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Posts Tagged ‘Welterweight’

It might be helpful to think of Carlos Condit‘s main event fight against Demian Maia on Saturday’s UFC on Fox 21 as the welterweight division drawing a line in the sand.

On one side of that line are the elite fighters at 170 pounds—Condit and Maia included, along with new champ Tyron Woodley, top contender Stephen Thompson and former champ Robbie Lawler.

On the other side are the competitors who have either fallen out of contention, have not yet ascended to such lofty heights or never will.

As of a few days ago, former title challenger Rory MacDonald certainly would’ve been included among the first group, but FloCombat’s recent report of his defection to Bellator MMA casts an even sharper focus on the curious welterweight landscape of the moment.

This division is talent-rich and on the rise, though perhaps never before in UFC history has there been such an obvious divide between the haves and have-nots at 170 pounds.

It’s a cozy little group of VIPs right now with Woodley, Lawler, Thompson, Condit and Maia, but after that, the drop-off in prestige is noticeably steep.

Case in point: MacDonald’s departure opened the door for Kelvin Gastelum to slide into the Top Five of the UFC’s official rankings, where champions are not technically considered part of the Top 10.

Gastelum is a good fighter and a nice prospect at 24 years old, but nobody considers him on the same level as the rest of that group quite yet. He’s just 2-2 in his last four fights and has been plagued by trouble making the welterweight limit for much of his career.

Even if he’s got those issues sorted out now, it’ll be a while before he’s up to fighting for the title or—gasp—headlining a UFC pay-per-view.

Behind Gastelum is former champ Johny Hendricks at No. 6. Hendricks has gone 1-3 since defeating Lawler for the title at UFC 171, and these days his fighting career is pretty much in complete survival mode. He doesn‘t top too many lists of guys who appear on the verge of a rebound.

Behind Hendricks is No. 7 Donald Cerrone—an interesting case if there ever was one.

Cerrone has won three straight at 170 pounds but followed his most recent victory over Rick Story at UFC 202 with a call-out of current lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez. We all know Cerrone will fight at any weight where he can earn a paycheck, but he may have tipped his hand that he doesn‘t consider his long-term future to be at welter.

Following up those guys on the official rankings is a gaggle of fighters—think the Neil Magnys, Lorenz Larkins and Tarec Saffiedines of the world—who are either coming or going. It’s sort of a no man’s land, honestly, where people are either still in pursuit of their full potential or just playing out the string.

So what’s all that mean? What’s at stake when Condit and Maia meet up this weekend?

Well, the wide gulf between the welterweight elite and their closest competitors basically ensures the winner of this fight the pole position to challenge the victor of Woodley‘s first title defense. That bout could come against Thompson or—as an MMA Fighting report suggested—even a returning Georges St-Pierre.

On the other hand, the loser very well might be cast out of the club entirely. He could find himself banished across the moat to live with the have-nots until such time that he can fight his way back to the promised land.

For 38-year-old Maia and a guy like Condit, who has already talked openly of retirement, that makes the stakes here very dire indeed. This might be the last best chance for both guys to earn one more crack at UFC gold.

On this topic, Maia has been explicit.

“This is for a title shot—the ticket for a title shot,” he told Bleacher Report’s Scott Harris this week.

Condit has been slightly less emphatic, though perhaps because he already fought for the title once this year. Immediately after his split-decision loss to Lawler was announced at UFC 195, it sounded as though he might hang up his gloves.

“Tonight was kind of a do-or-die moment for my career and I was all in,” Condit said, via MMA Fighting’s Dave Doyle. “If I got that strap, I was going to keep fighting. If I didn’t, like I didn’t, I have to see if I can continue to do this.”

The idea of an immediate rematch got kicked around, but eight months later, we find Condit still willing to make that walk to the cage—and for an important contender bout against Maia instead of a title fight.

Maia has been surging since recommitting to primarily Brazilian jiu jitsu-based game plans during the last couple of years. He’s currently riding a five-fight win-streak while proving he’s that rare modern MMA fighter who can defeat top-level opponents with a basically one-dimensional approach.

Condit, however, could test that status in ways that previous opponents like Matt Brown, Gunnar Nelson and Magny have not.

The former WEC welterweight champion has earned his reputation as one of the sport’s most exciting and well-rounded fighters. It would likely be wise for Condit to try to avoid going to the ground with Maia, but if the lanky striker can manage it, he’ll certainly have a pronounced advantage in the stand-up.

Oddsmakers appear to like his chances, though just barely. Condit is going off as a slight favorite in this bout, according to Odds Shark. Maia will no doubt have his opportunity over the course of a five-round fight, but if Condit can control the distance and tempo, he has a good shot to emerge victorious here.

The winner will remain on the right side of the current welterweight divide.

The loser, however, could face a fairly bleak future. He might end up going from elite fighter to steppingstone for the very people who want to take his spot.

Because while the gulf between the welterweight haves and have-nots may be wide, the fall from one level to the next could be quick and treacherous.

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Lorenz Larkin

The welterweight division was shaken up in the latest UFC rankings, as Donald Cerrone climbed seven spots to No. 7 following his finish of Rick Story.

Lorenz Larkin, who earned his biggest win yet over Neil Magny, jumped into the Top-15 and is now sitting at No. 9 overall.

Demian Maia, Carlos Condit, Kelvin Gastelum and Johny Hendricks all moved up, as well, while Story, Gunnar Nelson and Matt Brown fell.

Cody Garbrandt climbed two spots to sixth at bantamweight, while Cortney Casey debuted in the strawweight division at No. 14 following her win.

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The Red King has gone in search of a greener fiefdom.

Rory MacDonald’s UFC exit on Wednesday was that rare case of “breaking news” that had been in the works for months. Fans have known since a May appearance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour that MacDonald was considering free agency once his current contract was up and that Bellator MMA was his most likely destination.

Still, when confirmation that MacDonald was indeed on the move came via a report from FloCombat.com this week, there was cause for raised eyebrows. It was just 13 months ago, after all, that the 27-year-old Canadian was challenging Robbie Lawler for the welterweight title at UFC 189 in 2015’s Fight of the Year.

A fighter as well-liked and high-profile as MacDonald bailing on his career in the Octagon for Bellator? That’s certainly no small thing.

But exactly how big a deal is it for Bellator, the UFC and the man himself?

Here, five members of the Bleacher Report MMA staff debate what it all might mean…


 

Steven Rondina: Well gentlemen, I think I speak for all of us here when I say that MacDonald’s signing with Bellator is one of those completely expected surprises.

It was pretty clear a few months back that the relationship between the UFC and the Great Canadian Hope was as frosty as Nunavut. The fact that he was booked into a tough match with surging kickboxer Stephen Thompson after nearly a year off felt deliberate on the UFC’s part, and when he lost that matchup via clean-cut unanimous decision, it had taken enough of his thunder it could comfortably let him walk.

Still, let’s go over the statistics with MacDonald. He just turned 27 last month, so he’s relatively young in the grand scheme of MMA. He’s Canadian, which is valuable for any promotion that travels north of the border. And he has a strong resume that includes clean wins over welterweight champ Tyron Woodley, possible top contender Demian Maia and the division’s biggest name right now, Nate Diaz.

So, is this actually a game-changer for Bellator in any way?

 

Jonathan Snowden: Before the inevitable accusations of “hate” and “bias” bubble up from the comments below, allow me to make one thing perfectly clear—I am a big Rory MacDonald fan.

Over the years we’ve seen him push Carlos Condit to the limit, toss Diaz around like a tackling dummy and eviscerate a cavalcade of opponents with a frightening lack of affect. MacDonald is awesome, if terrifying, and I hope he’s paid life-changing amounts of money.

But I just can’t see how he makes the kind of impact Bellator needs for the bundles of cash it no doubt tossed his way to leave the UFC for the hinterlands on Spike. Although just 27, he’s an ancient one in MMA years with more than a decade as a full-time fighter. Like it or not, that’s when fighters begin to fade.

Signing with Bellator is, in many ways, a bet against yourself. Yes, you can get a larger per-fight guarantee that way. But you’ll never earn the pay-per-view bonus that comes with being the UFC champion. A fighter who signs with Spike is all but admitting they don’t believe they have what it takes anymore to earn UFC gold.

There are five paradigm shifting free agents in MMA—Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, Georges St-Pierre, Brock Lesnar and Jon Jones. Any one of them could launch Bellator or another player into pay-per-view. But even those names would run into the same problem MacDonald faces—who would they fight?

Bellator has signed a great fighter. It hasn’t, however, come up with a great fight. That’s sort of a problem.

 

Scott Harris: Rory can’t carry a pay-per-view, but he can certainly carry a TV card. He’ll at least get that chance in Bellator where maybe he wouldn’t have in the UFC, which is notorious for going out of its way to ice out those who dare cross itself. I don’t see the move so much as a bet against oneself as a cutting of losses.

Why would Rory and Bellator have that confidence? MacDonald’s past wars may (or may not) have permanently diminished the Red King’s skills, but there’s an ace in the hole here that the UFC probably wouldn’t have played: MacDonald’s personality.

Can he cut a sweet promo? Nah. Is he even what you might call conversive? Eh, no. But there’s a reason his cult following is so large. The guy is strange and he is candid and he is hilarious and he’s like absolutely no one else in MMA today.

Look at his honesty over the UFC situation or even something like his issue with broken noses. Look at his fashion sense. Look at his (reasonably) ready acceptance of the American Psycho comparisons.

He’s always there, dressed to the nines, mumbling out responses about how he just wants to tear out his opponent’s intestines and why does everyone think he’s so weird. Bellator can and will work with this, and it’s a good backstop against any talent erosion. (Its thin welterweight stable could be a blessing in disguise on this front as well, particularly since Bellator matchmakers don’t seem to care much about booking super-competitive fights.)

Even so, it’s not certain this move was the right one. Surely, Bellator opened up the checkbook, but the ceiling is definitely lower there. Sponsorship opportunities will increase again but “opportunities” are not the same as “sponsorships,” or “lots of money.” Ask Benson Henderson how that goes.

In the meantime, though, Bellator will give MacDonald winnable fights and the star treatment his fans know he deserves. That’ll be enough for now.

 

Nathan McCarter: The UFC not matching the offer sheet seems right on with how it’s handled other fighters in similar positions in the past. Namely Benson Henderson and Phil Davis. MacDonald isn’t a draw, and he is likely past his fighting prime. The value to pay a premium for his services just isn’t there for the UFC.

Is it a good get for Bellator? Absolutely. Does it change anything? No. Not even remotely.

The UFC is still a PPV company at heart, and MacDonald doesn’t move the needle in that regard. And with welterweight regaining some steam with Stephen Thompson on the brink of breaking through, there just isn’t cause to match the offer. While he never headlined a PPV himself, he was the co-main numerous times. At UFC 174, he was likely the biggest draw on the card even with Demetrious Johnson defending in the main event. It barely did over 100,000 buys (Per MMAPayout.com).

MacDonald is still a Top 10 welterweight much the same as Phil Davis was a Top 10 light heavyweight and Benson Henderson was a Top 10 lightweight. But this game is all about value. Those two didn’t have it and neither does MacDonald. The UFC made the right business decision here.

 

Chad Dundas: This isn’t the golden-ticket signing that is going to magically rocket Bellator into a neck-and-neck race with the UFC, but it’s still a great move for both the company and MacDonald. Mind you, the Canadian Psycho isn’t just some anonymous “Top 10 welterweight.” Before the UFC yanked him from its official rankings on Wednesday, he was the No. 3 ranked contender, behind only champion Woodley, former champ Lawler and top contender Thompson.

Despite his already substantial career, that lofty status (coupled with the relative youth we’ve all mentioned) makes him the single biggest free agent to cross the aisle from the UFC to Bellator to date. Even if he’s not a guy who’s going to single-handedly change the landscape of the entire sport, this is a significant signpost on the road to better pay and better working conditions for MMA’s athletes.

For the first five-and-a-half years of his career inside the Octagon, MacDonald was an unassuming company man for the UFC. The fact he’s willing to take charge of his own career and leave the organization for a pay raise somewhere else is meaningful. It may well be indicative of slowly changing attitudes among the UFC’s long docile workforce.

If “testing free agency” stops being an anomaly and starts being the agreed-upon course of business in this sport, then maybe we really will be talking about a brave new world.

In MacDonald, Bellator gets a high-level asset it can match against guys like welterweight champion Andrey Koreshkov (arguably the best 170-pounder in the world most people have never heard of), fellow recent UFC expatriate Henderson or even veteran slugger Paul Daley. For MacDonald himself, perhaps he’ll earn a few paydays big enough to provide him a better life when he walks away from fighting.

Not sure it has to be any more complicated than that.

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Jingliang Li has been notified of a potential anti-doping violation stemming from an out-of-competition sample collected on May 18.

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Another one bites the dust.

If you think United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is only going after the big dogs, you’re highly mistaken.

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweight Jingliang Li was notified of a potential anti-doping violation from an out-of-competition sample collected on May 18, 2016. That was one month before Li took out Anton Zafir at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 23 Finale via first round knockout in Las Vegas, Nevada.

From UFC’s official statement:

The UFC organization was notified by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that it has informed Li Jingliang of a potential Anti-Doping Policy violation stemming from an out-of-competition sample collection on May 18, 2016. USADA also informed the UFC that it initiated an investigation into the source of the prohibited substance detected in Jingliang’s sample prior to notifying him of the potential violation. Because of this investigation, USADA has not issued a provisional suspension against Jingliang at this time.

The Nevada State Atlhetic Commission (NSAC) will also have something to say about the failed test.

After making his Octagon debut back in 2014, Li has alternated wins and losses, racking up a 3-2 record.

Li is just one of many UFC fighters that have been popped by USADA this year, as others such as Brock Lesnar, Jon Jones, and Chad Mendes — just to name a select few — were also unable to escape USADA’s agents.

And they’re just getting warmed up.

The post UFC welterweight notified of potential USADA violation appeared first on Fightline.com.

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M-1 Global, Russia’s largest mixed martial arts promotion, announced Friday afternoon that welterweight champion Alexey Kunchenko will make the first defense of his title against Maxim Grabovich.

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Mike Perry couldn’t even take advantage. He had to sit there and watch everyone else do it for him.

“I get these buffet cards. You get a free buffet,” Perry said. “My coaches use them. I can’t even use them. I’m cutting weight.”

It’s a good thing there were other benefits available as he settled himself into Las Vegas, a few floors up and four days out from his UFC debut.

“It’s the beginning of a dream come true,” Perry told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. “They treat you so well. I feel like the greatest, and when you feel like the greatest, you are the greatest …They give you a per diem, so they’re paying for you. You get a duffel bag full of clothes every time you walk in your room.”

The 24-year-old welterweight from Altamonte Springs, Florida, got that fabled call two weeks ago to fill in at UFC 202 for an injured Sultan Aliev. The sport was on the evening’s pay-per-vew card in a bout with Korean bruiser Hyun Gyu Lim. For Perry, who was making his bones on local fight cards while teaching karate and training at a UFC Gym, the call was a coup.

And to think it all started with a screenshot.

“Someone wrote me on Facebook, asking about the UFC,” he recalled. “I guess he was a manager or with management or something. So I screenshotted the message and sent it to my manager. …Fifteen minutes later, he calls me and tells me. I kind of screamed a little bit. Like a weird scream.”

Perry’s a +230 underdog in his bout with Lim, according to betting site OddsShark.com. That’s not unusual for someone making his UFC debut after competing only once outside Georgia or Florida—unless you count that amateur bout in the Bahamas, which Perry very much wants everyone to do.

What is a bit out of the ordinary is a UFC debut to come on the pay-per-view main card of a major Las Vegas event. But as Perry spun his tale in a thick Southern drawl, it became clear he’s staying in the moment by remembering what got him there.

“I plan to bring it,” he said. “Show up and show out.”

Perry’s stock in trade is the knockout. In fact, he has earned himself a 6-0 pro career—sorry, Mike, we can’t count that Bahamas fight—based entirely on his proven ability to be exciting. All six of his wins came at the ends of his fists. He’s only seen a second round twice. 

“I’m not afraid to get in there and get hit to give a hit,” Perry said. “I’m cool with the battle part of it. Blood for blood, man!”

Between them, Lim and Perry have earned 84 percent of their 19 wins by knockout. Is it the most glamorous fight on the UFC 202 pay-per-view? Nope. It may be the least glamorous fight on the entire card. But with stats like this, it’s at least easy to understand why it’s there.

Is Perry concerned about Lim’s knockout power? What knockout power? Literally. Perry’s not what you’d call intimately familiar with the big Korean.

“I’ve never seen him before,” Perry said. “I never saw him on [UFC] Fight Pass because I don’t have an account…[But] he’ll try to keep his distance. I think I’m the best in the world at getting inside. It’s MMA, and I can push him against that wall.

At the same time, Perry’s skills outside of his hands are unknown at best, and he hasn’t exactly torn through top competition en route to this moment. In his last fight, he bested David Mundell at a show in Kissimmee, Florida, called Battleground MMA. His biggest win to date was probably a knee-aided knockout last November of Jon Manley at Premier FC 18 in Springfield, Massachusetts. You may remember Manley from his role as the semifinalist who lost to Colton Smith on season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter. Of course you do.

So, no, not a lot of great names on the hit list. Still, although Perry did train at UFC Gym, it’s not his only training home. He’s also spent time at American Top Team Orlando—also home to elite veteran Ben Saunders—and Fusion X-Cel in Ocoee, Florida. In July, he cornered ATT teammate and middleweight Alex Nicholson for Nicholson’s win at UFC Fight Night 91 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Perry realizes all the same that he’s the underdog. But for now, he’s just enjoying the free clothes. That is, until it’s time to go to war. Perry predicts a first-round knockout, by the way.

“F–k Lim,” Perry said. “I’m going to kill him. I don’t know. That’s all.”

Scott Harris writes about MMA for Bleacher Report. For more stuff like this, follow Scott on Twitter. All quotes obtained firsthand.

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Mike Perry couldn’t even take advantage. He had to sit there and watch everyone else do it for him.

“I get these buffet cards. You get a free buffet,” Perry said. “My coaches use them. I can’t even use them. I’m cutting weight.”

It’s a good thing there were other benefits available as he settled himself into Las Vegas, a few floors up and four days out from his UFC debut.

“It’s the beginning of a dream come true,” Perry told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. “They treat you so well. I feel like the greatest. …They give you a per diem, so they’re paying for you. You get a duffel bag full of clothes every time you walk in your room. The hotel room is beautiful.”

The 24-year-old welterweight from Altamonte Springs, Florida, is a +230 underdog in his bout with Korean bruiser Hyun Gyu Lim, according to betting site OddsShark.com. It’s not unusual for someone who has fought only once outside Georgia or Florida—unless you count that amateur bout in the Bahamas—and worked and partially trained at the UFC Gym in Winter Springs, Florida.

It is a bit out of the ordinary, though, for that debut to come on the pay-per-view main card of a major Las Vegas event. It came about thanks to Sultan Aliev’s injury barely two weeks before his date with limb, forcing UFC matchmakers to scramble. With a little quick thinking and elbow grease, Lady Fortune smiled on Perry.

It’s quite a coup for the young prospect. But as Perry spun his tale in a thick Southern drawl, it became clear he’s staying in the moment by remembering what got him here.

“I plan to bring it,” he said. “Show up and show out.”

And to think it all started with a screenshot.

“Someone wrote me on Facebook, asking about the UFC,” he recalled. “I guess he was a manager or with management or something. So I screenshotted the message and sent it to my manager. …Fifteen minutes later, he calls me and tells me. I kind of screamed a little bit. Like a weird scream.”

Perry’s stock in trade is the knockout. In fact, he has earned himself a 6-0 pro career—sorry, Mike, that Bahamas fight doesn’t count—based entirely on his prowess in that area. All six of his wins came at the ends of his fists. He’s only left the first round twice. 

“I’m not afraid to get in there and get hit to give a hit,” Perry said. “I’m cool with the battle part of it. Blood for blood.”

Between them, Lim and Perry have earned 84 percent of their 19 wins by knockout. Is it the most glamorous fight on the UFC 202 pay-per-view? Nope. It may be the least glamorous fight on the entire card. But with stats like this, it’s at least easy to understand why it’s there.

Is Perry concerned about Lim‘s knockout power? On top of his willingness to batter, he said he may have another to neutralize the big Korean.

“I’ve heard of him, but I’ve never seen him before,” Perry said. “I never saw him on [UFC] Fight Pass because I don’t have an account…[But] he’ll try to keep his distance. I think I’m the best in the world at getting inside. It’s MMA, and I can push him against that wall.

At the same time, Perry’s skills outside of his hands are unknown at best, and he hasn’t exactly torn through top competition en route to this moment. In his last fight, he bested David Mundell at a show in Kissimmee, Florida, called Battleground MMA. His biggest win to date was probably a flying-knee knockout last November of Jon Manley at Premier FC 18 in Springfield, Massachusetts. You may remember Manley from his role as the semifinalist who lost to Colton Smith on season 16 of The Ultimate Fighter.

So, no, not a lot of great names on the hit list. Still, although Perry did train at UFC Gym, it’s not his only training home. He’s also spent time at American Top Team Orlando—also home to elite veteran Ben Saunders—and Fusion X-Cel in Ocoee, Florida. In July, he cornered ATT teammate and middleweight Alex Nicholson for Nicholson’s win at UFC Fight Night 91 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Perry still realizes he’s the underdog. But for now, he’s just enjoying the buffets. Or at least his friends are. And he’s certainly not afraid.

“F–k Lim,” Perry said when asked for a fight prediction. “I’m going to kill him. I don’t know. That’s all.”

Scott Harris writes about MMA for Bleacher Report. For more stuff like this, follow Scott on Twitter. All quotes obtained firsthand.

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It didn’t take the MMA world long to get comfortable with Robbie Lawler as UFC welterweight champion.

Any initial doubts about the future of the 170-pound division without Georges St-Pierre quickly subsided in 2014 after Lawler and Johny Hendricks authored an epic title struggle spread across two fights and 10 rounds at UFCs 171 and 181.

When Lawler emerged with the belt, it felt like more than just a changing of the guard. After seven years of more or less uninterrupted dominance by St-Pierre, fans were ready for something new. Lawler’s ferocious stand-up-oriented style and general preference for wild brawls made the battle-tested veteran an instant fan favorite.

In the wake of Lawler‘s championship loss to Tyron Woodley by surprising but emphatic first-round KO at Saturday’s UFC 201, will spectators now extend the same level of admiration to Woodley?

At first glance, it was tempting to be disappointed by Lawler’s defeat. In a world that is becoming increasingly chaotic for UFC champions, this latest upset could be seen as just another step toward anarchy.

It at least temporarily scratched plans for a hotly anticipated fight between Lawler and Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, and at this juncture, we don’t yet know what kind of champion Woodley will be or who he will fight next.

Perhaps contrary to popular belief, however, there is still plenty of room for optimism. Company-wide, the UFC title scene may be devolving into a hot mess, but welterweight figures to remain hotter than ever.

As it so often does, a change at the top has given new life to nearly the entire 170-pound division. With Woodley’s unexpected reign just getting underway, it frankly seems like anything is possible.

Credit the new champion for trying to get out in front of the news cycle with a few ideas of his own.

Woodley caught some flak when—instead of Thompson—he immediately tabbed St-Pierre or the recently reinstated Nick Diaz as his preferred opponents for a first title defense.

Obviously, this is pretty much the same tactic Diaz himself has used throughout his own career when attempting to drum up the biggest paydays. Somehow, though, when Woodley did it, fans accused him of ducking Thompson:

The truth of the matter, though, is that this was actually a pretty shrewd move. After spending the first seven years of his professional career toiling in relatively anonymity, it’s no wonder Woodley is suddenly interested in seizing his chance to earn a few big paydays.

And after UFC President Dana White inexplicably labeled him a guy who “chokes in big fights” back in 2014, per MMA Fighting.com’s Dave Doyle, you can understand how Woodley might want to take this opportunity to flex his newly won political muscle.

Perhaps he also inherently understands that as the lowest-profile welterweight champion in recent memory, the UFC will want to book him against a bankable first opponent.

While the top-ranked Thompson has the best resume, he’s arguably the least well-known of anyone in the 170-pound top five. If we’re making matchmaking decisions these days based entirely on which choices are the most economically viable, Wonderboy is likely going to end up taking a back seat for the time being.  

Here’s Woodley breaking the news to Thompson himself as part of Fox Sports 1’s UFC 201 postfight show:

“Stephen Thompson said he wanted to fight Robbie Lawler…,” Woodley quipped at the postfight press conference. “He’ll get the opportunity to have that fight [now]. I feel no obligation to go by the rankings. We all know how those rankings are produced anyway. I want to fight the money fights.”

But if Thompson won’t be his huckleberry, then who is most likely to actually land a date with The Chosen One?

For starters, there is the issue of a potential rematch for Lawler to figure out.

After running off five straight wins and becoming one of the UFC’s most beloved recent champions, the fight company could probably book Ruthless Robbie an immediate return bout against Woodley and get away with it.

That would work. Nobody would complain about that. After what we saw last weekend, the idea of a Lawler-Woodley rematch even sounds more exciting and interesting than their first meeting did. At least now we know the outcome isn’t a foregone conclusion.

But if rankings are no object and Woodley is only interested in maximizing his earning potentialand assuming GSP doesn’t suddenly end his quasi-retirementthen Diaz stands as the most intriguing pick.

The trouble might be convincing the Stockton bad boy that the fight is worth his time.

Diaz‘s suspension in Nevada over a dubious marijuana test lapsed this week, and his return thickens the plot considerably. But his last fight at welterweight was a loss to top star St-Pierre in a 2013 championship fight.

Diaz lamented this week there were “no superstars” left for him to fight, per MMA Fighting.com’s Jed Meshew. If that’s how he feels, would a shiny gold belt and a bout with a dangerous guy like Woodley be enough to entice him to return to the cage?

Maybe not.

Even if the shoot-the-moon options all fall through for Woodley, however, there is still a robust crop of 170-pound contenders lining up behind him. A few of the options aren’t too shabby as a worst-case scenarios, either.

Demian Maia and Carlos Condit are scheduled to scrap in late August. The winner of that bout would clearly shape up as an able opponent. Condit’s aggressive stand-up skills and Maia’s very traditional grappling style would make compelling matchups for the new champ.

While it’s probably far-fetched to think that a matter as simple as the title changing hands might affect the free agency of Rory MacDonald, it’s tough not to notice that MacDonald’s prospects may have also improved.

He appeared locked out of the title picture after a recent loss to Lawler. With Woodley on top, the Canadian phenom would suddenly make a fresh challenge, if he decides to eschew other offers and return to the UFC.

Oh, and you want a wild-card option?

What about Conor McGregor?

Prior to McGregor’s welterweight loss to Nate Diaz at UFC 196, there were whispers he might land a shot at Lawler’s title. With the Irishman set to rematch Diaz at UFC 202 on August 20, it’s unclear where a win would leave him.

McGregor has been adamant that he will return to featherweight to defend his 145-pound title, likely against new interim champion Jose Aldo. But what if a chance to win Woodley’s belt were dangled in front of his nose?

Would McGregor jump on it, the same way he seemed eager to test his skills against Lawler?

Unknown.

The only thing we do know for sure is that Woodley currently enjoys a wealth of options for his first fight as champion.

Everywhere you look, the welterweight division brims with intriguing possibilities, with or without Lawler

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There was a changing of the guard in the welterweight division this past Saturday, and that means a shake-up in the rankings.

Tyron Woodley upset champ Robbie Lawler with a first-round knockout at UFC 201 to win the welterweight title, and that meant a bit jump for Woodley up to No. 1 – and a tumble for Lawler down to No. 3, where he now sits behind Stephen Thompson.

In the UFC 201 co-main event, Karolina Kowalkiewicz took a split decision from Rose Namajunas, which meant a move up in the women’s strawweight rankings.

Check out those moves and more in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA rankings above.

Filed under: Bellator, Featured, MMA Rankings, News, UFC, WSOF

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