As Matt Brown was putting the finishing touches on his TKO victory over Mike Pyle last weekend, many fans probably were left shaking their heads in astonishment. Brown isn’t supposed to be anywhere near the top of the welterweight division, let alone a ranked contender in the UFC. A mere two years ago, Brown was coming off a lackluster decision over John Howard, earning the victory with his wrestling and likely saving his job in the process.

The win over Howard came on the heels of a three-fight losing streak, and it seemed unlikely that Brown would get the same amount of leeway with his losses as struggling stars like Dan Hardy or Tito Ortiz. “The Immortal” was known for his stint on The Ultimate Fighter 7 and had been in a few entertaining fights in the Octagon, but no one was knocking the door down asking why Brown wasn’t in a headlining spot. After a loss to Seth Baczynski at UFC 139, a lot of fans figured Brown was on his way out of the UFC. Losing four of your last five fights is usually enough to get anyone cut from the promotion, especially when all four of those losses are by stoppage.

With his Octagon record at a pedestrian 5-5 and things looking dire for the Ohio native, Brown was lucky enough to earn one last opportunity to keep his job at UFC 143. Eighteen months and six straight wins later, Brown is suddenly being looked at as a potential title contender for Georges St-Pierre.

Brown may be the most dramatic example, but the entire welterweight contendership picture has been flipped on its head over the last couple of years. The mainstays in the welterweight title picture over the last five years are all but gone. Aging stars Matt Hughes, Matt Serra and B.J. Penn were expected to be fading into the background by now, but guys like Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and Jake Shields weren’t supposed to go away so easily.

Koscheck was just bumped from the rankings by Brown this week, likely making this the first time in what seems like forever that “Kos” isn’t considered a top-10 UFC welterweight. Considering how things went for his American Kickboxing Academy teammate Fitch, though, I’m guessing Koscheck can live with being ranked outside of the top-10. Fitch was cut from the promotion following his second straight loss at UFC 156, but it was only his third overall defeat in almost 20 UFC appearances.

Jake Shields has bounced from welterweight to middleweight, never quite looking comfortable in the Octagon. Even Nick Diaz is gone, going from welterweight title fight to retirement all in the same night at UFC 158. Outside of Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann, none of the top welterweights from even a year ago are all that close to title contention.

Conventional wisdom would make most fans believe that the Koschecks and Fitches of the division were simply victims of the constant evolution of the fight game. After all, we’ve seen a youth movement start to arise in other weight divisions, from Jon Jones, Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira at 205 pounds to Renan Barao, Michael McDonald and T.J. Dillashaw at 135, so it would only make sense if younger, hungrier fighters were replacing the former kingpins. But strangely, that’s not the case with the welterweight division.

Sure, some young stars like Johny Hendricks and Rory MacDonald have found their niche at 170, but for the most part the new guard at welterweight is littered with a lot of old names. Brown immediately comes to mind, but fellow veterans Robbie Lawler and Demian Maia have also made some major waves in the past few months.

With so much new blood sitting at the top of the division, the welterweight title picture is as foggy as it has been in a long time. Multiple fighters can make a convincing case to get the winner of St-Pierre and Hendricks in a few months, but no one fighter actually sticks out as the clear-cut No. 1 contender. Luckily, the next few months will provide UFC matchmaker Joe Silva with a chance to determine who gets the next crack at the welterweight strap.

St-Pierre and Hendricks are set to fight for the belt at UFC 167 in November, but a match-up between MacDonald and Lawler has also been set for the UFC’s 20th anniversary show. MacDonald is going to be the favorite heading into that fight, and unless Lawler is able to land a big bomb or two, “Ares” should be able to use his overall skills in order to earn the win. Assuming that St-Pierre is also able to take care of business, the two best welterweights in the UFC will be friends and training partners, leaving Joe Silva with a huge title fight that he can’t make.

At that point, the UFC has three realistic options. Another win for Brown would likely put him in the driver’s seat towards his first title fight, but “The Immortal” still isn’t the household name the UFC wants to see in pay-per-view main events. Ditto for Tarec Saffiedine, who has lost a ton of the momentum he earned at the beginning of the year when he won the Strikeforce title in the final fight in the promotion’s history. A champion vs. champion fight between St-Pierre and Saffiedine may have been able to move some numbers a few months ago, but after Strikeforce champions Luke Rockhold and Gilbert Melendez fell short in their respective UFC debuts, the confidence in former Strikeforce title holders isn’t exactly skyrocketing.

This brings us to the third (and probably the best) option: set up Brown against Saffiedine for the UFC 167 fight card, the same card that features GSP-Hendricks and MacDonald-Lawler. In the likely scenario that GSP wins his 12th straight fight, it gives the UFC plenty of options going forward, and it helps create a clear contender out of Brown or Saffiedine in the future. Any fight card featuring St-Pierre is going to do decent pay-per-view numbers, and letting two of the best, yet unheralded welterweights in the division fight on the same card would help turn the winner into a noteworthy name.

As the changing of the guard in the welterweight division continues, the UFC is going to have to keep creating stars out of its lesser-known fighters, something that can easily be accomplished if both the MacDonald-Lawler and Brown-Saffiedine fights are booked for the UFC 167 card. As long as St-Pierre keeps taking out every contender the UFC throws his way, the promotion is going to have to keep finding fighters to attempt to knock him off the top of the mountain. Setting up four potential title challengers on the same card as the champion is the way to make sure that happens.

Photo: Matt Brown (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.