This is the second half of a list of the top ten Welterweights in MMA history, if you missed the first part, numbers 10-6, you can find it here.
Now on to the big 5.
Number 5: Carlos Condit (30-9)
The Natural Born Killer has perhaps the most apt nickname in the history of Mixed Martial Arts. With 15 knockouts and 13 submissions in his 30 career victories, Condit is one of those guys who is a threat anywhere the fight takes place. On the ground Condit is a fantastic scrambler and his ground and pound is solid, but like any fighter who likes to kick frequently but doesn’t have strong takedown defense, Condit is especially dangerous off of his back. At least 8 of his submission wins have come off his back and while he has been held down by the best wrestlers in the past, they are always in constant danger of either being tapped or swept.
On the feet Condit has one of the widest arsenals of any Welterweight, using all 8 limbs of Muay Thai to lash out at his opponent. His height and reach are actually not as much of a factor in his fights as you would expect from someone who is seen as an elite striker, because he Condit loves to get down and dirty on the feet. His flying knee knockout of Dong Hyun Kim is a perfect example of what makes Condit so dangerous, but also what has cost him most of his losses, from GSP to Tyron Woodley: Condit loves to close the distance. He is so aggressive that he is constantly looking to move forward, and maintaining distance has rarely been a priority for him. This leads to a lot of his finishes, but it also opens him up to takedowns, which is what cost him against Hendricks and GSP, or leads to him eating punches as he closes the gap like he did against Woodley. His fantastic chin and cardio mean that this habit of his only causes him trouble against the very best, as he is all to happy to take shots to give them on his way to wearing his opponent out.
It is not a constant feature however, as Condit has shown that he can maintain distance when he wants to, and when he did it led to arguably the two most impressive showings of his career, even if they both went to a decision. Against the dangerous Nick Diaz, Condit stayed disciplined, circled out against the cage, maintained range and never let Diaz work his volume based punching style, all while attacking Diaz’s notoriously heavy lead leg to take the interim Welterweight championship. Against the thunderous power puncher Robbie Lawler Condit worked fantastically to maintain range and mix his different weapons in to his ranges, using kicks and straight punches on the outside and knees, elbows and hooks on the inside, all while keeping Lawler turning and stopping him from setting his feet. Even though Condit came up short in that split decision, there are many people out there who believed Condit won, and even if he didn’t the skills he showed in this fight left little doubt in peoples minds that Condit was one of the best Welterweights in the world.
Number 4: Johnny Hendricks (17-5)
I had real problems deciding who to put in my number 4 spot, Hendricks or Rory MacDonald, but in the end I went with Hendricks based off the fact that while MacDonald shows more potential for the future, Hendricks has accomplished more as of right now.
As one of the divisions biggest punchers and best wrestlers (in a division that is overloaded with the ‘wrestler/puncher’ archetype) Johnny Hendricks soared up the ranks with some of the best one punch knockouts in UFC History. With a deceptively quick ability to cover the distance, Hendricks was famous for the power in his overhand left, and there was much talk that he hit harder than most heavyweights. Speculation aside, Hendricks unquestionable possessed the power to literally stiffen an opponent on contact.
His knockouts of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann in particular stand out as the most impressive performances in a 6 fight winning streak that included victories over the likes of Mike Pierce, Josh Koshcheck (back when that actually meant something), and Carlos Condit. This streak led Hendricks to a title fight with Georges St Pierre, and that fight is a huge part of the reason Hendricks appears so high on this list. For 5 rounds, Hendricks made the longtime Welterweight champ look downright uncomfortable on the feet, denying him his vaunted jab and hurting him on multiple occasions, all while shrugging off St Pierre’s famously accurate takedown attempts. He took it to the champ in a way nobody had ever done before, and the fight was widely acclaimed a robbery when St Pierre was declared the victor. While I would not go as far as to say that the fight was out and out a robbery (lets save that kind of terminology for when Diego Sanchez fights) I will say that in that victory over Hendricks, St Pierre looked more beaten from a technical standpoint than he did in either of his two actual losses.
Hendricks followed this fight up with two 5 round wars with Robbie Lawler, with them both splitting the fights 3-2 a piece, Hendricks taking the first and Lawler the second. Hendricks surprised many by making the majority of both those fights a stand up war with the knockout artist Lawler, as the two fought it out in a proverbial phone-booth over the course of 10 rounds, and he surprised us even more by looking more versatile on the feet than he did even in the S Pierre fight, mixing right hands and uppercuts in with his thunderous overhand left and punctuating many of his combinations with hard leg kicks.
His performances after those fights have been poor, and it is questionable if we may have seen the best of Johnny Hendricks in those 3 fights,but that Johnny Hendricks is more than deserving of this spot on this list.
Number 3: Robbie Lawler (27-11-0-1)
Robbie Lawler is the man who has been largely responsible for some of the best fights we have seen in any division of the UFC in the last two years. From his beat-downs of Bobby Voekler and Jake Ellenberger, to his wars with Carlos Condit, Johnny Hendricks, and Rory MacDonald, Lawler is a man who seems incapable of putting on a boring fight. But it wasn’t always this way. After a professional debut 15 years ago at the age of 19, Lawler has had quiet the career, and not all of it has been good. After leaving the UFC on back to back losses in 2004, Lawler compiled a pedestrian 11-7-0-1 record as a Middleweight outside the UFC, and after a decision loss to Lorenz Larkin, most people were ready to write Lawler off as a promising talent that didn’t quiet pan out. A drop down to Welterweight when he came back to the UFC seemed a last ditch attempt by Lawler to drag a few more fights out of his career before sidling off in to the sunset. After knocking out Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voekler, Lawler was matched against MacDonald, and in a performance few expected, Lawler did a fantastic job of denying MacDonald his best weapons on the feet, getting back up when taken down, and hurting him in exchanges, earning himself the win and setting up his epic first fight with Hendricks for the title that was vacated by St Pierre. Indeed Lawler’s record may be up there with BJ Penn’s for the most damaged by refusing to fight at their natural weight class. As a Welterweight, Lawler has a record of 16-4.
What has always made Lawler special is his ability to hurt people, and when you hear him talk about stepping in the cage, he’s one of the few fighters that I believe when they say that even if there was no UFC, they would fight anyway, because that’s the way Lawler is, the dude just loves to fight. His knockout power has been present throughout his career, and he will always be known for it, but it has been his thinking mindset in recent years that has transformed him in to a top flight Welterweight.
He does a fantastic job as a southpaw of denying opponents who want to jab with him their jab, but then landing his own when they try to hand fight with him. His kicks have become powerful and accurate, and he disguises them well, and he is always looking to drop his powerful right hook over the top of his opponents lead hand. His one constant knock has been his susceptibility to low kicks because of his heavy, plodding stance.
Against Tyron Woodley, Lawler looked much more mobile, but also less active in terms of strikes thrown, and as such he was backed up to the cage and caught trying to handfight with a guy who almost exclusively throws his left as a fake to open up his right hand. It is amazing to say it, but 15 years and 39 professional fights in to his pro career, Lawler is still a work in progress. His loss to Woodley could be a sign of his long career and recent wars catching up to him, or it could be nothing. With potential rematches with Nick Diaz or Carlos Condit likely up next for Lawler, we will soon find out which, but if there is one thing we can learn from Lawler’s career, it’s that a bad loss, or even a string of them, doesn’t define a fighters career, and win or lose in the future The Ruthless One has certainly had a great career.
Number 2: Matt Hughes (45-9)
Matt Hughes was always going to appear on this list, the question was where. During his reign as the UFC Welterweight champion, Hughes was widely regarded as one of the best fighters on the planet. As an outstanding wrestler, Hughes was never a danger on the feet (even if at the end of his career he committed more to his striking, with poor results), but that was never the part of his game where he was a danger.
Every single one of Hughes’ opponents knew he was going to try and take them down, but it didn’t matter, he did it anyway. As one of the physically strongest Welterweights ever to compete in the sport, once Hughes got on top of someone, they rarely got out. Hughes took down some of the most dangerous submission artists of his day: Ricardo Almeida, Matt Serra, Carlos Newton, Hayato ‘Mach’ Sakurai, BJ Penn and even Royce Gracie. He smashed them all (even if Penn came out on top in their trilogy). That was really what made Hughes so special, he only knew one way to fight. He was the epitome of the scary wrestler, and he was never afraid to test his strength against his opponents.
Matt Hughes fought during a time that was defined by strong wrestlers, and Hughes was a huge part of defining that. His submission game was what set him apart from guys like Mark Coleman and Dan Severn, while he was big, strong and could pound your face in to mince meat, Hughes was a real danger in the transition. Although he never officially earned any belts in Brazilian jujitsu, he got the better of many black belts, Most famously his first round submission of a young Georges St Pierre. While Hughes didn’t end his career on the highest note, that is unfortunately the hallmark of the greats, they hang around too long. Against Renzo Gracie, BJ Penn and Josh Koshcheck, Hughes attempted to change up his game and fight on the feet, and while he lit up the technically flawed Gracie, he was badly knocked out by the much more experienced strikers Penn and Koshcheck. While Hughes left the game on a low, at his heights he was almost untouchable.
Number 1: Georges St Pierre (25-2)
-Georges St Pierre
We all knew this was coming. There was only ever two options for the greatest Welterweight of all time, St Pierre or Hughes, and in the trilogy between the two, it was St Pierre who came out on top.
For those who may not know, Georges ‘Rush’ St Pierre is one of the best fighters to have ever entered the cage, at any weight, in any organisation, at any time. In fact the biggest adversary that St Pierre faced in his career wasn’t any specific opponent, but rather it was convincing people that he was actually trying.
What GSP did better than anyone before him, and arguably anyone since, is to be a mixed martial artist.St Pierre was famous for his jab, which still to this day remains one of the most under-utilized techniques in MMA today, and if I had to pick the person who utilized it best in this sport, St Pierre would be right near the top of that list. On the feet he picked his opponents apart, breaking their charges and slamming his jab in to their face once they sat back to think for a moment. He varied his attack with low kicks, back kicks, high kicks, occasional right hands and knees. It was his timing more than his speed which allowed him to have so much success in landing his strikes, and that carried over directly in to his grappling.
His takedowns were impeccably timed and incredibly successful for someone who never had a wrestling background. During his storied career St Pierre took down some of the best wrestlers to grace the 170 pound weight class, from BJ Penn to Matt Hughes to Josh Koscheck. On the mat he was constantly looking to advance. This stands at odds with the idea that people called him a ‘lay and pray’ type of grappler. In truth for those who watched it was clear to see that there was rarely a time in St Pierre’s career when he was on top that he wasn’t working either to land hurting shots, lock up a submission, or improve his position. But the polished, calculating St Pierre that dominated the division was not born that way, he was forged by his mistakes.
Coming in to the UFC as a ferocious ground and pounder, St Pierre showed off his skills on the feet with a knockout of Jay Hieron and on his way to a shot at Matt Hughes’ title. In what would prove to be a defining moment in his career, St Pierre was submitted in the first round after engaging in a ground fight with Hughes, who caught an armbar in a scramble at the very end of the round. This taught St Pierre the value of targeting your opponents weaknesses, not their strengths, and from then on he used his abilities to keep the fight wherever his opponent was least comfortable.
That was what made St Pierre special, because he was so well rounded he was always better than his opponents at something, and he always knew just how to exploit it. In his rematch with Hughes he used his wrestling this time to keep the fight on the feet (no easy feat in itself) and took advantage of Hughes’ porous stand up to knock Hughes down with a headkick before finishing him off for the TKO win.
His career after the first Hughes fight was not without its rocky moments. Against the dangerous jujitsu black belt Matt Serra, GSP again decided to keep the fight on the feet, but fell victim to Serra’s heavy hands for one of the biggest upsets in MMA history. This taught St Pierre another valuable lesson: being better on paper means nothing if you don’t make it mean something in the cage. While he would always go in to the cage with an advantage over his opponent, St Pierre would never again take it for granted.
Many of his fights after his loss to Matt Serra went to a decision, with the exception of his rubber match with Hughes, his revenge against Serra to take back his title, and an emotionally charged beatdown of BJ Penn, and some people have accused him of playing it safe. The facts were that at this point in his career GSP never took any unnecessary risks, which is much more impressive than it sounds. A fight is a dangerous place, you need to open up yourself to attack your opponent, and if you want to stay safe it’s a pretty hard thing to accomplish in a 25 minute fight with one of the 10 best Welterweights on the planet. To win a fight without being in danger at any point is difficult to do against anyone, but to do it against the best welterweights in the world for 6 straight years is unbelievable.
In my opinion what made St Pierre truly great was his ability to learn from his mistakes. Every time he lost he came back better because of it, and so, so few fighters make the necessary changes after a loss to allow them to learn from it and come back better, no matter how much they say they do.
He left the sport on top, and while rumors abound that he is making a return, the fact of the matter is that Georges St Pierre has nothing left to prove to the world of Mixed Martial Arts. He had his time at the top, a long, long time, and he handily dispatched every opponent sent his way. While we are currently experiencing the biggest collection of talent in Welterweight history, it is still St Pierre who stands out among them all as the greatest Welterweight to ever step in to the Octagon, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.