1. Tyron Woodley (16-3-1)Woodley dominated the first and fourth rounds in his first title defense against Stephen Thompson at UFC 205, but the welterweight champion ultimately had to settle for a majority draw to retain his strap. Given the close and contentious nature of the bout, the UFC seems content to run the 170-pound clash back, meaning Woodley’s second title defense will likely come in early 2017 in a rematch against “Wonderboy.”
2. Robbie Lawler (27-11, 1 NC)The minute it was announced for UFC 205 in November, MMA folks were in a tizzy over the slated Lawler-Donald Cerrone showdown at Madison Square Garden. Just as soon as the ink dried, however, Lawler was forced to bow out of the bout due to injury, leaving a hole in the hearts of hardcore MMA fans everywhere.
3. Stephen Thompson (13-1-1)For long stretches of his UFC title clash with Tyron Woodley, Thompson was sensational. However, “Wonderboy” took an early beating on the mat in Round 1 and was nearly submitted by a Woodley guillotine in the fourth, leading to a majority draw at UFC 205. Fortunately for the karate expert, the razor-thin nature of the decision means Thompson is likely to rematch Woodley for the welterweight crown in 2017.
4. Demian Maia (24-6)At 39 years old, Maia is not just beating competitors in a great weight class; he is blowing them out. With his sub-two-minute submission of Carlos Condit at UFC on Fox 21, Maia has now won six in a row, but more importantly, he is hardly getting hit while dominating the likes of Neil Magny, Gunnar Nelson, Matt Brown and Condit from back control. Maia’s third rear-naked choke finish in his last four fights had many calling for the Brazilian to challenge for the UFC welterweight title.
5. Rory MacDonald (18-4)MacDonald spent 11 months away from the cage following his “Fight of the Year” with Robbie Lawler in 2015 and took enough damage in his brutal title challenge that many wondered if the 26-year-old would be the same fighter upon his return. On June 18 in Ottawa, Ontario, MacDonald was far from vintage form, as Stephen Thompson befuddled the “Red King” for 25 minutes, earning a unanimous decision. The Canadian hit free agency after the loss and has since agreed to terms with the Bellator MMA promotion.
6. Lorenz Larkin (18-5, 1 NC)A former 205-pounder in Strikeforce, Larkin began his UFC career as a middleweight and went 1-4 in those five fights. Since dropping to 170 pounds, he is 4-1. He put on an absolute master class at UFC 202 against Neil Magny, who had won nine of his last 10 fights in the Octagon. Larkin is one of the UFC’s biggest wild cards at this point, and if “The Monsoon” has truly turned a corner as a welterweight, he may emerge as a viable title contender in the near future -- if he re-signs with the UFC.
7. Kelvin Gastelum (13-2)In his nearly four-year UFC tenure, Gastelum has failed to make the 170-pound limit on three occasions. When “The Ultimate Fighter 17” winner went up to 185 pounds and blew the doors off of veteran Tim Kennedy at UFC 206 in December, it seemed sensible for Gastelum to remain a middleweight, but the Arizona native insisted he would return to welterweight. For now, his promoter disagrees: Gastelum will stay at 185 pounds and face Vitor Belfort on March 11 in Fortaleza, Brazil.
8. Ben Askren (15-0, 1 NC)After destroying the likes of Karl Amoussou, Andrey Koreshkov and Douglas Lima, Ben Askren took a cushy deal with One Championship. Since he became their 170-pound champ in August 2014, he’s fought just twice, one of those being a No Contest due an eye poke, then had One Championship change its weigh-in and weight class structure, leading Askren to essentially become a middleweight. Presumably, Askren’s next outing will be another true 185-pound bout, spelling the end of his tenure -- at least for now -- as a welterweight.
9. Donald Cerrone (32-7, 1 NC)When Cerrone finally landed a title shot in the UFC, then-lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos destroyed him in just 66 seconds. In turn, “Cowboy” decided to move up to 170 pounds -- a move that earned some quizzical reactions. Since then, Cerrone is 4-0, having finished Alex Oliveira, Patrick Cote, Rick Story and Matt Brown consecutively and firmly established himself as one of the best at 170 pounds, to boot.
10. Carlos Condit (30-10)Less than eight months after turning in the frontrunner for 2016 “Fight of the Year” over five brutal rounds with Robbie Lawler, Condit could not last two minutes with Demian Maia and his grappling prowess before being tapped with a rear-naked choke. Condit is 2-5 in his last seven fights, and his quick, one-sided loss to Maia has “The Natural Born Killer” publicly questioning whether he will continue fighting.
Other Contenders: Andrey Koreshkov, Douglas Lima, Neil Magny, Jorge Masvidal, Gunnar Nelson
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