1. Robbie Lawler (27-10, 1 NC)Lawler at UFC 195 proved once again why he should never be counted out of a fight. Seemingly on his way to losing a decision against high-volume challenger Carlos Condit, Lawler went out blazing in the final round with an audacious display of striking that earned him a split decision and allowed him to keep the UFC welterweight belt. The past six months have seen “Ruthless” emerge victorious from protracted battles with Condit and Rory MacDonald in two bruising title defenses. Now, Lawler will defend his belt against Tyron Woodley at UFC 201 on July 30 in Atlanta.
2. 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. MacDonald will square off against rising striker Stephen Thompson on June 18 in Ottawa.
3. 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 missed his bout at UFC 192 due to a failed Johny Hendricks weight cut, but it came with a silver lining: Woodley will face Robbie Lawler for the welterweight title at UFC 201 on July 30 in Atlanta.
4. Stephen Thompson (12-1)Elevated to main-event status at the Feb. 6 event formerly known as UFC 196, “Wonderboy” shocked Johny Hendricks by handing the former UFC welterweight champ his first knockout loss. Since losing to Matt Brown in his second UFC appearance, Thompson has been nothing short of sensational, recording six straight wins with four stoppages against the likes of Jake Ellenberger and Robert Whittaker. The striker will have a chance to move even higher in the rankings on June 18, when he meets Rory MacDonald.
5. Demian Maia (23-6)With a third-round choke and full-scale blowout of Matt Brown at UFC 198, Maia is now 8-2 as a welterweight. In his last four fights, all against top 15 opponents, Maia is 4-0. In his last three fights, Maia has absorbed all of 12 significant strikes by FightMetric count. Quite simply, outside of champion Robbie Lawler and perhaps Stephen Thompson, no welterweight has been hotter in the last two years than the 38-year-old grappling gentleman.
6. Johny Hendricks (17-4)Hendricks on Feb. 6 came up on the wrong side of a knockout for the first time in 21 fights, as the heavy-handed wrestler was taken down by the more technical striking of Stephen Thompson. The defeat comes as a major blow to the title hopes of “Bigg Rigg,” who was looking to work his way back into contention and build upon his 2015 win over Matt Brown. Hendricks will be back in the cage at UFC 200, where he will collide with Kelvin Gastelum on July 9.
7. Carlos Condit (30-9)Three years after he nearly dethroned Georges St. Pierre, Condit once again came up short in a bid for the welterweight title at UFC 195. The “Natural Born Killer” executed a terrific game plan through four rounds with Robbie Lawler, but the champion came on strong in the final frame and nearly finished Condit before earning a controversial split decision. Following the hard-luck loss, Condit said he was considering hanging up his gloves.
8. Matt Brown (20-14)Brown admitted before his UFC 198 bout with Demian Maia in Curitiba, Brazil, that it was a nightmare matchup, both stylistically and environmentally. Not only did Brown prove correct, as Maia dominated him and choked him out in the third round, but his trip to Brazil proved even more nightmarish. He got into a pre-fight altercation with a fan who grabbed his sweater hood, then was allegedly attacked by former coach Rodrigo Botti at his hotel. Brown will draw his next assignment at UFC 201 on July 30, when he confronts Jake Ellenberger in Atlanta.
9. Neil Magny (18-4)Following last year’s impressive 4-1 run, Magny kicked off his 2016 campaign with a come-from-behind March knockout of Hector Lombard. Magny was nearly finished in the opening round, but his gas tank carried him to victory in the third frame against the former Bellator middleweight ace. The Illinois native’s 11-3 record inside the Octagon also includes wins against the likes of Kelvin Gastelum, Tim Means and Erick Silva.
10. Ben Askren (15-0, 1 NC)Askren once again used his powerful wrestling base to dominate and grind out an opponent, as the One Championship welterweight titleholder ground out challenger Nikolay Aleksakhin across five rounds on April 15. Now unbeaten in 16 professional outings, the Roufusport fighter continues to toil against unknown competition outside of the major North American organizations.
Other Contenders: Dong Hyun Kim, Andrey Koreshkov, Ryan LaFlare, Gunnar Nelson, Rick Story.
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