The UFC have an illustrative set of champions in their history. However, a few weight divisions end up being more competitive than the others. For the longest time, the UFC Welterweight division has been looked at for its dearth of talent. But while the talent pool ran deep, there have been eras of dominant champions that have ruled over the division.
Despite that, there have been 10 men over the course of 24 years to have been the undisputed Welterweight champion of the world. Not all reigns are equal. There have been some absolute kings in the division, while there have also been a fair few transitional champions. But in the grand scheme of things, which champions ended up being better than others?
10 BJ Penn
BJ Penn’s time in the Welterweight division came prior to the peak of his popularity. While he was always considered a Lightweight, ‘The Prodigy’ was a dominant 170-pounder and rivaled his performances as a 155-pounder. Penn became the Welterweight champion at UFC 48 after making Matt Hughes tap out to a rear-naked-choke.
Penn never got to defend his title, as he was stripped of it when he went over to K-1. As a result, Penn has to be last on this list. He made a comeback to the division later in his career, failing to win the title against Hughes and then Georges St. Pierre. He fought GSP as the UFC Lightweight Champion, in the first attempt by anyone to become champ-champ in the UFC.
nine Carlos Newton
Carlos Newton is a name that very old fans of the sport got to see fight in his prime. However, the sport has evolved so much in the last two decades that it sometimes hard to compare eras. Newton can be interchangeably placed here with the next two entries or the prior one. He won the title from inaugural holder Pat Miletich at UFC 31 in 2001.
Newton would lose the title in one of the most famous UFC highlight clips of all time in which he and opponent Matt Hughes got knocked out from a slam by Hughes. However, Newton was ruled knocked out, and the title slipped out of his hands in his first defense. He would never challenge for UFC gold again and would retire in 2010 with a record of 16-14.
8 Johnny Hendricks
The story of Johny Hendricks is quite an odd one, as he fell from the top ranks of MMA before he even had a chance to enjoy it. A standout wrestler prior to MMA, Hendricks became one of the best fighters in the world due to explosive knockout power and great wrestling talent. He took the fight to Georges St. Pierre when they fought at UFC 167, but Hendricks came short in a controversial decision. GSP would walk away from the sport and Hendricks would beat Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 to earn the strap for himself.
He lost the title to Lawler when the pair re-matched at UFC 181 where Lawler came away with a split decision win. Hendricks would go 2-5 over the next 7 fights of his career, having tremendous weight issues at both Welterweight and Middleweight.
7 Matt Serra
Johny Hendricks was arguably a better fighter in his prime than Matt Serra, but Serra did something Hendricks couldn’t do and that is beat Georges St. Pierre. Coming through as a winner of The Ultimate Fighter, Serra was given a title shot against GSP at UFC 69 where he shocked the world and knocked St. Pierre out to become champion.
Serra has one of the most famous victories in MMA for a world championship, and he is one of only two people to have beaten Georges St. Pierre ever. That needs to count for something, even though Serra would drop the belt right back to GSP in their rematch at UFC 83.
6 Robbie Lawler
Robbie Lawler was one-half of arguably the most memorable UFC Welterweight Championship match at UFC 189 against Rory MacDonald. The fight is still remembered as a classic. It reaches a break-neck pace towards the end and Lawler’s victory in that bout is still talked about. By the time Lawler became Welterweight Champion against Johny Hendricks at UFC 181, he was a longtime participant in the sport and his championship ascension was a feel-good story.
Along with MacDonald, Lawler would also beat former UFC Interim Welterweight champion Carlos Condit at UFC 196 to rack-up two title defenses. His reign would come to an end at the hands of Tyron Woodley at UFC 201.
5 Pat Miletich
The OG Welterweight Champion of the world is still regarded as one of the best champions the division has ever seen. While a few of his successors were definitely better than him, there are very few inaugural UFC Champions that have their championship resumes hold up after 20+ years.
Miletich became champion by beating Mikey Burnett at UFC Brazil in 1998. He would go on to defend his title against Jorge Patino, Andre Pederneiras, John Alessio, and Kenichi Yamamoto. Miletich would lose his belt to Carlos Newton at UFC 31, but he did dominate the division against the competition at the time.
4 Tyron Woodley
Tyron Woodley did look to be on the path to be remembered as one of the greatest champions the UFC had seen. While his fighting style drew the ire of fans and management, Woodley had an undeniable way of getting results inside the Octagon. That allowed him to beat Lawler and become the champion at UFC 201, and helped him rack up 4 title defenses.
Woodley’s reign started out with a draw against Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson at UFC 205, but would end with a win at UFC 209 when Woodley took home the rematch. He would also derail the hype train of Darren Till at UFC 228, prior to which he had shut out UFC veteran Demian Maia at UFC 214. Woodley lost his title in ugly fashion when Kamaru Usman absolutely dominated him for 25 minutes to take the title.
3 Matt Hughes
There have been three era defining champions in UFC Welterweight history, and the first was Matt Hughes. Hughes is a two-time champion and had 7 title defenses over the course of those two reigns. His first reign started in 2001 at UFC 34 and saw him defend the belt 5 times over opponents like Carlos Newton, Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg, and others. BJ Penn would end this reign at UFC 46.
Hughes’ second run started at UFC 50 when he beat Georges St. Pierre for the vacant title. He defended it against Frank Trigg once again and then avenged his title loss to BJ Penn at UFC 63. However, GSP would return to the throne and win the title at UFC 65.
2 Kamaru Usman
The current UFC Welterweight Champion is well on his way to possibly becoming the greatest Welterweight of all time. However, Kamaru Usman hasn’t achieved that so far. What he has achieved is an undisputed spot as the second-best, with room still to grow into being the greatest.
Usman won the title in a dominant win over Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 and has defended the title five times since. He has beaten Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington twice and knocked out Gilbert Burns the other time. Usman has wins over every great contemporary Welterweight of his time and has lapped the division. Will he have the endurance to continue doing so until he can cross the man ahead of him?
one Georges St. Pierre
Arguably one of the greatest fighters regardless of weight class, Georges St. Pierre’s name is synonymous with domination of the Welterweight division. GSP first ascended to the throne when he beat Matt Hughes at UFC 65. However, that reign would be short-lived as GSP would lose his first defense against Matt Serra.
GSP would have regained the title at UFC 83 from Serra and would go on an incredible 9-fight winning streak that saw him take out the likes of BJ Penn, Jon Fitch, Dan Hardy, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, and others. He would retire without losing the title, a feat that is very rare in any sport, let alone MMA. GSP is the undisputed GOAT of the division, for now.
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