If the Light Heavyweight division in MMA is the best with the most storied history, than the welterweights are a close second. From Hayato “Mach” Sakurai and Matt Hughes of yesteryear to Georges St. Pierre and Nick Diaz today, the 170 lb division has always been full of talent. Here is a list of the most talented competitors at 170 lbs today:
1. Georges “Rush” St. Pierre: C’mon did you expect anyone else? GSP has beaten almost every top contender the world has had to offer. He has done it with striking (Jon Fitch, Matt Hughes, Jay Hieron, Koscheck), wrestling (BJ, Hughes, Sherk), BJJ (Trigg, Hardy, Koscheck), and mixing it all together (Alves). While his style lately has been frowned upon for a safety first approach, you can’t argue with the results: He hasn’t lost a round since the first fight with Koscheck (which was almost 4 years ago). However, talks of a potential super fight with Anderson Silva have crept back into everyone’s mind so his next fight with Jake Shields might be his last at 170. If he beats Jake, and moves up, you can rest assure that he will be looked at as the best 170lber to ever walk the earth.
2. Jake Shields: The man who hasn’t lost since dropping a disappointing decision loss to Akira Kikuchi back in 2004, is not the typical fighter. He is a vegetarian, he’s never developed what you could qualify as decent stand-up, and he has become one of the best BJJ fighters in the world today. His style has led him to wins over Dan Henderson, Jason Miller, Martin Kampman, Robbie Lawler, Paul Daley, and Carlos Condit just to name a few. He holds grappling victories over Leo Santos and Vinny Magalhaes (two of the most accomplished BJJ competitors in the world). He was an all American wrestler in college, and used his style to develop American Jiu-jitsu (a hybrid of wrestling and BJJ). Although his style does not lend it self well to a fight with GSP, if Jake can get on top at some point, GSP will be in the most trouble he’s been in since Matt Serra blasted him with an overhand right.
3. Josh Koshcheck: Another wrestler. This is starting to get redundant. Josh Koscheck started his career as the cocky guy coming off the ultimate fighter show. Along the way he has shown what in my opinion is the best blast double leg takedown in the sport. Although his stand up is still unrefined he holds KO victories over Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Dustin Hazelett, and Frank Trigg. His chin has shown fragility in the past as he was rocked by Thiago Alves, Anthony Johnson and GSP and even stopped by Paulo Thiago.
4. Jon Fitch: The consistent grinder. While lacking in entertainment value at certain points you know what your going to get when you see a Jon Fitch fight. He is going to take you down, beat you up, and try to submit you. While you may be able to survive that, you’re not going to be able to offer up any offense to actually have a chance at winning the fight. It may not be pretty, but it’s sure as hell effective. The only guys who have had actual flashes of offense against Fitch in the past three years are GSP, Chris Wilson and Mike Pierce and the latter two both only lasted for seconds. Again, it may not be pretty (Let’s face it it’s boring), but it works.
5. (tie) BJ Penn: It’s my rankings list, and I say “let there be ties”! The first of 2 of my 3 favorite fighters to make this list: BJ’s nickname is “The Prodigy”. Prodigy is defined in the dictionary a couple of different ways so ill give you the one that makes the most sense for BJ – something extraordinary or inexplicable (a highly talented child or youth doesn’t fit a 32 year old). BJ has used fast hands, exceptional athletic ability, and a legendary BJJ game to beat fighters in the cage such as (Matt Hughes, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, Din Thomas, and Diego Sanchez). His cardio has always been what holds him back in big fights (BJ has never lost a fight before the third round). His next fight is against Fitch. The guy with all the athletic ability and potential against the hardworker who’s had to scratch and claw for every win he has. Somethings gotta give.
5. (tie) Thiago Alves: A huge WW with good takedown defense, great striking, and good submission defense. Thiago has used his skills to climb the ranks of MMA while simultaneously growing into the body of a MW. He has wins over Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, and Karo Parisyan that crown his resume while also beating the likes of Chris Lytle, John Howard, and John Alessio. His fight with Ricky Story should prove if the win over “Doomsday” was the start of a comeback, or a one-off great night.
7. Nick Diaz: The best boxing in MMA. I get a lot of flack for saying that (and I’ll probably get the same here), but I think it’s true. Diaz has consistently beat up guys with high level combinations, body shots, and quick countering inside hooks that leave his opponents guessing where the next shot is coming from. More importantly, he has done it most recently against striking based fighters. Against Frank Shamrock (who just got finished holding his own on the feet against Cung Le), he used his reach and pressure to nullify every advantage Frank could have had. Against Scott Smith he did the same. KJ Noons who himself has over 14 wins in professional boxing, Diaz used those inside hooks to brake KJ’s jaw and keep him from leaping in all fight. This is all pretty impressive fore a fighter more known for his BJJ and guard game than his striking. With those two factors you would think Diaz would be higher on a list like this, but one factor keeps him from that, below average wrestling. What’s worse is that his wrestling used to be at least applicable, but in fights with KJ and Cyborg it was clear that it has regressed. Still Diaz is one of the most talented fighters in the division, and the second of my favorite fighters that made this list (The other is MW Robbie Lawler).
8. Rick Story: Ricky impressed me immensely when he was able to stop takedowns repeatedly against the Johny Hendricks (who is a two time national champion and national runner up). His striking was put on display against Dustin Hazelett, and his BJJ was shown off when he tapped Brian Foster with an arm-triangle choke while still in his opponents guard. His resume is outlined with wins against the aforementioned Hendricks, Foster, and Hazelett while also holding victories over Jesse Lennox, Nick Osipczak, and Jake Ellenberger. He still has a little bit of proving to do if opponents can get him to his back or stop his from muscling them around, but the future looks bright for “The Horror”.
9. Tyron Woodley: Tyron tried out for the US side of The Ultimate Fighter season 9. He was one of the final cuts before the season was started with the elimination fights. Which begs the question: What in the world were they looking for? Woodley is a former conference champion in wrestling, and two time All American. He has finished 6 out of his first 8 fights (5 by submission), and is undefeated. Tyron has yet to be tested by a decent striker with good takedown defense, and unless Strikeforce makes a major signing, he will probably not have that opportunity in said promotion. A fight with Nick Diaz seems to be in his future, and for all the skill Diaz possesses it’s a very winnable fight for Woodley.
10. Carlos Condit: A man with what in my opinion is the best nickname in MMA (The Natural Born Killer, amazing), Condit poses a serious threat to any one he steps in the cage with. He has the ability to knock out his opponents with any appendage, and can just as easily submit you from his back. He has used an effective guard and sweeps to keep wrestlers from doing damage while on top of him during fights, and when he has an opponent hurt he finishes him. He is a slow starter so he regularly gives away opening rounds, and sometimes get hurt on the feet, but as the fight goes on he always gets stronger. A fight with Chris Lytle would’ve been guaranteed excitement.