Despite the impressive dominance of current UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, the welterweight division continues to be one of the most entertaining and unpredictable divisions. With many of the top contenders already defeated at the hands of Usman, the division is in desperate need of new faces to enter the future title conversation as 2021 nears to a close. Let’s take a look at the top UFC welterweights to pay attention heading into the fourth quarter of 2021.
It was a stellar knockout via knee that ultimately led to Daniel Rodriguez getting a shot on Dana White’s Contender Series with an 8-1 record. He won a decision over Rico Farrington as he returned to welterweight and earned his shot on the big stage. His UFC debut ended in an impressive submission victory over veteran Tim Means. Since then, the California native has taken advantage of his opportunity compiling a 6-1 record in the UFC. In fact, the 34-year-old Rodriguez’s only setback was a decision loss to Nicolas Dalby. He rebounded dominantly in 2021 where he has defeated Mike Perry, Preston Parsons and Kevin Lee.
Tough, resilient and willing to fight anybody, Rodriguez is the exact kind of fighter that captures the attention of fans. This is due to his aggressive, entertaining and ambitious fighting style. “D-Rod” uses his proficient boxing to pepper his opponents with combinations and counterstrikes, before utilizing patience and composure. His best weapon, by far, is his thunderous left hand, which he uses to bait his opponents into wild striking exchanges.
In addition, Rodriguez is extremely capable of implementing a reactive Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu attack which has led to four slick submission victories. Rodriguez currently sits at the 15th spot in the welterweight division, and he’s riding a three-fight winning streak. Fans should look for Rodriguez to pair up with a fellow top-15 welterweight as he continues to climb the 170-pound ladder.
It’s not every day that a UFC welterweight can go three straight rounds of slugging with Santiago Ponzinibbio and live to tell the tale. Florida native Miguel Baeza did that and more when he took on the Brazilian in a three-round “Fight of the Night” performance. Despite the first loss of his career, Baeza showed his ability to hang with the division’s best. He continuously marched forward and traded with one of the division’s most talented strikers.
Baeza first entered the Octagon after compiling a 6-0 record, which ultimately earned him a shot on Dana White’s Contender Series. He bested Victor Reyna to earn a contract. In his UFC debut, he scored an impressive TKO victory via leg kicks and elbows against Hector Aldana. That performance flowed right into Baeza’s climb up the UFC ladder, starting with a high-profile matchup against longtime UFC veteran Matt Brown in May 2020.
Despite being dropped in the first round and overcoming adversity, Baeza bounced back with a stellar knockout of Brown. That earned him “Performance of the Night” honors and another Octagon appearance just three months later against Takashi Sato. He took care of Sato with relative ease as he battered him with powerful strikes on the ground, before securing a choke as well as another “Performance of the Night” award.
Baeza is a fairly tall welterweight standing at 6-feet-2 and boasting a 74-inch reach advantage. Despite holding a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Baeza has truly left an impression due to his fantastic striking. Despite a minor setback in his early career as a UFC welterweight, expect the UFC to provide Baeza with a viable opponent that will continue to allow the 29-year-old welterweight to develop into a future contender.
Shavkat Rakhmonov is not being talked about nearly enough. The Kazakhstan Top Team prospect compiled a perfect 12-0 record in various organizations, including M-1 Challenge, before earning a shot in the UFC.
Rakhmonov made his UFC debut by making quick work of Alex Oliveira via first-round submission. He then dazzled fans with a second-round submission over Michel Prazeres and officially announced himself as a threat to the top of the division.
Rakhmonov’s style is well-rounded. He stands tall and utilizes a stiff jab to closes the distance and earn takedowsn. From there, he rains down strikes through his opponent’s defense. In addition to a powerful grappling game, which generally ends with Rakhmonov in a dominant position, the Kazakhstan native is a versatile striker. Expect the 26-year-old prospect to be matched up with a fairly well-known name for his next Octagon outing.
Will Rakhmonov, Baeza and Rodriguez be able to make waves in a division which has largely been dominated by the champ Usman? Hopefully, in the final quarter of 2021, fans will get to see whether or not these fighters can shake up the UFC welterweight rankings.
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