterweight Division

2011 was a year of massive change for the UFC. They bolstered their ranks substantially, first by offering two new weight classes and then by acquiring their closest competitor in Strikeforce. The company experienced some of their most successful events ever with a record-shattering debut in Toronto, as well as their massively successful return to Brazil this past summer. This all led up to the announcement of a blockbuster deal with the FOX network and the premiere of the UFC on broadcast television.

With all this major news there have been plenty of stories that have seemingly fallen through the cracks. One story that has played out over the course of 2011 has been the changing of the guard in the UFC’s welterweight division, as former contenders have continued to fall to up-and-coming fighters throughout the year. Georges St. Pierre continues to hold the championship, but this year has seen him unable to answer the challenge of two new contenders.

GSP had another successful title defense at UFC 129 in April, but it was yet another lackluster decision win in a string of five-round affairs from the champ. Sure he’s still the best fighter in the division, but “Captain Canada” has failed to provide much in the way of sizzle for the UFC’s fickle fans.

The problem may be one of motivation. In the lead-up to his UFC 129 bout with Jake Shields it seemed as though St. Pierre was going through the motions. GSP constantly made reference to Shields being “the most dangerous opponent he’s ever faced,” which might have more weight if he hadn’t already applied the same label to Dan Hardy not that long ago. As with his previous title defense against Josh Koscheck, St. Pierre kept his opponent at bay with a solid jab and constant footwork. There was little challenge to be had, just as there has been little-to-no challenge in so many of his previous title defenses.

It looked like Nick Diaz might be able to provide a tougher test for GSP, but a lack of proper behavior from Diaz left these questions unanswered. There was also the sudden insertion of Carlos Condit into the contender position, but an injury in training took St. Pierre out of the fight. After a vicious beat down on B.J. Penn, some trash-talking from Diaz, and another injury to St. Pierre, we’re now left with an interim UFC Welterweight Championship fight between the last Strikeforce Welterweight Champion and the last WEC Welterweight Champion.

St. Pierre isn’t the only fighter at 170 pounds that’s had trouble in 2011, as several of the men who have faced him saw their careers spiral downwards in the last twelve months. Hardy went 0-2 in 2011 to extend his losing streak to four. Thiago Alves was battered for three rounds by Rick Story, and Shields got flattened in under a minute by Jake Ellenberger. Of course this string of top 10 fighters losing to newer competitors was capped off on Friday with Jon Fitch, the consensus #2 welterweight fighter in the world, losing in twelve seconds to Johny Hendricks.

On top of that we have former arch-rivals to St. Pierre (and one another) Matt Serra and Matt Hughes seemingly coming to the end of their careers. Serra sat out this last year while Hughes came up short against Koscheck before asking the UFC to “put him on the shelf.” Let’s not forget another former rival of GSP, the two-time two-division UFC champ Penn, who also announced an indefinite vacation from the sport following his loss to Diaz.

The times, they are a-changin’ in the UFC’s welterweight division. Diaz and Condit are scheduled for what should be a spectacular fight to crown an interim champ while St. Pierre rests and recuperates. Hendricks has made a pretty good case for himself as the next challenger for the belt, whether it be against the Diaz/Condit winner or the eventual undisputed champion once St. Pierre returns. Ellenberger also has a pretty legitimate claim for a title shot if he can get past Diego Sanchez in February. St. Pierre will have a new challenger to face whenever he returns, but if this past year is any indication it looks like the new blood is taking over.

Can GSP retain his dominance against newer and younger fighters?

Stay tuned to find out.

PHOTO CREDIT – UFC

7 COMMENTS
  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    The WW, MW, HW and LW titles are all,going to change hands this year.

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  • stone says:

    GSP will keep his belt…. As much as I hate to say it, the REAL ww belt stays in Canada

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  • fitfreak says:

    If I remember correctly, Alves was making a pretty good comeback in the third against Story.

    I don’t think GSP is “going through the motions” because he says every opponent is his most dangerous. He made the mistake of taking Serra lightly, and being the perfectionist he his, he will never make that mistake again. He retains the title when he returns.

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  • JabCrossHook says:

    All Rick story did for the first two rounds was clinch, push up against the cage, shoot for a double or single, fight for it, get stuffed or get the TD momentarily and Alves would get up right away.

    3rd round he proceeded to get lit up on the feet with Alves landing power punches at will. If anything Story was the one getting battered, please stop commenting on fights that you haven’t seen.

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  • edub says:

    -Thiago wasn’t battered for three rounds against Story. He really wasn’t even “battered” for the first two. As others pointed out above, might want to watch that fight again.

    -Whoever wins out of Alves-Kampman has a great claim for a number 1 contender fight. Same with Diego or Jake. If I were hard pressed to name something, I’d say the winner of ellenber-Sanchez fights Hendricks for the #1 contender spot. Then the winner of Kampman-Alves fights somebody like the winner of Pierce-Koscheck.

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  • MCM says:

    Love those matchups edub.

    Outside of Fitch, is there really a changing of the gaurd?

    – Hughes has been done since GSP took him out the first time. He went on a nice three fight win streak but that was completely unexpected and not over the best competition.
    – Serra was always as one and done champ and he knows it. At least he never had any illusions of being the best and has spent more time coaching over the past few years than fighting.
    – Penn is always ranked in the top 10 WW, but has only ever beaten one man in the division. Dennis Hallman can say the same thing, but no one puts him in the top 10.
    – Alves is still dangerous and is only a win or two away from being top 5 again.
    – Sheilds had a great run outside the UFC but there was always the question of how he would do inside the octagon and really, one loss right after his Dad died and your writing him off?
    – Condit seams like one of the “new guard” but he’s had people calling for him to get a shot since ’08.
    – Diaz (see Sheilds)
    – Ellenberger and Hendrix look great today, but so did Story after the Alves fight. Let’s see if they keep that momentum going.
    The only real change has come from Jon Fitch.
    Now I love me some Jon Fitch, ya’ll know that, but even I have to admit that he looked like complete shit this year. I blame it on the vegan diet as nothing good has ever come from going vegan. I really hope he goes back to being the beast he can be, but I don’t know if he ever will. I know he won’t do it, but I honestly think he needs to switch camps and find that “mean”ness again. I think he still as a couple of years left in him to be at the top of division. But if he doesn’t change something, I see him getting bested by a few of the new, and old, guys at WW.

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  • “Now I love me some Jon Fitch, ya’ll know that, but even I have to admit that he looked like complete shit this year. I blame it on the vegan diet as nothing good has ever come from going vegan. I really hope he goes back to being the beast he can be, but I don’t know if he ever will. I know he won’t do it, but I honestly think he needs to switch camps and find that “mean”ness again. I think he still as a couple of years left in him to be at the top of division. But if he doesn’t change something, I see him getting bested by a few of the new, and old, guys at WW.”

    Stole the words right out of my mouth. especially the vegan thing. As far as Diaz goes lets see. I have faith in the guy, but hes fighting the guy that I wanted to see GSP face in 08. Shields is a question mark as he hasnt looked great in the octagon yet, but there’s always been factors against him such as the death of his father, first night in the octagon AND tough opponents the whole way(Kampmann, GSP and Ellenberger back to back is not really being handed gift wrapped matches)
    I dig this article and its got a great point. WW hasnt really shown credible challengers since GSP beat Matt Serra into the ground in 08. Fitch and Penn have been the most interesting matches on paper since that happened and we saw how those went.
    Im stoked about it…lets see how this goes.

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