5 explosive fights to make in the UFC welterweight division

C. Naik
L-R: Kamaru Usman, Khamzat Chimaev, Leon Edwards, Shavkhat Rakhmonov and Jorge Masvidal [Image via @ufc, @khamzat_chimaev, @btsportufc, @shavkatrakhmonov94 and @mmaonpoint on Instagram]
L-R: Kamaru Usman, Khamzat Chimaev, Leon Edwards, Shavkat Rakhmonov and Jorge Masvidal [Image via @ufc, @khamzat_chimaev, @btsportufc, @shavkatrakhmonov94 and @mmaonpoint on Instagram]

Throughout the history of the UFC, the welterweight division hasn't been regarded among the most exciting weight classes in the sport, largely thanks to the long-reigning champions of each passing era.

Matt Hughes, Georges St-Pierre, Tyron Woodley and Kamaru Usman were all dominant champions when they were at the top, contributing to the lack of excitement in the division. However, with a new wave of welterweights on the rise, and the recent dethroning we witnessed last month, 170 pounds has sprung back into life.

Leon Edwards' championship-winning performance at UFC 278 saw a change of guard atop the welterweight division, which now has a good mix of veterans and surging prospects who are yet to be matched up.

On that note, here are five explosive fights to make in the UFC welterweight division.

#5. Stephen Thompson vs. Michel Pereira

After back-to-back wins over Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal, Stephen Thompson was seemingly one win away from another shot at UFC gold. However, the former title challenger has since picked up losses to Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad, which has halted his momentum.

In the fights against Burns and Muhammad, Thompson was thoroughly outwrestled and it appears as though the blueprint to beat him has been laid out. At 39, 'Wonderboy' isn't getting any younger, and taking on another wrestler could spell the end of his title aspirations. This is likely why he turned down Shavkat Rakhmonov.

Thompson deserves a more favorable matchup and a fun striking battle featuring the kickboxing phenom is long overdue. An exciting option for the fan-favorite American is Michel Pereira, who sits at No.15 in the welterweight rankings.

Pereira is among the most explosive and dynamic fighters at 170 pounds in the UFC. The acrobatic Brazilian is known for his in-cage theatrics, rather than his finishes, and his style against Thompson's should deliver fireworks.

This pairing offers 'Wonderboy' a chance to return to winning ways and his Brazilian counterpart will see it as a chance to make a big leap up the rankings. The contrast between their striking styles is the biggest selling point of this matchup and it serves as an indicator of whether Thompson is still a live contender in the division.

Find out: Latest UFC Welterweight Standings

#4. Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Geoff Neal

Shavkat Rakhmonov has ripped through every opponent placed before him with relative ease. The Kazakh welterweight has barely been tested inside the octagon and has worked his way to the No.11 spot in the welterweight rankings.

'The Nomad' has never tasted defeat in his professional career and boasts a 100% finish rate. While the outspoken and boistrous Khamzat Chimaev tends to grab the most headlines these days and is already inside the top five, Rakhmonov has quickly emerged as the divisional dark horse.

Rakhmonov's latest win, a dominant submission victory over perennial welterweight gatekeeper Neil Magny, was a real statement of intent. Magny is as experienced as they come, but couldn't expose a single hole in his Kazakh counterpart's game on the night.

Training at KillCliff MMA will likely complicate potential matchups with other members of the gym like Gilbert Burns and Vicente Luque. He's also unlikely to be matched up with lower-ranked fighters like Michael Chiesa or marketable superstars like Jorge Masvidal.

Looking at the rankings, Geoff Neal stands out as the only logical next move for Rakhmonov. Neal came away with a resounding win in his last outing where he knocked out Vicente Luque, which saw him climb to the No.6 spot in the top 15. 'Handz of Steel' has good takedown defense and undeniable power in his fists, making him an ideal step-up in competition for 'The Nomad'.

Geoff Neal (left) and Shavkat Rakhmonov (right) [Images via @handzofsteelmma and @shavkatrakmonov94 on Instagram]
Geoff Neal (left) and Shavkat Rakhmonov (right) [Images via @handzofsteelmma and @shavkatrakmonov94 on Instagram]

#3. Gilbert Burns vs. Jorge Masvidal

A fight between Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal has been circulating in the rumor mill for quite some time now. The blockbuster welterweight matchup looked all but finalized until last month, when Leon Edwards dethroned welterweight kingpin Kamaru Usman.

Masvidal has hinted at an immediate title shot considering his history with Edwards, but his recent run of form doesn't warrant any such reward. Additionally, UFC president Dana White is in favor of the Burns-Masvidal pairing as he recently indicated in a post-fight presser.

Both former welterweight title challengers are coming off decision losses. Gilbert Burns' last appearance inside the octagon was his loss to Khamzat Chimaev, while Jorge Masvidal's most recent fight was his grudge match against Colby Covington.

Burns and Masvidal have reiterated that they will beat anyone in their path en route to returning to title contention. 'Durinho' currently occupies the No.4 spot in the division, while 'Gamebred' sits at No.9.

If Leon Edwards defeats former longtime UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman in their projected trilogy bout next year, it opens the door for another title shot for either Burns or Masvidal, whoever comes out on top in their rumored matchup.

#2. Khamzat Chimaev vs. Colby Covington

At the recently concluded UFC 279 pay-per-view, Khamzat Chimaev stole the show with his near-perfect submission win over Kevin Holland.

Their co-main event bout materialized in the eleventh hour after Chimaev drastically missed weight for his previously scheduled bout against Nate Diaz. Nevertheless, 'Borz' upheld his unbeaten record and added another finish to his resume as he dominated Holland for as long as their bout lasted.

Interestingly, after all the chaos he caused throughout fight week, he has fully embraced the role of the heel after the MMA community seemingly turned on him following his unprofessional behavior.

Unfortunately for Khamzat Chimaev, a win over Kevin Holland in a catchweight bout doesn't really warrant a title shot. 'Borz' will likely need a win over a top-ranked welterweight if he is to get his shot at UFC gold, and a fight against the other heel in the division, Colby Covington, makes sense from every angle.

Covington has been on the sidelines since his one-sided win over bitter rival Jorge Masvidal. The former interim champion is arguably the most hated and polarizing figure in the promotion, which should make the lead-up to a potential fight against Chimaev wildly entertaining.

We're also yet to see how Chimaev fares against a high-level wrestler like Covington, who is also known for his durability and endless cardio. 'Borz' has never seen a fourth round in his professional career and this will be a test unlike any other for the surging contender.

#1. Leon Edwards vs. Kamaru Usman 3 – For the UFC welterweight title

Leon Edwards shocked the world at UFC 278 last month, delivering one of the greatest comebacks and championship-winning knockouts in UFC history. The Englishman viciously slept former champion Kamaru Usman, who was considered the No.1 pound-for-pound king at the time, to win the title that eluded him for so many years.

Usman was looking to defend his title for the sixth time going into his rematch with Edwards, seven years after their first meeting in 2015. Given the former champion's accomplishments thus far and the nature of their recently concluded rematch, 'The Nigerian Nightmare' undoubtedly deserves a trilogy fight.

Usman was seemingly en route to a unanimous decision win before getting caught by Edwards' perfectly-timed head-kick. The Brit challenger looked dejected and defeated in the final few rounds of the championship bout, but kept his composure to find a last-ditch finish.

Edwards handed Usman his first-ever loss in the UFC, and the latter will be itching to exact his revenge.

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