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With a number of viable options available at welterweight in the UFC, who should get the next shot at Robbie Lawler's Championship, and why? Depending on who gets that fight, how do you think the top end of the division gets booked in the next six months?
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
Instead of just shooting from the hip and building a case for the one and only obvious candidate for the next shot at Robbie Lawler's UFC Welterweight Championship, let's look at the case for each contender (in no particular order):
Stephen Thompson: The hot name, fresh face, just beat Johny Hendricks (which endears him to those with souls), six-fight win streak (and he's not Jon Fitch who needed to win eight in a row to get a shot at GSP), exciting style.
Rory MacDonald: Lost to Lawler in his last fight, but it was one of the great fights of all-time, you could easily name a ton of fighters who got immediate rematches off of worse performances.
Carlos Condit: Lost to Lawler in his last fight, but it was one of the great fights of all-time, you could easily name a ton of fighters who got immediate rematches off of worse performances. Oh, and he holds a win over the aforementioned Rory MacDonald. May very well retire if he doesn't get a title shot (and nobody needs Condit to tell the world, "Screw you guys, I'm going home").
Tyron Woodley: Holds a dominant victory over Condit. Forgot about that, didn't you? Two fight win-streak since losing to MacDonald, has developed nasty KO power in his hands.
Demian Maia: Just kidding. He's not getting the title shot.
Benson Hend…: Never mind.
Georges St-Pierre: Remember what I said about the obvious choice? Well, this is obvious in as much as anyone can be an obvious choice after being on the shelf for 32 months, which is how long his absence would be if he fights Lawler at UFC 200. Make no doubt about it, this is the fight the UFC wants to make.
So, I've made the case for everyone. There's only one obvious choice here. Ben Askren get out of his ONE FC deal, signs with the UFC, sits on Robbie Lawler's head for 23 minutes, wins the Shiny Gold Belt, hangs it over his fireplace mantel in suburban Milwaukee, and retires from competition all while having the perfect rejoinder to years of Dana White's douchebaggery.
Or, you know, GSP makes sense too. But only if Askren can't, you know, get out of a contract for which he's shown no desire to challenge.
Or, you know, MacDonald, since he was in the 2015 Fight of the Year against Lawler, and was up going into the fifth.
Or, you know, Condit, since he was in the 2016 Fight of the Year to date against Lawler, and got screwed by the judges, and has a win over MacDonald.
Or, you know, Woodley, since he shredded Condit's knee in a fight in which Condit was never particularly competitive.
Or, you know, Thompson, because who wants to see Woodley and Lawler reluctantly engage, being ATT teammates and all.
Good Luck Joe Silva. I think you're going to need it.
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Unlike many divisions (heavyweight, flyweight, middleweight) where there's just a bunch of garbage to be made for title fights, welterweight suddenly has more fun matchups than can reasonably be scheduled.
Stephen Thompson is like Daniel LaRusso come to life. I mean, the kid does karate. Karate! Wonderboy effectively practices karate in a sport where there should be no place for it, and man does it look cool. What do Georges St-Pierre, Carlos Condit, and Robbie Lawler have in common? None of them could finish Johny Hendricks (also, he beat them all but that's a dead horse complaint about bad judging). Thompson karate'd his way to KO in the first round against Big Rigg. Fear the beard! NOT! Thompson vs. Lawler for the title? A six fight winning streak and KARATE says sign me up. The thought of a stand up war between these two jumps onto my list of realistic dream fights for this year. This is the fight to make unless...
Carlos Condit decides against retirement. Besides giving us an epic Fight of the Year candidate right out of the gate in 2016, more fans than not believe he came out on the wrong end of a bad decision against Lawler. No one's taking anyone down in this war, and fans will happily celebrate either man winning with the shows they've put on. Condit can leverage his retirement talk into a high-profile and high-paying rematch, assuming that he really does want to take one last shot at the gold. Of course that leverage goes to hell if...
Georges St-Pierre makes his return at UFC 200 and takes on Robbie Lawler. The aggravating GSP "will he or won't he" comments and behavior are only happening because he will. GSP is ultra competitive. It also doesn't matter how rich you are, earning four to five million dollars for a night's work is just too appealing to turn down. Why hasn't it been announced yet? I'd be willing to wager there are discussion with the UFC and they're based on dollars and placement for fighting at UFC 200. This fight is going to happen, and it's going to be a great payday for fan favorite Lawler. The only things standing in the way of it is the long-discussed dream matchup with Anderson Silva, a fight that's probably looking much more attractive now than it did a few years ago. I don't think it's going that way though, expect the return of Rush this year at 170 pounds. Sorry Thompson, sorry Condit. I mean, you two can fight and I'm cool with it, but GSP is GSP and that's where the money's at.
For the rest of the division, has there ever been a better time to book a Rory MacDonald vs. Hendricks fight? Both are near the top of the division, and both are in need of gaining some traction to stay there after coming off of losses. Despite Henricks getting blitzed at UFC Fight Night 82, it's not out of the question that he could hold the Welterweight title again in the future. Let's not forget, despite losing to St-Pierre and Lawler **cough** ripped-off **cough**, he'd never been beaten handily until the Thompson fight. Had the judges gone with the consensus of those who viewed the fights, he'd probably still be holding the championship belt. MacDonald looked like GSP's heir apparent, and was on the verge of taking the title from Lawler before getting his face caved in during one of the greatest fights in UFC history. This is about as much of a top notch and competitive fight you can make in this division.
A lot of the top end of this division is already booked up, with solid tilts on their way. Neil Magny vs. Hector Lombard is a good fight to see if Magny can bust into the top tier of the division. It's also a good test to see if Lombard still has it, as Magny has shown he can be a tough out. Demian Maia and Matt Brown is a good fight with Maia inching ever closer to a title shot, and the ever-violent Matt Brown trying to get his name back in the mix as a contender.
All of this leaves Tyron Woodley in no man's land and out of luck, but that's just the breaks for this kid. His claim to a title shot was dubious at best, stringing together wins over never-going-to-be-close-to-a-belt Dong Hyun Kim and should-have-been-in-the-hospital Kelvin Gastelum. Throw out a torn ACL by Condit, and who has this guy really beaten? Not Rory MacDonald (outclassed). Not Jake Shields (zzzzzzzz). Not Nate Marquardt (ha ha ha ha ha). At one time he may have been in the right place at the right time because there was no one else, but that's not the case anymore. A 5-3 record over the his last eight, coupled with a split decision victory over the ill Gastelum just doesn't do it when there's so many better options. Making weight when Hendricks couldn't is not a victory either, it's just a payday without having to take a bunch of damage. Woodley can wait it out and hope the UFC runs out of options, but he's far better off taking on the winner of Magny-Lombard or Maia-Brown once Lawler gets booked for something else.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Well, I'm a Carlos Condit guy, so I think he should get the shot. Or at least get offered the shot. He may decide to hold off and take some more time to prepare, but he should definitely get offered the shot first. That would set up Stephen Thompson vs. Tyron Woodley in a #1 contenders fight. To me, that's the best way to go. It's the way that makes the most sense, especially with Condit having beaten Lawler in the eyes of a lot of people the first time. If Condit doesn't get the shot, you go with Thompson. Condit would meet Woodley in a #1 contenders fight.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I don't see any way that I end up predicting this right. One of these matches will inevitably get derailed by injury even if I were to get it right, so what's the point? I'll give my thoughts anyway...
While I don't think Carlos Condit is using his potential retirement as leverage to receive another title shot, I think that is working out in his favor. It seems the UFC is finally beginning to realize that fans are getting sick of rematches which is why they seem to be holding out on giving Condit the shot right away. To those who might say that the UFC may have already offered him that, I call BS. They like to strong arm fighters into doing what they want and often bring potential fights to the forefront of the public so they can toss that in the fighters face if they back out for some reason. Thus I don't believe they have made Condit the offer... yet. It would be the perfect co-main to UFC 200, so go ahead and book it already!
That leaves Stephen Thompson and Tyron Woodley to do the damn thing in a #1 contender's fight. Woodley shouldn't have sat out after Johny Hendricks missed weight back in October as he is receiving little to no support in getting his title shot while Thompson now has everyone buzzing he should be the choice should Condit not get it.
We also have Demian Maia and Matt Brown booked which is a fantastic fight while people are forgetting about Hector Lombard returning against Neil Magny in what could turn into a dark horse contender's fight. So what else is there? Hendricks and Rory MacDonald are still hovering near the top of the division and are both coming off of losses. I'm actually amazed that they haven't met before now and see this as the perfect time to set them against one another. The last fight I feel is worth mentioning would be to pair Dong Hyun Kim and Tarec Saffiedine and see what they can do. Wait... Rick Story and Albert Tumenov would be another solid fight though I don't know if they would be considered the top of the division.
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