Whose turn is it?
UFC's welterweight division is still in search for new contenders to rise up and become available. Should Nick Diaz's retirement stick, there isn't a clear cut challenger for the welterweight title for after GSP/Condit. There are still a few big names in the welterweight division that are in the hunt, but the results have been mixed for these men as of late.
Of the men who have been around the title scene before, Josh Koscheck may have gotten out the best in recent months. His decision win against Mike Pierce at UFC 143 may have been controversial to some, but it was still a win. And while that doesn't automatically qualify Koscheck for another beating at the hands of GSP, it does put him further ahead than almost anybody in the division. And should Kos follow this win with a knockout against Johny Hendricks on national television come May 5, he may get that beating.
The new kid on the block in the welterweight division is a face UFC fans know. Diego Sanchez made his name in MMA in UFC's lightweight and welterweight divisions. He's been crisscrossing between these two divisions for his whole career and at this moment is in the middle of his latest run at welterweight.
The run hasn't been the best. All of Sanchez's four fights since returning to the division have gone to decision with Sanchez going 2-2 in those fights. His wins against Paulo Thiago and Martin Kampmann did seem to show that he looked to be ready for a shot. But that final test on the way to a title shot has been the Achilles heel of many welterweights and Sanchez was no different with that final test turning into a decision loss to Martin Kampmann. The loss sets him back slightly, but all it really means is that his next fight will be against another of the on-the-way-up crowd in the division instead of a “win and you get a title shot” scenario.
Jake Shields may have given GSP his toughest test as welterweight champion, but that offers little consolation to man who suffered his first loss over a near seven-year span in his unsuccessful challenge last April. The fact that he put up a better fight than most expect in a GSP fight these days may have helped Shields save face, but in following that with his fifty-three second KO loss to Jake Ellenberger, Shields' stock within the division took a significant hit.
The fact that he was on a two-fight losing streak best explains Shields' approach in his recent victory over Yoshihiro Akiyama: he was a man trying as hard as he could not to make a mistake. He was more careful & cautious than normal whether standing or on the ground and while it wasn't vintage Jake Shields, it resulted in Jake Shields getting back to winning. He's still got a win or two before he gets another shot at the belt, but he's back on his way.
Of the six men GSP has successfully defended his welterweight title against, it was his defense against Jon Fitch that still stands as his most memorable. And almost entirely for that reason, a rematch almost seemed necessary, but for four years it hasn't happened. Part of that could be attributed to Fitch and his approach of fighting almost too safe at times—something I would attribute specifically to his draw with B.J. Penn last year—and that is something that will hurt your appeal (and thus chances at a title shot) if it is continuous. To make clear, this writer doesn't agree with that as long as the fighter is winning and winning convincingly. And Jon Fitch was doing just that in his post-GSP fights, it was just the manner in which he did it that went against him.
The almost-record quick KO loss to Johny Hendricks was not the end to 2011 that Fitch wanted, but it isn't completely disastrous. A loss like that is hard to erase, especially if people believe you to not be entertaining to begin with. Despite all the negatives that people attach to Jon Fitch, it was perseverance that first got Fitch his title shot as he was 8-0 in UFC when he fought GSP. And if he continues to win, it will be that perseverance that gets Jon Fitch back into a title fight some day.
Whether or not one of these familiar faces to UFC title fights gets their shot against the winner of GSP/Condit depends on several things: when GSP/Condit happens, who the winner is, and if they can be the sole survivor in a division that has been getting more and more competitive as a whole over the past year.
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