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1. Kamaru Usman (17-1) Usman continued to roll through the welterweight division at UFC 251, taking a dominant unanimous verdict over short-notice foe Jorge Masvidal in the evening’s headliner at Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. While “The Nigerian Nightmare” wasn’t especially exciting, he was undeniably effective in throttling his opponent through clinch work, pressure and takedowns. Usman has now won 12 consecutive fights at 170 pounds, tying him with Georges St. Pierre for the longest winning streak in the history of the division. Usman was expected to make his next title defense against Gilbert Burns at UFC 256 on Dec. 12, but nagging injuries for the reigning champ put that matchup on hold.
2. Colby Covington (16-2) Covington settled the score with Tyron Woodley in decisive fashion at UFC Fight Night 178, dominating his former American Top Team stablemate for the majority of the bout before a rib injury forced Woodley to cry uncle at the 1:19 mark of Round 5. “Chaos” appears to be back on track after coming up short in a 170-pound title bout against Kamaru Usman at UFC 245 in December and remains one of the top contenders in the division.
3. Gilbert Burns (19-3) Burns nearly finished Tyron Woodley in the opening moments of the UFC on ESPN 9 main event, and he dominated their fight from there, winning a clear-cut unanimous decision at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on May 30. That makes five straight welterweight triumphs for Burns, who has thrived since moving up from 155 pounds. “Durinho” was supposed to face Kamaru Usman for the welterweight crown at UFC 251, but a positive COVID-19 test forced Burns out of his golden opportunity. Burns was then expected to get a chance to dethrone Usman at UFC 256 on Dec. 12, but the title fight was again postponed to allow the champ to heal from lingering injuries.
4. Jorge Masvidal (35-14) After accepting a welterweight title fight on six days’ notice, Masvidal gave Kamaru Usman hell for a round at UFC 251 before fatigue and the champion’s oppressive wrestling took control. When the dust settled, “Gamebred” had dropped a unanimous decision to Usman that wasn’t particularly close. Masvidal’s next move figures to be intriguing, as there have been talks for the “BMF” champ to face either Nate Diaz or Colby Covington, but nothing has been finalized.
5. Leon Edwards (18-3) Edwards gave the most complete performance of his career at UFC on ESPN 4, earning convincing five-round verdict over former lightweight king Rafael dos Anjos in San Antonio. That makes eight consecutive victories for “Rocky,” who has positioned himself as one of the top contenders at 170 pounds. After briefly being removed from the UFC rankings as a negotiating tactic by the promotion, Edwards returned to the poll after agreeing to a matchup with red-hot — and unranked — prospect Khamzat Chimaev on Dec. 19. Unfortunately, that pairing was scratched after Edwards tested positive for COVID-19, but the rebooking has reportedly been targeted for Jan. 20.
6. Douglas Lima (32-8) Lima’s bid to become a two-division champion came up short at Bellator 250, where he dropped a five-round verdict to Gegard Mousasi. That defeat comes on the heels of a successful run through the promotion’s 170-pound grand prix, where he bested Andrey Koreshkov, Michael Page and Rory MacDonald to regain the welterweight crown. After a forgettable performance vs. Mousasi, it seems that Lima would be better suited to remain at 170 pounds for the time being.
7. Michael Chiesa (17-4) Chiesa looks quite comfortable at welterweight, particularly when he looks significantly larger than his opponent as he did against Rafael dos Anjos at UFC Raleigh. The Sikjitsu product used his size and grappling to ground the former lightweight king for significant periods of time to capture a unanimous verdict in the evening’s co-main event. Since moving up from the lightweight division, Chiesa has earned convincing triumphs over Carlos Condit, Diego Sanchez and dos Anjos to establish himself as a person of interest at 170 pounds.
8. Tyron Woodley (19-7-1) For the third consecutive bout, Woodley suffered a lopsided loss at the hands of one of the 170-pound division’s top contenders. This time, it was bitter rival Colby Covington who administered the beating, as he stopped Woodley via fifth-round TKO in the UFC Fight Night 178 headliner in Las Vegas on Sept. 19. The 38-year-old former champion has not been competitive in setbacks to Covington, Gilbert Burns and Kamaru Usman, prompting UFC president Dana White to urge “The Chosen One” to consider retirement.
9. Rafael dos Anjos (30-13) In his first lightweight bout in more than four years, dos Anjos showed that he’s ready to contend at 155 pounds again when he dispatched Paul Felder in the UFC Fight Night 182 headliner on Nov. 14. The 36-year-old Brazilian was coming off a stint at 170 pounds in which he had lost four of his previous five Octagon appearances, but it appears that he is ready to make another run at championship gold in the division he once ruled.
10. Rory MacDonald (21-6-1) The entirety of the Bellator welterweight grand prix was a slog for MacDonald, and it finally caught up to him in the tournament finals, where he dropped a unanimous verdict — and the 170-pound belt — to Douglas Lima. Unlike his first meeting with Lima, the Tristar Gym representative was unable to impose his will through takedowns at Bellator 232, and as a result, “The Phenom” gradually picked him apart with quick left hands and hard leg kicks. “The Red King” will not have a trilogy with Lima anytime soon, as he has departed for the Professional Fighters League with an eye on competing for the promotion’s $1 million payout at 170 pounds.
Other Contenders: Demian Maia, Conor McGregor, Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis, Stephen Thompson.
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