1. Robbie Lawler (26-10, 1 NC)Lawler on July 11 became the first man to successfully defend the UFC welterweight title in the post-Georges St. Pierre era, and he did so in dramatic fashion. Following four rounds of bloody, back-and-forth action with Rory MacDonald, the “Ruthless” one put away his challenger with a nose-shattering left hand. Since rejoining the UFC in February 2013, Lawler has gone 7-1 with four knockouts. He will next defend his title against Carlos Condit at UFC 195 on Jan. 2.
2. Johny Hendricks (17-3)While it was a far cry from his thrilling scraps with Robbie Lawler, Hendricks was dominant in earning a ground-based unanimous decision over Matt Brown at UFC 185. The win put “Bigg Rigg” back on track and moved him one step closer to a rematch with Lawler, the man who took Hendricks’ belt in December. First, Hendricks will have to get past fellow wrestler Tyron Woodley in a high-stakes bout at UFC 192.
3. Rory MacDonald (18-3)For four rounds on July 11, MacDonald went toe-to-toe with Robbie Lawler. At times, it appeared the Canadian might leave UFC 189 as the new welterweight champion. However, early in round five, a straight left hand from the champion obliterated MacDonald’s already damaged nose and forced the “Red King” to give in. Since 2011, MacDonald has gone 8-2 inside the Octagon, beating the likes of B.J. Penn, Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia; his only two losses in that span have come against Lawler.
4. Tyron Woodley (14-3)Woodley fought off his back foot for most of his three-round encounter with Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 183, but a steady diet of big right hands helped “The Chosen One” earn a split decision against his overweight opponent. The win was Woodley’s second straight since having his title hopes derailed in a unanimous decision loss to Rory MacDonald. The former Mizzou Tiger will look to make it three in a row at UFC 192 when he takes on ex-champ Johny Hendricks.
5. Carlos Condit (30-8)Returning from an ACL injury which sidelined him for 14 months, Condit looked like the same old “Natural Born Killer.” The Jackson-Wink MMA representative tore through Thiago Alves in 10 minutes on May 30, busting the dangerous Brazilian’s nose to force a doctor stoppage after two rounds. Condit called for a title shot after the win, and he will get his wish. He will challenge Robbie Lawler for the welterweight crown at UFC 195 in January.
6. Matt Brown (20-13)Note to welterweights: Brown is not the man with whom to trade elbows. Tim Means found that out the hard way on July 11, when “The Immortal” used heavy elbow strikes to stun “The Dirty Bird” before finishing with a guillotine choke late in the first round. The win got Brown back on track after decision losses to reigning UFC champ Robbie Lawler and former titlist Johny Hendricks halted the Ohioan’s quest for gold. His next assignment will come against Kelvin Gastelum at a UFC Fight Night event on Nov. 21 in Mexico.
7. Ben Askren (14-0, 1 NC)While Askren remains the top welterweight operating outside the UFC, his latest outing left much to be desired. Competing for the first time in eight months, the One Championship titlist took on fellow Bellator MMA veteran Luis “Sapo” Santos, but the bout was ruled a no-contest after just two minutes when Askren stuck Santos with a thumb to the eye. Askren is still unbeaten after 15 bouts and has recorded finishes in his last four wins.
8. Demian Maia (21-6)Maia’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu prowess was on full display at UFC 190, where he styled on Neil Magny before snapping the American’s seven-fight winning streak with a second-round choke. Closing in on 38 years of age, Maia still appears to be in prime fighting shape; the former UFC middleweight title contender has now won three in a row at 170 pounds. Maia will tackle fellow grappling ace Gunnar Nelson at UFC 194 on Dec. 12.
9. Rousimar Palhares (18-6)Palhares retained his World Series of Fighting welterweight title with a third-round submission of Jake Shields on Aug. 1, but, of course, the win did not come without controversy. Held down in the first two frames, “Toquinho” repeatedly gouged the eyes of Shields and then held on to the fight-ending kimura a bit too long. As a result, Palhares was stripped of the title despite a perfect 3-0 record inside the WSOF cage.
10. Jake Shields (31-8-1, 1 NC)Shields was submitted for the first time in his 40-fight career when he succumbed to a third-round kimura from Rousimar Palhares on Aug. 1. Frustrated by Palhares’ delayed release of the hold, as well as the Brazilian’s eye gouging in the fight, the American jiu-jitsu specialist socked “Toquinho” with a punch after the bell. What disciplinary action will be taken against Shields, if any, remains to be seen.
Other Contenders: Dong Hyun Kim, Andrey Koreshkov, Neil Magny, Rick Story, Stephen Thompson.
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