The UFC welterweight division is as packed and wide-open as it’s ever been following longtime champion George’s St. Pierre’s vacation of the belt late last year.
The top rungs of the division were sorted out at March 15’s UFC 171 when Johny Hendricks won the belt from Robbie Lawler, Tyron Woodley defeated No. 2-ranked contender Carlos Condit, and Hector Lombard beat Jake Shields to send the former Strikeforce champion packing to World Series of Fighting.
After Hendricks was found to have a torn biceps tendon that required surgery, the welterweight focus shifted to just whom will be “Bigg Rigg’s” next challenger when he returns sometime this fall. To help figure that out, a showdown between No. 2-ranked contender Rory MacDonald and No. 4 Woodley was booked for June’s UFC 174 pay-per-view in Vancouver.
While it’s a bout that should see the next rightful title contender emerge, UFC President Dana White recently said that we should pump our brakes on that assumption. Speaking during a whirlwind end of April that features 4 events in 15 days, White wouldn’t guarantee a chance at the belt for the winner:
“It’s definitely one of those fights that puts a guy in contention,” White said. “Is the winner of that fight going to get a title shot? That I don’t do.” – via MMA Junkie
While it’s beyond painfully obvious that a top-level bout of this magnitude will put the winner in contention, it’s classic UFC strategy to give an ambiguous answer and see what plays out. After all, the UFC has been burned time and again by booking huge fights only to see them completely blow up.
Many MMA fans and media are putting MacDonald, who recently beat BJJ whiz Demian Maia at UFC 170 in February, as the next rightful heir to his training partner and mentor “GSP’s” old throne.
He has to get past a surging Woodley first. “Chosen One” recently finished two former title contenders in Condit and Josh Koscheck and he’s on the hunt for the belt. It’s unknown if the former NCAA Division I All-American wrestler can keep up a furious pace with MacDonald for three full rounds, however.
Should the winner of the pivotal summer showdown automatically get the shot? Or would you favor the winner of UFC 173’s Robbie Lawler vs. Jake Ellenberger match-up instead?
Photo Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie for USA TODAY Sports