The UFC welterweight division is one of the promotion's deepest and most exciting lineups and it always has been. Some of the sport’s greatest legends competed in the 170-pound weight class. Georges St-Pierre, Matt Hughes and Royce Gracie are some of the legendary fighters the division has given us. The current crop of welterweights is keeping this division's reputation firmly intact.
There is arguably no other division with nearly as much animosity and bad blood between its top contenders than the welterweights. That only makes for more intriguing matchups and rivalries, something the 170lbers bring an abundance of.
Sitting at the top of the food chain is Kamaru Usman. He is perhaps the most dominant champion in the UFC and one of the greatest welterweights of all time. Below him lies a host of charismatic contenders and talented fighters.
Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington appear to be the greatest threats to Usman's throne. Below, the likes of Leon Edwards, Stephen Thompson and Vicente Luque are all legitimate contenders. With rising stars like Li Jingliang, Miguel Baeza and Shavkat Rakhmonov, the future of the division looks bright.
The talent below the champion in the welterweight top-10 is immeasurable and the rising prospects are among the UFC’s best.
At UFC 261 this weekend, a blockbuster welterweight rematch is set to go down. Kamaru Usman will look to defend his title against Jorge Masvidal for the second time.
Ahead of this Saturday's stacked pay-per-view, let's take a look at five upcoming UFC welterweight fights we should be looking forward to.
#5 Miguel Baeza vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio
Now this one really is an underrated matchup. On the UFC's June 5 card, Santiago Ponzinibbio and Miguel Baeza will go head-to-head. The clash will see two welterweights at fairly opposite ends of their careers fight to secure a number next to their name this summer.
For Baeza, this fight offers a golden opportunity to add a recognized UFC name to his record. At just 28 years old, 'Caramel Thunder' has immense potential, and his UFC career so far has shown that. Since debuting for the promotion in 2019 as a 7-0 professional, wins over Hector Aldana and Takashi Sato, as well as a memorable knockout of Matt Brown, have ascended Baeza to a double-figure win tally.
Against Ponzinibbio, Baeza will look to increase his win streak to 11 and establish his name as a real threat to the rest of the division.
For Ponzinibbio, this matchup represents a chance to record his first victory in over two years. The Argentinian was riding high in the UFC after accumulating a seven-fight win streak featuring wins over Neil Magny, Mike Perry, Gunnar Nelson and Zak Cummings.
After a staph infection stalled his rise, 'Gente Boa' looked set to pick up where he left off when he returned this year. A knockout loss to Li Jingliang in January made it clear a lot of work is needed if he is to reach the top of the division again.
Nevertheless, Ponzinibbio's 27-4 record is impressive and Miguel Baeza's unbeaten start to his career makes this matchup an enticing fight at 170-pounds.
#4 Neil Magny vs. Geoff Neal
What a matchup this is towards the back-end of the welterweight top-10. Ranked ninth and eleventh in the division, both Neil Magny and Geoff Neal will be looking to use each other as a stepping stone to contendership when they meet at UFC on ESPN 24 on May 8.
Whilst TJ Dillashaw's return in the main event is set to take the spotlight, the fight between Magny and Neal is intriguing enough to have been a main event in itself.
Both men are in need of a rebound performance. For Magny, an impressive three-fight win streak, including victories over Li Jingliang and Robbie Lawler, came to an end after a loss to Michael Chiesa in January.
Neal, meanwhile, had been on an incredible run in the UFC. Victories over Niko Price, Belal Muhammad and Mike Perry left him with a 5-0 UFC record and on a seven-fight win streak. It took an opponent as good as Stephen Thompson to hand him his first loss in the promotion.
Having both lost to legitimate contenders in recent months, Magny and Neal are still within reach of the division's best names, and a win for either man could secure them a big fight later this year.
#3 Gilbert Burns vs. Stephen Thompson
The fact this matchup isn't even in the top two on this list shows just how good the schedule of upcoming welterweight fights is. Stephen Thompson versus Gilbert Burns at UFC 264 has all the makings to be an absolute classic.
'Wonderboy' has always been an elite fighter. He boasts some of the most accomplished striking in the UFC and the most feared kicks in the welterweight division. With wins over the likes of Rory MacDonald, Robert Whittaker and Jorge Masvidal, along with two five-round wars for the title against a prime Tyron Woodley, Thompson has big-fight experience and is at home at the top of the division.
Back-to-back wins over Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal have brought the 38-year-old back to the top, and he'll look to make his case for another title opportunity against the second-ranked 170lber Gilbert Burns.
Burns was touted by many as the man who would dethrone Kamaru Usman. Despite rocking 'The Nigerian Nightmare' early on, the Brazilian was torn apart in the second and third rounds.
Burns was clearly emotional after the TKO loss, but now he has to bounce back in style against one of the division's toughest. This matchup is not one to miss...
#2 Leon Edwards vs. Nate Diaz
Co-main event, five rounds, Leon Edwards versus Nate Diaz. This one could be special.
Edwards is a talented striker and Diaz has been involved in some absolute brawls across his UFC career. The pair coming together for a matchup is something most wouldn't have seen coming. There are very few better ways to set up for the lightweight championship main event at UFC 262 than this.
Leon Edwards has been after an opportunity at Usman's welterweight gold for months. After Covid-19 prevented him from traveling to fight, Edwards had anticipated returning this year and securing a title opportunity with a victory over Belal Muhammad. An eye poke prevented that from happening.
Now, the Englishman will need a strong performance across five rounds against one of the UFC's biggest stars, Nate Diaz. The Stockton-born fighter last appeared in the octagon when he faced Jorge Masvidal in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd. His performance prior to facing 'Gamebred' against Anthony Pettis showed he can still hang with the best. He'll look to prove that again versus top-five welterweight Leon Edwards.
If there's one fight you watch in May, make it be this one.
#1 Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal 2 - UFC Welterweight Championship
For the second time in 10 months, welterweight king Kamaru Usman will defend his belt against Jorge Masvidal. “Gamebred” made the long journey to Fight Island and endured a brutal weight cut for their first meeting last year. Masvidal went the full five rounds with Usman on just six days' notice.
Despite a unanimous decision loss, Masvidal has already found himself with a second title opportunity; this time with a full camp.
Animosity has always existed between the two stars. The confrontation at the Miami Beach Convention Center proved to be a boiling point. The post-fight call out in February by “The Nigerian Nightmare” has laid the foundations for the two to stand face-to-face again.
Usman and Masvidal will look horns once again this weekend. The UFC will be looking to better the 1.3 million PPV buys the pair's first clash brought in.