1. Georges St. Pierre (22-2)
The welterweight division’s French Canadian king managed only one Octagon appearance in 2011, a five-round decision win over Jake Shields in April. While there’s still no solid timeline for his return, GSP has stated that rehabilitation on his reconstructed ACL is “ahead of schedule,” possibly putting him in line for a late-2012 meeting with interim champ Carlos Condit.
2. Carlos Condit (28-5)
Nearly five years after becoming the final WEC welterweight champ, Condit has captured UFC gold. The “Natural Born Killer” used a perfectly executed game plan on Feb. 4 to steer clear of Nick Diaz and rack up points for a unanimous decision win. What’s next for the new UFC interim welterweight titleholder is unclear, but Dana White says a fight against Georges St. Pierre is in the cards regardless of whether Condit meets Martin Kampmann in the meantime.
3. Nick Diaz (26-8, 1 ND)
Following a five-round decision loss to Carlos Condit in the main event of UFC 143, Diaz angrily declared himself finished with MMA. Weeks later, the Nevada State Athletic Commission further lessened the likelihood of seeing the former Strikeforce ace in the cage anytime soon when it suspended Diaz due to once again testing positive for marijuana.
4. Johny Hendricks (12-1)
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy propelled himself into the Top 5 with a stunning, 12-second knockout of Jon Fitch on Dec. 30. Despite the current chaos atop the division, Hendricks will have a chance to further boost his status when he takes on fellow wrestler Josh Koscheck in May at UFC on Fox 3.
5. Jon Fitch (23-4-1, 1 NC)
Jon Fitch’s three-plus-year odyssey to get another UFC welterweight title shot was waylaid at UFC 141, as Johny Hendricks needed just one punch and 12 seconds to lay the former Purdue Boilermaker out. It will be a long, slow climb back to Fitch’s former perch as welterweight’s second banana.
6. Jake Ellenberger (27-5)
The Nebraskan “Juggernaut” continued his march through the UFC welterweight ranks Feb. 15 by surviving a late scare to outpoint Diego Sanchez in Omaha. Ellenberger has now won six straight since dropping his Octagon debut to Carlos Condit, but the 26-year-old’s path to contendership has been stymied by Georges St. Pierre’s injury and Condit’s recent interim title win.
7. Josh Koscheck (17-5)
Koscheck survived early pressure from Mike Pierce to squeak out a narrow decision victory Feb. 4 at UFC 143. Despite a recent split from his longtime home at American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, Calif., “Kos” will still have revenge on his mind come May 5 when he meets Johny Hendricks, who comes off a 12-second knockout of Koscheck training partner Jon Fitch.
8. Jake Shields (27-6-1)
Shields snapped the first two-fight losing skid of his career by spoiling the welterweight debut of Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 144 in February. Though repeatedly hurled to the ground by the world-class judoka, Shields kept up a high-volume offensive attack across three rounds to earn a unanimous nod.
9. Martin Kampmann (19-5)
Less than a minute away from dropping a decision to Thiago Alves, “The Hitman” took out his Brazilian foe with a remarkable, come-from-behind guillotine choke on March 3 in Sydney. With back-to-back wins against Alves and Rick Story, Kampmann has put himself near the top of the division, though whether he’ll get a shot at interim champ Carlos Condit remains to be seen.
10. B.J. Penn (16-8-2)
B.J. Penn’s temporary hiatus from MMA following his October loss to Nick Diaz had all but removed “The Prodigy” from the sport’s headlines. However, a Twitter tirade against the aforementioned Diaz has got many itching to see the Hawaiian back inside the cage in 2012.
Other contenders:Ben Askren, Charlie Brenneman, Rory MacDonald, Rick Story, Tyron Woodley.
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