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What’s Next for UFC Welterweights? Matchmaking the Intriguing 170-LB Division

The UFC’s most top-heavy division just got even more perplexing. What could possibly be next for the UFC welterweights?

On Saturday, Leon “Rocky” Edwards and Belal “Remember the Name” Muhammad squared off in the main event of UFC Vegas 21, ending one of the most bizarre cards in recent memory. The highly-anticipated bout ended in a no contest, as an accidental eye poke from Edwards rendered Muhammad unable to continue, and for good reason as Muhammad appeared to be bleeding from his eye.

13th-ranked Muhammad (18-3-0 1 NC, 9-3-0 1 NC UFC) took the fight on three weeks’ notice, as Khamzat Chimaev pulled out due to COVID-19 complications. Edwards (18-3 1 NC, 10-2 1 NC UFC), the third-ranked welterweight, was determined to fight on that card after a near two-year layoff and an eight-fight winning streak. The fight answered no questions in one of the slowest-moving divisions in the sport, and both fans and fighters are left scratching their heads.

UFC Welterweights’ Next Moves

Kamaru Usman: The king of the UFC welterweights, Kamaru Usman (18-1-0, 13-0-0 UFC) has been incredibly dominant atop his perch, and rumors have swirled surrounding a Jorge Masvidal rematch after his dismantling of Gilbert Burns. There seems to be bad blood between the two, and an Ultimate Fighter 29 reboot featuring the two as coaches would be absolutely electric business. Colby Covington, who was the closest fight for Usman, has declined the TUF opportunity and Masvidal remains the next best option. After all, he did take the champion to a decision, even if the fight was fairly lopsided.

Colby Covington: The former interim titleholder, Covington (16-2-0, 11-2-0 UFC) is coming off of a dominant performance against ex-champion Tyron Woodley, where he ragdolled Woodley for 4 straight rounds and Woodley tapped out due to a rib injury. There was interest in Usman coaching TUF 29 with him, as the two have a legitimate rivalry. However, Covington declined for unknown reasons and so a number one contender bout with Burns makes the most sense.

Colby Covington punching Tyron Woodley.
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – SEPTEMBER 19: (L-R) Colby Covington punches Tyron Woodley in their welterweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on September 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Burns is coming off a KO loss to Usman, but he should be thrown right back into the fray at 170. The two are both ridiculously powerful but are known for their ground game. Regardless, this fight should provide much-needed clarity for the welterweights and will most definitely provide fireworks.

Gilbert Burns: The number-two ranked Brazilian standout (19-4-0, 12-4-0 UFC) has made his name at both welterweight and lightweight, and he had the champ Usman hurt in their title fight at UFC 258. He has mentioned Covington before, and Covington’s comments about Brazil may be a motivating factor for Burns. However, Burns is not one to hold a grudge, and the matchup between two elite fighters would be more desired for the action than the storyline. Both are fantastic grapplers with fight-ending power.

Leon Edwards: After his underwhelming no contest against Muhammad, Edwards immediately used his post-fight presser with DC to call for a title shot. This was met with laughs from many, understandably. Edwards is in no position to call for a title fight after only going one round in the past two years, regardless of his eight-fight win streak. Edwards must prove himself against a top contender. He has been picky with his fights, despite being called out by everyone from Neil Magny to Stephen Thompson. Thompson is the fight to make, disregarding an obvious immediate rematch with Muhammad, as they are both fantastic strikers and are seeking to gain traction at the top of the 170-pound division.

Jorge Masvidal: The journeyman Masvidal (35-14-0, 17-8-0 UFC) looks to stake his claim of the UFC welterweight title, and he would like to have a rematch with Usman. Last time out, he lost a 50-45, 50-45, 49-46 decision to the champ Usman, and has aspirations of avenging that loss. It has been announced by him and his team that he will be fighting for the belt in September, and an appearance on The Ultimate Fighter seems to be in the works for the Floridian.

Jorge Masvidal punches Kamaru Usman.
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – JULY 12: (R-L) Jorge Masvidal punches Kamaru Usman of Nigeria in their UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 251 event at Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 12, 2020 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Stephen Thompson: Number-five ranked “Wonderboy” (16-4-1, 11-4-0 UFC) is hot off a decision win over Geoff Neal and so he needs a top-ranked contender to set him apart from most UFC welterweights. He has been denied this opportunity so far, and while his callout with Edwards makes sense, Edwards needs a rematch with Muhammad. Thompson doesn’t have a fight, and the top-five, including the champion, are all booked in this scenario. The closest to the top-five is Michael Chiesa, one of the true workhorses at welterweight. A win would almost guarantee a title shot, and his striking-first style provides an interesting stylistic matchup to the gritty jiu-jitsu of Chiesa.

Michael Chiesa: Sixth-ranked Chiesa (17-4-0, 11-4-0 UFC) has proven that he belongs among the elite of the UFC welterweights after a dominant decision win over Magny. His workman-like attitude and gritty style of fighting provide the perfect complement to “NMF” Thompson, and they both look to put themselves in the 170-pound title picture without any speculation. It’s time Chiesa’s career made a jump, and this fight against Thompson would prove to be the ultimate test.

Tyron Woodley: The former champion (19-6-1, 9-5-0 UFC) has been on a three-fight skid, including a title fight loss to Usman. As talented as he is, he needs a bounce-back fight. He seems to have lost confidence in his game, and this could potentially cause a career resurgence. He is booked to fight tenth-ranked Vicente Luque, someone who could cause major problems for Woodley, both on the feet and on the ground. If Woodley loses four straight, he will need to do some serious soul-searching.

Demian Maia: Ex-title challenger and jiu-jitsu legend Demian Maia (28-10-0, 22-10-0 UFC) was beaten by Burns in his last fight but is still ranked eighth in the division. He is reaching the end of his career at age 38 but Maia could still have one more run in him. He should fight Woodley, but Woodley is already booked for Luque. So a fight with Santiago Ponzinibbio could suit him well. Both are coming off losses, and they sport similar styles in their mastery of jiu-jitsu. This fight may not be a barn burner, but for two veterans looking for motivation to continue, it’s essential.

Neil Magny: One of the humblest guys in the sport, Magny (24-8-0, 17-7 UFC) is tied with GSP for the most wins among UFC welterweights, and looks to bounce back from his decision loss to Chiesa. Ranked at number nine, Magny has won three of his last four and seeks to cement himself as a true elite in the division. A win over 11th-ranked Geoff Neal would do just that. The two men are always down to scrap and it would make for a fantastic fight for both hardcore fans and casual viewers.

Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny shaking hands
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – JANUARY 20: (L-R) Michael Chiesa and Neil Magny shake hands after their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Etihad Arena on UFC Fight Island on January 20, 2021 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Vicente Luque: The electric Brazilian (19-7-1, 12-3-0 UFC) has just beaten Randy Brown by flying knee, and he is now booked to fight Woodley, a former champion. Ideally, a fight with Maia would make more sense, but a win against a former champion in Woodley could serve to put him on the map as a welterweight everyone in the top-ten should fear.

Geoff Neal: Neal (13-3-0, 6-1-0 UFC) has called anyone and everyone out, at least when it comes to UFC welterweights, and he deserves another tough fight after his seven-fight win streak was snapped by Thompson. His wrestling style and fight-anyone-anytime-anywhere mentality matches his potential opponent Magny. These two are seeking to prove that they are among the top UFC welterweights. His power is not to be counted out, though, because he does have the potential to knock his opponent out. However, so does Magny. This fight is being targeted by the UFC, and it is not one to miss.

Li Jingliang: Chinese prospect Li Jingliang (18-6-0, 10-4-0 UFC) is fresh off a KO win over Ponzinibbio, and at 12 in the division, he seeks to stake a claim amongst the elite of the UFC welterweights. A fight against undefeated and number-15 ranked Sean Brady (14-0-0, 4-0-0 UFC) needs to be made, as both men have proven they are ready for contenders in the division. They both possess power in their hands and Jingliang looks to be the first man to stop the surging Brady. It has proven to be a near-impossible task and should make for a fantastic fight.

Belal Muhammad: An Edwards rematch with a full camp must be Muhammad’s goal, as they only got in one round before the fight was stopped due to an eye poke. Ranked at 13, Muhammad looks to vault himself into the top-ten of the welterweight division, and a fight with a top contender like Edwards would do just that. Plus, it would finally end the anticlimax that has been Edwards’ career trajectory in the past two years. What’s not to love about the rematch?

Sean Brady: The 14-0 prospect from Pennsylvania has been on fire recently, and a win over a very tough out in Jake Matthews proves he’s ready for a top-15 opponent. Jingliang is the perfect opponent for him, as Brady’s jiu-jitsu and top control should prove to be an interesting matchup stylistically. This fight should be fantastic, if it is made, and the winner should be one to watch among UFC welterweights for years to come.

If Mick Maynard and the UFC took this advice, here’s what it would look like:

  • Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal 2
  • Colby Covington vs Gilbert Burns
  • Leon Edwards vs Belal Muhammad 2
  • Stephen Thompson vs Michael Chiesa
  • Tyron Woodley vs Vicente Luque
  • Neil Magny vs Geoff Neal
  • Demian Maia vs Santiago Ponzinibbio
  • Li Jingliang vs Sean Brady

How do you see the welterweight division playing out, and what are your thoughts on this matchmaking? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Follow me on Twitter @Cooper_Burke9 for more sports news and discussions. Also, make sure to follow @OT_Heroics for all your sporting needs and @OTHeroicsMMA for all things mixed martial arts!

Featured image credit to Embed from Getty Images

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