In Part I of the Welterweight Wonderland breakdown, UFC.com’s Michael DiSanto looked at champion Georges St-Pierre and the leading contenders for his crown. In Part II, he breaks down the rest of the division, including some of the top prospects at 170 pounds.
The name says it all. None of them have perfect records. Some of them have obvious weaknesses. No matter, these guys are killers of the first magnitude. Standing and trading punches with any one of them almost always results in a prolonged headache.
Phil Baroni: Fans in search of standup wars will be pleased to learn that the “New York Bad Ass” recently signed a multi-fight deal to return to the UFC after more than four years fighting in Japan and elsewhere. Baroni recently gave his career a much-needed shot of adrenalin by dropping to welterweight and winning three of his last four bouts. Love or hate the trash-talking Brooklyn native, nobody can deny the fact that he comes to fight each and every night, refusing to quit even in the face of dire circumstances. His Arturo Gatti-like warrior mentality means that the NYBA’s fights are regularly contenders for fight of the night. And with his punching power and marketability, Baroni is always just one punch away from shaking up the 170-lb food chain.
Last: UD loss to Joe Riggs (bout contested outside of UFC).
Next: Amir Sadollah at UFC 106.
Matt Brown: I’m not sure if Brown has the skills to fight his way into title contention any time soon, but this guy is as tough as they come. His combination of vicious punching power, a great chin, tremendous heart and killer instinct makes him a dangerous matchup for anyone. Match him up with any of the strikers listed in this section and the fight would be an instant classic because Brown isn’t going to shy away from a slugfest with anyone. Guys like that typically have long careers, regardless of their record, because fans love to watch them fight. That is well-deserved praise for Brown. A win over a name opponent is just what the doctor ordered to lift his profile in the ultra-deep welterweight division.
Last: TKO1 over Pete Sell at UFC 96.
Next: James Wilkes at UFC 105.
Paul Daley: “Semtex” is as explosive on the feet as his fighting moniker suggests. This guy has bone-crushing punching power with both fists, which means all opponents must treat him with extreme caution. If MMA was a standup-only sport, Daley would be one of the forerunners to win the welterweight title. Of course, there is much more to MMA than just striking, and that is where Daley runs into problems. His ground skills remain far behind his standup, and his takedown defense is only average at this point in his career, which will lead to far more losses than wins against the 170-lb elite. Still, at a mere 26 years of age, Daley has plenty of time to evolve his game. If he can develop Chuck Liddell-like takedown defense over the next year or two, he may very well evolve into the welterweight division’s version of ‘The Iceman’ over time. That is a lofty goal, but this guy’s standup justifies the comparison.
Last: TKO1 over Martin Kampmann at UFC 103.
Chris Lytle: “Lights Out” is no light lunch for anyone, despite his .500 UFC record. Lytle regularly engages in fan-friendly brawls, but his advancement within the division has been stunted by the fact that he has yet to beat a true A-level fighter. He beats everyone else, often in thrilling fashion, which is why he gets regular work inside the Octagon. If he wants to elevate himself to contender status, he needs to break his current win-lose-win-lose pattern. Since the end of 2007, he hasn’t won or lost consecutive fights. That consistent inconsistency is what has prevented him from building any true momentum in the division. For now at least, Lytle is the division’s A-level gatekeeper.
Last: UD over Kevin Burns at Ultimate Fighter Finale Team US versus Team UK.
Marcus Davis: Although Davis is a TUF alumnus, he is no spring chicken at 36 years old. The former professional boxer seems to get better and better each time he fights, despite his most recent loss to Dan Hardy. As with a few others, he may be a bit long in the tooth to evolve into a future champion, but he is an absolute joy to watch compete because, just like the rest of the competitors in this group, he fights until his last breath each time he steps into the Octagon (ok, not really or he wouldn’t be alive at the moment, but you get the point). In fact, I think the guy might be Chris Lytle’s long lost fighting twin because, like Lytle, he has yet to beat a big-name opponent and could possibly be the litmus test separating pretenders from contenders. Nevertheless, anyone who signs to fight the
“Irish Hand Grenade” had better bring his lunch pail because it is going to be one tough fight.
Last: SD loss to Dan Hardy at UFC 99.
Next: Ben Saunders at UFC 106.
Each of the Bordeaux Boys stands at least 6’1, which is very tall for a welterweight, are still in their early-to-mid 20s, which means they are still relative babies in the sport, and all have crazy potential, as evidenced by their performances to date. Like a great French Bordeaux, these young talents should age well over the next five or more years, possibly evolving into great fighters.
Anthony Johnson: Among the current crop of 170-lb prospects, Johnson is the apex predator. He is an imposing physical specimen, standing 6’2 with a well muscled frame that could easily move up to middleweight without much effort. His standup game is ferocious, particularly his devastating right hand, and he has an excellent wrestling base, which allows him to keep the fight on the feet. The best part about this guy is that he has proven to be a hard-working 25-year-old who is never satisfied with his performance, even when his opponent is lying on the canvas. He believes that he can always do better, which is the sort of insatiable appetite for improvement that led to Josh Koscheck skyrocketing up the ranks early in his career. To date, Johnson has feasted largely off second-tier UFC fighters. Expect that to change in 2010.
Last: TKO1 over Luigi Fioravanti at Ultimate Fight Night: Lauzon vs. Stephens.
Next: Yoshiyuki Yoshida at UFC 104.
Dan Hardy: This guy has a serious flair for the dramatic. From the four-inch spiked Mohawk to his brash demeanor, the Nottingham, England resident is a bit much for some people to handle, both inside and outside of the cage. Say what you will about Hardy’s attitude, this guy can fight, period. He said that he was going to stand and slug it out with former professional boxer Marcus Davis. He did just that, repeatedly rocking Davis with the harder shots to the point where Davis actually started looking for the takedown. Though the decision was disputed, Hardy received the well-deserved nod in that one. Life got exponentially more difficult, however, when the UFC announced that Hardy’s next bout will be in against top contender Mike Swick in November. Swick will present the most formidable challenge of Hardy’s career to date, by a mile. Hardy is fortunate, though, that the bout will be contested in the friendly confines of the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England. Swick will be the outsider. He will be the bad guy. Hardy will be energized by the crowd if he can get anything going in the fight and it’s going to be one heck of a scrap for as long as it lasts.
Last: SD win over Marcus Davis at UFC 99.
Next: Mike Swick at UFC 105.
Carlos Condit: If Johnson is at the head of the prospect pack, “The Natural Born Killer” isn’t far behind. Condit and Dan Hardy are the most experienced and accomplished among the 20-somethings resident on this top prospect list, though Condit is the most accomplished, as evidenced by his 15-month reign as the WEC 170-lb champion. But, alas, ruling the WEC’s 170-pound division and competing in the deep waters of the UFC are two very different beasts, as Condit found out in his debut, dropping a hard-fought decision to top contender Martin Kampmann. That fight proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Condit belongs in the UFC. His follow-up effort against Jake Ellenberger, a win by disputed decision, was a bit disappointing, though I fully expect Condit to relax, settle into life in the UFC and come back with a spectacular performance in his next fight.
Last: SD win over Jake Ellenberger at Ultimate Fight Night: Diaz vs. Guillard.
John Hathaway: Undefeated 22-year-olds who love to stand and bang tend to become fan favorites very quickly because they often fight without any caution or concern for their wellbeing. Ah, the joys of being young and full of testosterone. Hathaway is no exception. The former British rugby player quickly made a name for himself in the UFC by racking up two solid wins inside the Octagon in 2009. Paul Taylor, though not profiled in this piece, is an aggressive, action-first fighter with a great chin and a greater love for all-out wars. If Hathaway can get past Taylor, the rest of the division will have no choice but to stop and take notice.
Last: UD over Rick Story at UFC 99.
Next: Paul Taylor at UFC 105.
Ben Saunders: Saunders is yet another tall, long welterweight prospect who loves to stand and bang. The problem, though, is that he is far from a contender at this point in his career. Sure, Saunders lasted into the second round against Mike Swick at UFC 99, but “Killa B” never once had him in any semblance of danger. Instead, he was systematically beaten by a much better fighter. That is the bad news. The good news is that Saunders is only 26 years old, so he has plenty of time to grow from the loss to Swick. In fact, I think his career actually benefitted from the fight because it serves as a glaring reminder that as good as Saunders is on the feet, the top contenders at 170 lbs are at a whole different level in terms of all-around fighters. With that said, Saunders isn’t going to have to wait long to try and benefit from loss. He faces heavy-handed Marcus Davis in November. That is going to be one fun fight. It is a very winnable fight for Saunders if uses his length to keep Davis at the end of his punches and, when the former professional boxer closes the distance, ties him up in a Thai clinch and fires knees like there is no tomorrow.
Last: TKO2 loss to Mike Swick at UFC 99.
Next: Marcus Davis at UFC 106.
Dustin Hazelett: If we’re being honest with ourselves, Hazelett, with his tall, skinny frame and innocent face, looks more like a bookkeeper for the local retail outlet than an ultimate fighter. Oh, how looks can deceive. Anyone taking Hazelett lightly is likely to end up twisted into some position that causes unbearable pain or unconsciousness. Yes, you guessed it. Hazelett is a submission specialist, and a darn good one at that. Mix in some game standup and a decent set of whiskers and this kid is dangerous. As with all prospects, he still has a few holes in his game, notably his lack of good takedowns, which makes it difficult for him to get top-tier guys to the ground, and still nascent striking skills. My guess is that the striking will come around before his wrestling does, though he won’t be confused for Mike Swick on the feet anytime soon. Hazelett’s successful run in the division has come against mostly B-level competition. His lone fight against an A-level opponent, Josh Koscheck, ended with Hazelett lying on his back as a severe headache was about to set it. If he really wants to make his mark in the division, he needs to start racking up wins against big-name opponents. His next bout may just be an opportunity to do that.
Last: Sub1 over Tamdan McCrory at UFC 91.
We are now 4,000 words deep into examining the welterweight wonderland, so we only have few words left before readers risk severe eye strain from staring at their LCD screen for such a long time. So, we are only going to briefly update you on a couple of recent TUF guys who need a quick mention.
As mentioned, the top welterweight from TUF season nine, James Wilks, is getting thrown to the wolves early, taking on Matt Brown at UFC 105. That is a tremendous opportunity for Wilks because Brown, also a TUF alumnus, is as tough as they come, and his fighting style means that clashing with Wilks could be the fight of the night. Also, Amir Sadollah (2-1 overall; 1-1 UFC), the winner of TUF season seven, returns to action against the “New York Bad Ass” Phil Baroni at UFC 106. This is the most dangerous fight of Sadollah’s four-fight career by gargantuan proportions, making it a no-lose proposition. A win catapults Sadollah’s career, and a knockout loss won’t do much to derail this prospect. All in all, these next bouts will tell us a lot about those two former TUF champs, better defining their respective place in the division.