170 lbs is and always has been one of MMA’s deepest divisions. The UFC’s welterweight division is currently in a period of transformation, with a new champion in Kamaru Usman, and a cavalcade of rising contenders who continue to rise up the rankings with each incredible performance. The division is currently so deep that many guys, like Vicente Luque, Mike Perry, Anthony Rocco Martin, and Geoff Neal to name a few, are currently unranked due to the division’s vast depth. Everyone who follows the UFC rankings on a weekly basis knows that they can sometimes get skewed, and household names can sometimes take precedence and a higher rank over more deserving guys (a perfect example being Conor McGregor ranked 9th pound-for-pound despite not winning a fight since 2016 against a guy who isn’t even in the UFC anymore, while Robert Whittaker, the middleweight champ, is ranked 10th). But, one thing at a time, and with that backdrop, let’s rerank the UFC welterweight division properly, or at least according to what I think is properly…. Let’s roll.
1. Kamaru Usman
A post shared by KAMARU USMAN (@usman84kg) on Mar 17, 2019 at 6:50am PDT
Obviously, the champion is at the top. He’s ranked number 1 as he should be. Kamaru Usman is the welterweight champion after his absolute domination and smothering of Tyron Woodley at UFC 235, and it appears he’ll be on the top of the mountain for quite a while. Usman currently sits at 14 consecutive wins with 10 coming in the UFC, and The Ultimate Fighter 21 winner has already built quite the legacy since joining the promotion. It would appear his first title defense will come against arch rival Colby Covington sometime later in 2019, in a fight that will feature some lethal build up in promotion.
2. Colby Covington
A post shared by colbycovington (@colbycovmma) on Sep 23, 2017 at 12:04pm PDT
While he’s controversial as a figure and his trash talking is very worked and contrived, Colby Covington’s skill set and body of work can’t be denied. Covington is 9-1 in the UFC, and captured the interim welterweight championship at UFC 225 against Rafael Dos Anjos, using his high level wrestling and pressure to smother the former lightweight champion. Despite having it stripped shortly thereafter, and subsequently being passed over for a title shot twice, Covington has remained at or near the top of the rankings and has kept the loud demeanor that has made him one of the UFC’s most hated but also most talked about fighters. As mentioned previously, a fight with Kamaru Usman is likely to take place sometime later in 2019.
3. Tyron Woodley
A post shared by Tyron Woodley (@twooodley) on Apr 27, 2019 at 7:02pm PDT
The former champion is coming off of a dominating defeat at the hands of the surging Kamaru Usman, but prior to that, Woodley appeared to be on his way to challenging Georges St-Pierre’s legacy as the greatest welterweight of all-time. Woodley may be the most well-rounded fighter in the welterweight division, with his superb striking and high level wrestling and anti- grappling. The loss of Usman undoubtedly hurts his legacy, and probably takes him out of the conversation as greatest welterweight of all time, but to completely discount what Woodley accomplished while at the top of the division would be criminal. Woodley is slated to rematch the man he took the belt from in 2016, Robbie Lawler, in June. A definitive performance would likely put Woodley right back in the conversation for a welterweight title shot.
4. Jorge Masvidal
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A post shared by Jorge Masvidal (@gamebredfighter) on Sep 5, 2017 at 12:36pm PDT
In terms of body of work, Masvidal fits best in this spot over the likes of some of the others in consideration. In 2017, Masvidal got a huge win over Donald Cerrone before dropping two consecutive decisions against Demian Maia and Stephen Thompson. After taking 2018 off, his stock somewhat took a dive as the previously top 5 ranked Masvidal fell to as low as 11. Fast forward to March of this year and Masvidal is back into title contention after a definitive knockout win over former title challenger Darren Till. Since then, Masvidal has become somewhat of a niche fan favorite with his very laissez faire approach to fighting. He is now slated to face Ben Askren at UFC 239 on July 6, and a win could very well earn Masvidal a title shot.
5. Ben Askren
A post shared by Ben Askren (@benaskren) on Apr 12, 2019 at 9:53am PDT
One UFC win is all it took for Askren to become a legitimate UFC welterweight contender. After picking up a 1st round submission win over former champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 235. Askren has now become a fan favorite and potential star for the promotion, of course in part due to his quirky personality and style of selling fights, but also due to his very dominant grappling-heavy attack. As mentioned directly above, the former Bellator and ONE world champion will share the octagon with Jorge Masvidal on July 6, and a win would very likely earn Askren a welterweight title opportunity, especially so because of his very electric personality and the cohesion he has created with UFC fans since joining the promotion. I think even Dana White realizes the star potential the promotion has in Askren.
6. Rafael Dos Anjos
A post shared by Rafael Dos Anjos (@rdosanjosmma) on Nov 30, 2018 at 8:49pm PST
The former lightweight champion started off his welterweight run strong, getting wins over Tarec Saffiedine, Neil Magny, and Robbie Lawler, before earning an interim title opportunity against Colby Covington. Dos Anjos lost to Covington, and subsequently lost a second consecutive bout against current champion Kamaru Usman back in November. While Dos Anjos now sits on a two-fight skid, it is important to note his defeats were against very arguably the two best welterweight fighters in the planet at the moment. Dos Anjos will face Kevin Lee in Rochester on May 18. A third consecutive loss could spark the end of any chance Dos Anjos has of ever getting back into title contention.
7. Santiago Ponzinibbio
A post shared by Santiago Ponzinibbio (@sponzinibbiomma) on Jan 30, 2019 at 9:50am PST
The current king of Argentinian MMA has looked the part of a future title contender in his last few performances. Ponzinibbio is coming off a dominating beatdown of Neil Magny back in November, and has since become the toughest man to matchmake for in the division. A matchup with Tyron Woodley was allegedly in the works, but that fizzled after Woodley was matched up with Robbie Lawler. Simple put, Ponzinibbio’s forward pressure, power, distance management, and high fight IQ make him one of the toughest matchups in the division. The only reason he’s not ranked higher here is because of his somewhat limited body of work. A matchup with a top 10 welterweight in his next bout should propel him forward, and should close him in on a title matchup with a win.
8. Anthony Pettis
A post shared by Anthony Pettis (@showtimepettis) on May 13, 2019 at 9:24am PDT
I almost didn’t put Pettis here because, truthfully, we don’t know if 170 is his permanent home from here on out. The reason I ultimately decided to include the former lightweight champion is because, for the moment, it would seem he is committed to giving 170 one more crack. Pettis is coming off of a huge knockout win over Stephen Thompson in March, a fight that propelled his status at both lightweight and welterweight. His star grew so much so that he now finds himself in a lucrative bout against Nate Diaz at UFC 241 in August, a fight that will take place at welterweight. A win over Diaz, while it wouldn’t necessarily put him in title contention, would do wonders for his prestige amongst many casual fans familiar with the Diaz name.
9. Darren Till
A post shared by DT (@darrentill2) on Mar 15, 2019 at 3:16am PDT
A little under a year ago, Darren Till was flying higher than almost any other fighter in the UFC roster. He had wins over Donald Cerrone and Stephen Thompson in his last two bouts and was about to be gifted a title opportunity against Tyron Woodley. The title shot didn’t work out in his favor, unfortunately for him, as Woodley dominated the brief affair before submitting the Scouser with a D’Arce choke. Till then faced Jorge Masvidal in March, and in what was supposed to be a rebound performance in his home country, Till got flatlined by the ATT product, and now sits in a precarious position, being a young fighter on a two-fight losing streak with a slew of hungry contenders waiting to overtake him. It’s unclear what the UFC will do with Till moving forward, but whomever it may be, Till needs to find a way to win, and win convincingly, to get his status back.
10. Stephen Thompson
A post shared by Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson (@wonderboymma) on Jan 5, 2019 at 2:50pm PST
Possessing one of the most unorthodox styles in all of MMA, many people believe that Wonderboy Thompson could be the best welterweight in the world on the right night. The karate black belt has proven time and time again that his skillset rivals that of some of the best in the division. Lately, the problem for Wonderboy has been octagon consistency. His form in his last five fights has been draw, loss, win, loss, loss. In order for Thompson to get back to the pinnacle that MMA fans know he is capable of hitting, he needs to approach each of his fights differently. While his loss to Pettis was the first knockout loss of his career, it was far from the first time he’s been rocked by a power shot in his career. Blitz Karate is fun, but when your hands are down all the time, you’re bound to get tagged. Perhaps a bit more “mixing” of the martial arts would benefit Wonderboy.
11. Leon Edwards
A post shared by Leon "Rocky" Edwards (@leon_edwardsmma) on May 3, 2019 at 10:54am PDT
I almost put Edwards in the top 10 because of his recent form. 7 straight wins over some very notable names, like Vicente Luque, who hasn’t lost since his bout with Edwards, Donald Cerrone, who may be a win away from a lightweight title shot, and Gunnar Nelson, one of the best transitional grapplers in the division. His last loss in the UFC before rattling off 7 straight was against current champion Kamaru Usman, back in 2015. Edwards should be getting a lot more attention than he has been, as the English kickboxing stylist has true knockout power and an underrated wrestling attack and top game, as he showed in the Gunnar Nelson fight. Edwards could string together a few more wins and find himself right on the doorstep of title shot early in 2020.
12. Demian Maia
A post shared by Demian Maia (@demianmaia) on Apr 18, 2019 at 7:07pm PDT
Perhaps the best Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighter in MMA history who doesn’t have the last name Gracie, Maia got back in the win column in February when he submitted former Bellator champion Lyman Good in the first round. The win snapped a three-fight skid for Maia, albeit against the likes of Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, and Kamaru Usman, “The Big 3,” of the division, if you will. A new hope was restored for fans of the BJJ ace who feared that they had seen his days of title contention well behind him. While he’s not entirely back in title contention yet, he is back in a form that we are all used to seeing from him. Maia will match up next with Anthony Rocco Martin in June, and another win will likely put him back in a position where he could fight in the top 10 again.
13. Robbie Lawler
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A post shared by Robbie Lawler (@ruthless_rl) on Aug 16, 2018 at 10:20am PDT
A man who has given MMA fans so much eye candy over the years, bringing a semblance of chaos and violence like we had almost never seen before into the octagon. That’s the sentence I would use to describe Robbie Lawler. Unfortunately for Lawler fans like myself, the Ruthless One has not had such luck in the cage as of late. A close decision over Donald Cerrone back in July 2017 prefaced a beatdown at the hands of Rafael Dos Anjos in December that year and a submission loss to Ben Askren this past March at UFC 235, with those two bouts sandwiching a torn ACL and a subsequent year of rehabilitation. Lawler now finds himself with another huge task in June, a rematch against a former champion and the man who took his belt in 2016, Tyron Woodley. A win for Lawler would undoubtedly launch him up the ranks and close to a title shot, but again, beating Tyron Woodley is a very tall task.
14. Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos
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A post shared by Elizeu Capoeira Zaleski Santos (@elizeucapoeira) on Apr 8, 2019 at 5:12am PDT
One of the most underrated fighters in the entire UFC roster is Dos Santos, a Brazilian finisher on a 7-fight winning streak. His only octagon loss was a split decision to Nicolas Darby back in 2015 in UFC debut. Capoeira has since been a buzzsaw in the octagon, using his diverse striking style and dynamic kicking game to give his opponents fits in trying to figure him out. His knockouts over Sean Strickland and Luigi Vendramini were in contention for knockout of the year honors, and his most recent win over Curtis Millender earned him his current rank, both in the UFC rankings and in these unofficial, but by far most accurate, rankings being written by yours truly. Dos Santos is unhooked but a top 10 opponent has to be on the horizon for the former Jungle Fight welterweight champion.
T-15. Vicente Luque
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A post shared by Vicente Luque (@luquevicente) on May 6, 2019 at 3:03pm PDT
Luque has quickly developed a reputation amongst all fans as being a fight finisher capable of ending contests in a variety of different ways. Since joining the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter 21, Luque has managed to compile an 8-2 record inside the octagon, with many people believing that he is in store for more once he does finally get his well deserved top 15 opportunity. Luque is coming off a win in a fight of the year contender last February against Bryan Barberena, a fight many thought he was losing until he caught Barberena with a perfectly timed shot to put out the lights in the last minute of the fight. The Silent Assassin is now slated to face Derrick Krantz on May 18 in Rochester, where a win should solidify his contendership status.
T-15. Geoff Neal
A post shared by Geoff Neal (@handzofsteelmma) on Apr 6, 2019 at 1:13pm PDT
Handz of Steel might not only have the best nickname in the division, but might also be the brightest prospect in the division at present moment. Neal came to the UFC through Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series and has had three fights in the octagon since, amassing a 3-0 record, with two wins coming by way of dynamic finish, (I encourage everyone to rewatch his fight with Frank Camacho and the subsequent knockout) and the other coming by way of dominant decision over one of the most consistent guys in the division in Belal Muhammad. Neal is a very well rounded fighter, possessing a wrestling base with a developed striking attack. Even though he is officially unranked at the moment, a top 10 bout is almost warranted for the Fortis MMA product.
So, there it is. Johann Castro’s personal top 15 rankings. This is obviously going to change as the year moves along, but hey, let’s live in the moment, right?