Over the last year or so, the UFC welterweight division has unexpectedly become a young man’s game.
If we’d had to guess back in the halcyon days of, say, UFC 124, it might have seemed a good bet that Georges St. Pierre would’ve cleaned out his weight class by now; that we might be talking about him moving up a division and about a potential superfight against Anderson Silva being in the immediate offing.
As it turned out, nothing could be further from the truth.
Due to St. Pierre’s lengthy injury layoff and the rapid rise of a new breed of 170-pound challengers, the welterweight ranks have undergone a significant revival since December 2010. That is, since the last time GSP whooped up on Josh Koscheck.
Suddenly, the ESPN.com welterweight top five is stocked with fresh opponents for St. Pierre (whenever he returns), all of them still comfortably in the athletic prime of their mid-to-late 20s: Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz, Jake Ellenberger, Johny Hendricks -- this is their show now.
Thirty-somethings like Koscheck, Jon Fitch and Jake Shields have been relegated to the bottom half of the top 10 rankings. Worse than that, there’s a growing and palpable feeling that their time has passed.
Unless the division’s original malcontent has anything to say about it.
When Koscheck fights Hendricks on Saturday during the UFC’s third live show on Fox, it’ll likely constitute the 34-year-old veteran’s last real chance to launch himself back into the thick of the 170-pound title hunt. It’s also pretty easy to frame this matchup as exactly what it is: A meeting between the welterweight class’ sturdy old guard and its new wave of exciting young upstarts.
As a guy who has traditionally reveled in the role of villain, perhaps this could be Koscheck’s final opportunity to really stick it to fans, as well.
Even without taking sides, it’s clear that the more interesting way forward for the division at large would be a victory for Hendricks here. After all, whereas we think we’ve already seen the best Koscheck has to offer (it was good, but not quite good enough), Hendricks is the more unproven commodity, and therefore the more interesting one.
We have no idea how Hendricks might fare against St. Pierre and that’s exactly why we like him. Ditto for guys like Condit, Diaz and Ellenberger. On the other hand, we’ve witnessed the French Canadian champion put Koscheck through the wringer twice before, and we have no reason to believe another meeting would be any different.
A victory for Hendricks means the division gets to continue the renewal we’ve seen over the last year. It means it can go on being one of the most vibrant and interesting weight classes in the sport. A win for Koscheck obviously wouldn’t undo that entirely, but it would send the 170-pound youth movement staggering a bit.
We should likely stop short of saying a Koscheck victory would be a victory for the old dogs of the welterweight division -- as the man himself would probably remind us, a win for Koscheck is a just a win for Koscheck -- but it certainly would be a significant defeat for one of the guys fight fans are hoping will carry us into the future.