It’s been quite the start to 2015 for the UFC welterweight division with the title picture, which will briefly be put on hold as champion Robbie Lawler takes some much-needed time off after a hectic 2014 that featured four fights, is now more clouded than ever.
After No. 2-ranked Rory MacDonald had a promised title shot ripped from his hands in favor of Lawler vs. Johny Hendricks III, “The Red King” agreed to fight No. 5 Hector Lombard at UFC 186 in April, but it’s not yet official.
It was also thought that Lawler would return sometime between May and July to face Hendricks again, but those plans obviously went up in smoke when “Bigg Rigg” signed on to face Matt Brown at UFC 185 from his hometown of Dallas, Texas.
With the two most worthy title contenders now out of immediate contention, it’s up in the air as to whom will get the next title shot when Lawler does return. There are a few valid theories floating around, but today (Wed., January 14, 2015) UFC president Dana White told LaAficion that rising No. 7-ranked Kelvin Gastelum could get the next title shot if he beats Tyron Woodley in the co-main event of January 31’s UFC 183 pay-per-view (PPV) from Las Vegas:
“No doubt about it. He could fight Lawler for the title this year if he beats Tyron Woodley.”
That’s an unexpected route to hear White take for the welterweight division, but it should also be noted that these words should be taken with nothing more than a grain of salt at this point.
Still, the UFC is planning two returns to Mexico this year, as oft-injured heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez is rumored to be taking on interim champ Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188 in June, an event that will be followed by a reported card from Monterrey in November.
White sees Gastelum, who beat Jake Ellenberger in the co-main event of the UFC’s first-ever trip to Mexico at UFC 180, as a rising talent who could fight on one of the cards:
“It’s definitely a possibility. This kid is great. Ever since he got to The Ultimate Fighter he looked like one of the least experienced fighters and keeps surprising us. He keeps getting better, and look where he is now. It’s amazing. We’re very excited about him.”
Despite Gastelum’s meteoric rise to prominence, however, two other potential title scenarios for the welterweight division involve two much bigger name draws at this point.
One is Hendricks taking on Brown to clear a way for the return of longtime champ Georges St. Pierre, who resumed training this week. It’s no surprise that “GSP” could come back to an immediate title shot against Lawler if he so desired.
The other reason for keeping MacDonald and Hendricks out of a title shot for the time being is to open up an avenue for popular bad boy Nick Diaz to stroll right into another title shot if he beats Anderson Silva in the main event of UFC 183.
So while Gastelum will be knocking on the door of title contention with a win over No. 3-ranked Woodley, he most likely won’t get the next shot at Lawler given the current climate of the division.
With the welterweight division in a state of disarray, who should fight “Ruthless” for the belt next?
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