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Sorting Out the UFC’s Welterweight Division

By on August 9, 2010

jon fitchThere were a lot of immediate effects from the events of UFC 117. Some of them included happy fans, a relieved Anderson Silva (and a “broken-hearted” Chael Sonnen), and yet another challenger in line for the heavyweight title. One thing that we apparently didn’t get is something we were told we would have before the fights: another challenger for the welterweight title.

Before UFC 117, it was stated by none other than Dana White that the winner of Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves would be next in line for a title shot at 170 pounds, as soon as Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck get done watching a reality show air for three months and finally fight. However, the post-fight press conference was a different story, with White waffling on his position and saying that the organization was taking a “wait and see” approach. Jon Fitch himself didn’t exactly help to settle any debates about whether he’d face Koscheck if his teammate was successful in his title bid against GSP, either.

Meanwhile, Anderson Silva’s immediate future had been all but planned leading up to the fight with Chael Sonnen. He was going to beat up Sonnen, then finally face Vitor Belfort, the supposedly-deserved challenger who didn’t get his shot in the spring because of an injury. Then, something strange happened- Silva got his butt kicked for four and a half rounds. Even though he pulled out the win with a slick triangle choke to arm bar transition, there are now many questions as to what his next fight we’ll be, among many other questions about how long Silva can even hold his belt.

Let’s look at the welterweight division first, and tomorrow we’ll take a look at the middleweight division. Here are the most important questions surrounding the welterweight division right now:

Who gets the title shot: Fitch or the winner of Jake Shields-Martin Kampmann?

This wasn’t even supposed to be a topic of discussion, but apparently Jon Fitch’s performance was not enough to convince Dana White to, you know, keep his word. Instead, he decided that we would wait and see what happens both in the Shields-Kampmann fight and the GSP-Koscheck title fight. Now, if he even bothered to mention the Shields-Kampmann bout, that means he’s at least considering giving the first shot to the winner of that instead of Fitch. He probably wants to see if one or the other can put on a more dominant performance that the one Fitch put on against Thiago Alves.

The other wrinkle here is that we still don’t know whether Fitch would even fight Koscheck. Perhaps that uncertainty is also part of the reason that Fitch wasn’t announced as the next in line after Koscheck himself. Which brings us to…

Would Fitch even fight Koscheck?

The thing is, we don’t know! Before the Alves fight, White declared boldly right in front of Fitch that Fitch and Koscheck would fight each other if both won their next fights. However, when a reporter quickly asked Fitch to confirm this statement, he only said that he’s not talking about anything other than his fight with Alves. Okay, fine. So after UFC 117, guess what the first thing someone asks Fitch is? If you guessed, “hey, will you actually fight Koscheck?”, give yourself a pat on the back.

Unfortunately, the answer somehow didn’t change much. Fitch, who is getting married in a few weeks, said that he’s only thinking about his upcoming wedding, and that he’ll think about everything else once that’s over with. Sigh. I don’t want to call “cop out” on one of the toughest guys and best competitors in the sport, but come on. Is he preparing for getting married like he would prepare for a fight? Does the reciting of vows require intense mental preparation? Is he worried about flubbing the first dance at the reception if he bothers to consider a question like whether he would fight his training partner and friend? Here is where you could easily make a joke comparing getting ready to fight to getting ready to be married, and I would, if I wasn’t married myself. Hey, you never know, my wife may just decide to actually read one of my columns!

My take on it is that Fitch just wants to stall. He wants to see if Koscheck will actually win the title before saying that he would definitely face him. And it makes sense, really. If he says, “sure, I’ll fight him” and then Kos loses, what’s to keep White from using that against him later as leverage to get the two in a non-title fight? Furthermore, why add that kind of possible friction to Koscheck’s pre-fight training sessions with Fitch if it may not even matter in the end? Really, I don’t disagree with waiting until after GSP-Koscheck to announce the next contender…I just wish White had said that that’s what he was going to do the whole time.

Alves to middleweight? White says yes, Alves says no

One last thing before we move on. While the loss to Fitch puts Alves a couple of fights away from another possible title shot anyway, he’s still one of the very best in the division, and his choice of where to continue fighting has huge ramifications not only for the other UFC welterweights, but for the middleweights, as well.

As surely everyone knows by now, Alves just failed to make weight at 170 pounds for the second time. Another time, he succeeded in making weight, but apparently had to use a banned diuretic to do so. That’s three times that Alves has essentially not been able to make weight according to the rules and regulations. He’s obviously a massive welterweight, and White has been very bold in saying that Alves needs to move up to 185 pounds. Meanwhile, Alves says he wants to stay at 170. What’s going to happen?

I think the best move for Alves is to simply let go of some of that excess muscle. As Joe Rogan so bluntly pointed out during the Fitch-Alves fight, Alves could easily lose a little weight from his pectorals alone and have an easier time making weight. I think this is a better move for Alves than to just move up 15 pounds to middlweight. The thing is, Alves is already not very tall for a welterweight, and he would have to face guys with a much greater reach at middleweight, while also giving up much of his strength advantage in the process. He’d be much better off just trimming off some of his muscle and staying where he is, though he’s now lost to GSP once and Fitch twice, so at least middleweight would provide some fresh matchups.

What’s Gonna Happen?

So, here’s the part when I go out on a limb and predict what will happen, only to end up being 100% wrong later on down the line. Here’s what I think will end up taking place:

–Shields will beat Kampmann handily and Dana White will make him the next challenger for the belt. The UFC is going to favor the guy who is winning decisively and who can provide the most mystique for a fight with (most likely) GSP, and that’s going to look to be Shields, who will not have as tough a time with Kampmann as Fitch did with an already-depleted Alves. Plus, we’ve already seen GSP-Fitch, and we haven’t seen GSP-Shields. White not standing behind Fitch as the next challenger at UFC 117 all but guarantees that he’ll be waiting for his shot after Shields.

Also, White would definitely not be above using this occasion to stick it to Fitch as a not-so-subtle encouragement to start finishing more fights and to finally be willing to fight his teammates.

–Meanwhile, Fitch will win whoever he faces in his next fight and once again throw his hands up in frustration at seemingly having to win a dozen fights to get one title shot.

–Alves will continue to try to cut to welterweight, and will hopefully do so with more success. However, you won’t see another Fitch-Alves fight, he’s already beat Koscheck and he’s already lost to GSP. Combine that with his still-growing frame and you’ll be seeing him at middleweight by the end of 2011, if not much earlier.

–Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that the bottom half of the top ten will continue looking impressive enough until they face someone that requires them to utilize a little takedown defense. This means we’ll have to keep having back door challengers like Dan Hardy (who never faced Koscheck, Alves or Fitch and incredibly got a title shot, anyway) in order to keep things fresh. Otherwise, Fitch would simply keep beating them all, and would end up getting swept in a best-of-7 series with GSP.

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