The UFC welterweight division doesn't need Georges St-Pierre.
Where saying that anytime over the past seven years would have been absolute insanity, when looking at the current state of the weight class, that statement doesn't sound so crazy. Granted, "GSP" has been a remarkable champion who has solidified himself as the best 170-pound fighter to ever step into the cage, but the sentiments he expressed in the aftermath of his bout with Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 reveal we may have seen the last of the welterweight king.
That's okay in my book. And I say so with thoughts about the division and not in regard to the fighter himself.
The Tri-Star product has kept the welterweight division under the spotlight throughout his reign, but the weight class has grown to be such a deep collection, it can survive if he doesn't return.
Where the division has enjoyed a highly talented upper-tier, the current group has the weight class looking stronger than it ever has before. Had the French-Canadian walked away three years ago, the division could have very well collapsed. Outside of the champion, there wasn't much on the shelf in the fresh challenges department as St-Pierre had already taken out the best competition available.
While he's already defeated some of the current potential contenders, there are more than enough exciting fighters on deck to keep the welterweight title race alive even if St-Pierre does choose to retire.
Let's take a look at what could happen to the 170-pound weight class without St-Pierre.
A Power Surge
There have certainly been fighters throughout the history of the welterweight collective who have had the ability to lay out the opposition in brutal fashion, but not like what we are seeing at the current time.
Fighters like Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler have shown a remarkable ability to shut off their opponents' power supply with one punch and have been doing it while competing at the highest level of the game. Any time fighters in the top 10 square off, the separation of skill is typically so thin it usually comes down to who is better on that particular night.
In the case of Hendricks, he's been the better man in his last six (arguably seven) showings. Armed with an outstanding wrestling pedigree, "Bigg Rigg" has the ability to keep the action on the feet, where his devastating brand of power typically seals the deal for him. Even if he doesn't score a thundering knockout like the kind he imposed on Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann, he hits hard enough to put his opponents on their heels as we've seen in his two most recent outings against Carlos Condit and Georges St-Pierre.
If the current champion does decide to step away, there is zero doubt to Hendricks being first in line to take a crack at the vacant title. UFC President Dana White believes the Oklahoma native won his first shot at the welterweight title, and that will have him sitting on the doorstep of another title opportunity.
Where the former two-time Div. I national champion wrestler's ascension to a title shot seemed probable in 2013, one fighter who took the scene by storm was Robbie Lawler. The former Elite XC champion has experienced mixed results over the past several years, but his return to the Octagon has been nothing short of extraordinary.
He put a huge stamp on his comeback by knocking out Josh Koscheck when the two traded leather at UFC 157 in February, then blasted journeyman Bobby Voelker in his next outing at UFC on Fox 8 in July. Those two wins brought solid attention to his resurgence, but with his split-decision victory over highly touted prospect-turned-contender Rory MacDonald at UFC 167, "Ruthless" carved out his place in the divisional title picture.
Should St-Pierre vacate the strap, a potential showdown between Hendricks and Lawler would make tremendous sense. Both are riding red-hot streaks and possess the type of power in their hands to end any fight they are in abruptly.
Hendricks operates with a "throw first, wrestle second" mentality, and that would make for an exciting clash with the American Top Team product. With Lawler rediscovering his aggression and hunger to fight, putting him inside the Octagon against Hendricks with a belt on the line would make for a huge fight.
Not only that, but Hendricks vs. Lawler would be the type of fight that the welterweight division would certainly need to kick off a new era for the weight class.
Plenty of Options to Choose From
While there are only two welterweights at the current time who seem to be in clear striking distance of a title shot, there are a handful of others who could certainly get there with another win or two under their belt.
One of the biggest fights of the year outside of the championship tier of the division is set to go down on Dec. 14 when former interim champion Carlos Condit steps in against surging contender Matt Brown at UFC on Fox 9 in Sacramento. Both fighters possess exciting styles, and the matchup is guaranteed to deliver fireworks once the cage door closes.
"The Natural Born Killer" has won six of his last eight showings, with his most recent outing resulting in a stoppage victory over Martin Kampmann at Fight Night 27 back in August.
While his win over "The Hitman" put him back into the win column, his two losses over this run came at the hands of St-Pierre and Hendricks respectively. The Albuquerque native is dead set on getting his hands on the UFC title and putting the ice on Brown's hot streak would go a long way to him earning another opportunity.
Where Lawler has shaken up the divisional upper-tier in 2013, Brown has been in the process of doing so for the past two years. He went from the verge of unemployment on the heels of losing three straight bouts in 2010 to being on the verge of a title shot three years later.
"The Immortal" has found success in his past six showings, with five of those fights ending by way of stoppage. The Ohio native has built tremendous momentum, and if he can knock off the former WEC welterweight champion, he will add a huge feather to his cap.
In addition to Condit and Brown, several other welterweights are in the process of climbing the ladder toward title contention. Former Strikeforce champion Jake Shields has won his two showings since returning to welterweight in 2013. The savvy veteran has edged out Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia respectively and is making solid ground toward earning another title opportunity.
While Woodley suffered a setback against Shields, he's been victorious in two of his three showings inside the Octagon since coming over from Strikeforce. Both of his wins have come in impressive fashion as he knocked out Jay Hieron in his promotional debut at UFC 156 in February, then salted former title challenger Josh Koscheck in the first round of his most recent showing at UFC 167. "The Chosen One" is still a couple wins away from getting a title shot, but his name is certainly in the mix of contenders.
Where those fighters mentioned may all be currently sitting in the win column, what makes the division so deep is the caliber of fighters who were recently dealt losses.
Maia and MacDonald have both suffered setbacks in their most recent showings, but the work they put in prior to losing their most recent bouts certainly have them sitting in the welterweight division's upper-tier. The Brazilian submission machine won three consecutive fights after dropping down from middleweight, and a victory in his next outing will put his title hopes right back on track.
The same rings true for MacDonald. The 24-year-old had collected five consecutive wins before being edged out by Lawler at UFC 167 and earned recognition of potentially being the future of the welterweight division in the process. The skill set he possesses is unique for his age, and MacDonald could certainly be within striking distance of a long-awaited title shot in 2014.
Two other fighters who have the skills necessary for a title run are Jake Ellenberger and Tarec Saffiedine. Where they were originally set to throw down at Fight Night 34 in Singapore, "The Juggernaut" suffered an injury in training and was forced out of the matchup. The former Marine has found victory in two of his last three showings and eight out of 10 going back to 2009.
While fighting Ellenberger would have been a great introduction to the UFC fanbase, Saffiedine will still make his long-awaited promotional debut in Singapore. He will face Hyun-Gyu Lim in the main event of card and will look to keep his impressive winning streak alive.
The Belgian striker has found victory in his last four showings and has win seven of his last eight. His most recent outing resulted in a unanimous decision victory over Nate Marquardt in a fight where he claimed the Strikeforce welterweight title.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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