A dominant champion at the top of a division can be both a blessing and a curse.
On one hand, you have a fighter who has been so dominant over the years and they are often the sole reason why people tune in. People want to watch greatness right before our very eyes.
On the other hand, when a champion is so dominant and runs through all the top contenders, it creates a situation where the division feels too shallow. The champ might be great, but his challengers become so overmatched that people might not be as interested to devote their Saturday night to watch him or her fight.
The silver lining within this situation is that when the champion finally loses, leaves the division, retires or relinquishes the belt for any reason, it breathes new life into the division.
We’ve seen it happen over the years. Most recently, in what stands as probably the most glaring example, this scenario took place in the UFC’s welterweight division. For years, Georges St-Pierre was the kingpin of the weight class. He dispatched of each and every contender the UFC threw inside the cage against him. St-Pierre did it in such a dominant manner that it affected the way the fan base and others within the sport viewed the entire 170-pound division.
The pattern became too routine during St-Pierre’s run as arguably the greatest fighter to ever step inside the Octagon. A welterweight would win a few fights against other high-caliber opponents. GSP had already fought everyone else, so the streaking fighter got the title shot against him because, you know, the show must go on. St-Pierre would then dominate the fight and we’d all move on to the next emerging contender. Rinse and repeat.
Now, things are just a little different. It’s 2016, and boy do we have a drastically changed landscape and outlook within the division. St-Pierre “retired” after his hard-fought battle against welterweight standout Johny Hendricks in 2013. His departure undoubtedly impacted the welterweight division, but not in a negative way.
In the debate of which division is the best or the most stacked, the welterweights are in the conversation. That is a far cry from the days of GSP’s reign.
Just look at the recent history of the welterweight belt since St-Pierre’s farewell fight at UFC 167. The championship has already changed hands more times — and that’s still just once — since GSP recaptured it from Matt Serra in 2007. Not only has the belt already change ownership in such a short amount of time, but the title fights have been memorable affairs. These fights have produced some of the best action we’ve seen inside the cage recent memory. No disrespect to the greatest welterweight of all time, but this would not have been the case if he still reigned atop of the division.
Current champion Robbie Lawler, predecessor the throne Johny Hendricks and challengers Rory MacDonald and Carlo Condit have combined for a set of four truly entertaining welterweight title fights. Three of these contests earned “Fight of the Night’” honors. The division has never seemed so deep and rich with high-level talent, either. Almost the entire top 10 has a legitimate shot at becoming welterweight champ at some point.
When St-Pierre ruled the division, there were very few contenders that anyone truly viewed as a threat to dethrone the champ. The current top 10, meanwhile, features a number of fighters who could conceivably snatch the belt away from Lawler, as great as he is. Heck, you can make the case that Lawler lost to the aforementioned Condit, who is now set to fight Demian Maia, a guy who many thought should be next in line for the title. Hendricks, too, tangled with Lawler in fights where a well-timed punch or takedown could have altered the outcome and kept Hendricks at the top of the mountain.
Now, we have some even newer additions to the contender list. There’s Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, who looked phenomenal in dispatching of the aforementioned MacDonald, who seems to be a nightmare match-up for Lawler and many more in the division. Oh, have I mentioned Tyron Woodley? He’s the man who will take on Lawler for the strap in July. What about Neil Magny? He’s the winner of 10 of his last 11 fights.
Sure, we might have lost the greatest welterweight fighter of all time. In return, though, we have received the highest level of MMA competition we could have hoped for. It is intriguing, competitive and just straight up fun. They say we don’t know what we have till we lose it. That might be true, unless what happens after we lose it turns out to be something even greater. This is where we’re at with the welterweight division.