By E. Spencer Kyte | Posted 2 years ago

Over the last six weeks, the UFC welterweight division went from being off the radar in terms of the biggest fights and events taking place inside the Octagon to being front and center as the action returns to the UFC APEX in Las Vegas this weekend.

The heavyweight title unification fight between Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane dominated the headlines in January, and a collection of quality fights at lightweight and middleweight put those divisions in the spotlight in February. Since the start of March, the 170-pound weight class has played host to the most talked about matchups.

First, Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal looked to settle their differences at UFC 272, followed by Masvidal trying to secure a little “get back” by sucker-punching Covington outside a steakhouse in Miami after failing to muster any meaningful offense against him inside the cage.

A couple weeks later, Top 15 fixture Neil Magny did what Neil Magny does, edging out game veteran Max Griffin in a competitive contest that highlighted how difficult it can be to earn a number next to your name in the welterweight ranks.

And then last weekend, Khamzat Chimaev earned the most impressive victory of his burgeoning career, turning in a gutsy effort against former title challenger Gilbert Burns at UFC 273 to maintain his unbeaten record and establish himself as a legitimate threat in the 170-pound weight class.

Following his win, UFC President Dana White mentioned a date with Covington, the top contender who has already lost to reigning champ Kamaru Usman twice, in the main event of a summer show on ABC as a potential option for each man.

Welterweight remains at the fore on Saturday as well, as Top 10 standouts Vicente Luque and Belal Muhammad square off in a five-round fight that is both a rematch and a chance for each man to cement their standing as a top contender in the talent-rich division.

The duo met for the first time five-plus years ago in New York City — Luque was four fights and 18 months into his UFC tenure, while Muhammad was fighting for the third time in five months after debuting on short notice in the summer.

Luque needed just 89 seconds to secure the victory, dropping Muhammad with a clean left hand before finishing him on the deck in front of a packed house at Madison Square Garden as part of the historic UFC 205 preliminary card. Since then, each has fought a dozen times, and each has cemented their position as one of the best fighters in the 170-pound weight class.

The 30-year-old Brazilian has gone 10-2 since their first meeting, losing his next bout to Leon Edwards, who is expected to face Usman for the welterweight title later this year, before rattling off six straight victories.

After a decision loss to two-time title challenger Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson, the Luque has posted four more wins, all finishes, including back-to-back first-round submission wins over Tyron Woodley and Michael Chiesa.

Not to be outdone, Muhammad has also earned 10 victories following his initial meeting with Luque, losing just once, while also collecting a No Contest result in a fight with Edwards last March that was stopped early following an accident eye poke. Where Luque is a finisher, Muhammad is a grinder that makes opponents deal with his relentless pressure and weaponized pace for as long as it takes, muting their offensive outputs.

By the time the smoke clears this weekend, five of the six top-ranked contenders in the division will have stepped into the Octagon in the last six weeks, providing a great deal of clarity in regards to how things line up at the moment and what could happen in the second half of the year. But it’s not just Usman, Edwards, and these five contenders folks need to be aware of when it comes to the welterweight division.

Sean Brady is an undefeated rising star coming off a quality win over Chiesa in November. Shavkat Rakhmonov claimed his third straight stoppage victory since matriculating to the UFC in February, felling Carlston Harris with a spinning hook kick to push his record to 15-0, while former breakout middleweight Kevin Holland made a sharp first impression in his new surrounds at the start of March.

There are the veteran holdovers like Thompson and Masvidal, capable stalwarts like Chiesa and Magny, Dana White’s Contender Series graduate Geoff Neal, sturdy hand Daniel Rodriguez, streaking Brazilian Michel Pereira, and previously ranked talents like Santiago Ponzinibbio and Gunnar Nelson.

And young hopefuls like Ireland’s Ian Garry, who garnered a much-needed, hard-fought decision win last weekend to maintain his unblemished record, and Contender Series alum Michael Morales, an undefeated 22-year-old who knocked out Trevin Giles with a counter right on the main card at UFC 270 to begin his UFC adventure, have shown a ton of promise.

Plus there are guys like Randy Brown and Khaos Williams and Matthew Semelsberger and Jack Della Maddalena and Miguel Baeza and Andre Fialho and you get the picture.

The welterweight ranks have been hyper-active of late and show no signs of slowing down.

The talent throughout the division hasn’t been this good and this deep in quite some time — perhaps ever — and it should result in a ton of exciting, important fights in the 170-pound weight class the rest of the year, beginning this weekend in Las Vegas.

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