Despite its much ballyhooed influx of new talent, the UFC welterweight division has been lacking something important during the last few months: Momentum.
Depending how you look at it, the 170-pound class is currently either without its champion, or it has one too many. With Georges St. Pierre still on the mend from a serious knee injury and Carlos Condit reportedly on the shelf until he returns, the suddenly healthy crop of welterweight contenders has been left to fight it out amongst themselves.
The problem, of course, is that nobody knows exactly what they’re fighting for. After the decision came down that Condit would wait for GSP, the welterweight class has been thrust into a weird suspended animation; one where the rest of the division is forced to keep engaging in real fights with very unreal, undefined consequences. Case in point: Martin Kampmann’s upset victory over Jake Ellenberger last Friday, wherein we’re led to believe one guy gained significant ground at the expense of the other, we just have no idea where that ground is leading.
The sum total makes for a situation that is unfair to everyone, most of all fans, who are allegedly supposed to keep track of it all.
With that in mind, here are three ways to get the welterweight division back on its feet and feeling vibrant again:
1. Have Condit defend his belt.
In the wake of St. Pierre’s injury, promoters spent considerable time and effort creating an interim champion from Condit’s UFC 143 win over Nick Diaz. Nobody likes an interim title, but under the circumstances it was probably the right move. Unfortunately, no sooner had Condit claimed the belt by somewhat disputed unanimous decision, the UFC announced he wouldn’t actually be doing anything with it. Instead, he’ll just hold tight until St. Pierre returns, so long as GSP can do that in the timely manner he’s promising.
Yeah, that was probably the wrong move.
For the record, an interim champion whose only duty is to cool his heels until the real champion comes back isn’t an interim champion at all. He’s just the No. 1 contender with a belt. The sole reason to create an interim title, in fact, is to preserve the division’s forward momentum while the real champion recuperates. If that’s not going to happen, then it makes no sense to even have an interim champ.
Granted, nobody will recognize Condit as the real champion until he beats St. Pierre. At the very least though, the notion that the interim belt could be up for grabs would make fans feel like something was happening. Without it, these next few months run the risk of turning into season eight of “Dallas,” with matchmakers wiping the slate clean and pretending like it was all just Kampmann’s dream once GSP is healthy.
2. Create some narratives.
If fans are going to invest three hours watching a fight card -- or, even worse, shell out $54.99 to watch one on pay-per-view -- they want to feel like what they’re watching means something. That feeling is sorely lacking at 170-pounds right now.
An important part of pushing Condit back into action would be to create a sense of meaning at the top of the welterweight class. As it stands now, Ellenberger -- who rightly should have been “in the mix” for a No. 1 contender spot under normal circumstances -- saw the momentum he’d built during a six-fight win streak unceremoniously halted with his upset loss to Kampmann, and for what? Nobody knows, except that we’re all pretty sure it’s bad that Ellenberger lost.
Conventional wisdom now has Kampmann ticketed for a future bout with Johny Hendricks but, again, we’re not totally clear on why. Kampmann versus Hendricks can’t be a No. 1 contender match because Condit is already the No. 1 contender and will remain that way for a seemingly indefinite period of time. As a result, Kampmann and Hendricks may engage in a bout just as meaningless as Kampmann versus Ellenberger, one where nothing particularly tangible is at stake except for the vague notion that you don’t want to lose. Especially if your name rhymes with Sohny Fendricks.
That changes if Kampmann and Hendricks are fighting for the right to face Condit for some version of the welterweight title. That means something.
3. Let GSP rest in peace.
No, that’s not nearly as ominous as it sounds, but there has (understandably) been much handwringing over the speed of St. Pierre’s recovery from knee surgery. Can he get back before the end of the year? Can he be the same dominant champion post ACL-snapping as he was before it? Will he be psychologically ready to take on the top challenger right out of the gate?
To all of this, it feels necessary to say: Dudes, chill. Let the man rehab and -- dare I say -- let the man rehab at his own pace. The worst thing an athlete can do is hurry back from a devastating injury. If we want GSP to return in tip-top shape, it’s advisable that we give him the breathing room necessary to make that happen.
And at the risk of beating an ailing horse, it’s not like the welterweight division particularly needs him for the next few months. With a roster full of exciting young guys like Condit, Hendricks, Kampmann, Ellenberger, Rory MacDonald and (here’s hoping) Diaz, there is more than enough talent to keep the division afloat and relevant until GSP is ready to return.
The athletes just need a reason to fight and the fans need a reason to watch, to care. If only there was something tangible they could fight over, like … oh, I don’t know ... a belt.