Georges St-Pierre has sat atop the welterweight division uncontested ever since he reclaimed the UFC championship from Matt Serra at UFC 83 on Apr. 19, 2008. Since then, he has convincingly defeated all eight title challengers and, with the exception of Carlos Condit holding the interim UFC welterweight championship for nine months and 13 days, St-Pierre has prevented any other 170-pound fighter from calling themselves a UFC champion. Of course, if we learned anything from UFC 162, it is that every reign must come to an end.

Johny Hendricks is scheduled to challenge the champion at UFC 167 on Nov. 16 after amassing a 9-1 record in the UFC and earning his title shot with six straight wins. Matt Brown is also on a six-fight winning streak and has stepped inside the Octagon a total of 16 times. Dong Hyun Kim is coming off a spectacular knockout over young prospect Erick Silva that moved Kim’s UFC record to 9-2 with one no-contest. Robbie Lawler has a fought in the UFC nine times and is on his second stint with the promotion. Lawler was very active during his time away, becoming the EliteXC middleweight champion and a staple of the Strikeforce promotion for several years. Also in the mix, despite coming off a controversial and disappointing loss to Jake Shields, is Demian Maia, who is still very dangerous at welterweight and, with 17 careers fights in the UFC, sits atop this list as the most experienced veteran.

What does all this add up to? Simply put, there are five UFC veterans with at least nine fights in the organization who have yet to fight GSP. Their stock is on the rise, and these are five guys who could feasibly become the next UFC welterweight champion. But the best part is that despite the fact we have seen each of them fight so many times, they still manage to surprise and amaze us, be it Lawler scoring back-to-back knockouts after going 3-5 in Strikeforce or Kim finishing a fight, by knockout nonetheless, for the first time in over five years. That’s the stuff champions are made of.

The most clichéd line in championship bouts is saying something along the lines of the challenger being the “toughest test to date” for the champion. Well, as clichéd as it may be, Hendricks may in fact just be that test for St-Pierre. He has a very solid wrestling pedigree and an aggressive style of striking, plus knockout power like few others within the division possess. Those are all the tools one would want to have if they were fighting one of the most dominant champions in the history of the sport. The only problem is that Hendricks is known to fade in fights that go the distance and has yet to fight in a five-round affair, giving the advantage to the Canadian. Either way, as the old saying goes, if you’ve been knocked out once, you can be knocked out again, making Hendricks a threat to GSP throughout all 25 potential minutes of this bout, regardless of who is winning on the judges’ scorecards.

Brown is booked opposite Condit at UFC on Fox 9 on Dec. 19. He is one of only three guys in the division currently on a six-fight winning streak. Brown has seen his fair share of ups and downs during his tenure. A win over Condit would not only put him on the short list for those awaiting a title shot, but it would also send a message to whomever the titleholder is at the time, be it GSP or Hendricks. Like Hendricks, Brown carries dynamite in his hands, and, unlike GSP, he’s proven that “playing it safe” is not in his game plan, which is always a dangerous attribute for anyone. Depending on what happens at UFC 167, as well as at UFC on Fox 9, we could possibly see him vying for the title in early 2014.

Kim seems to never get the credit he deserves or ever be on anyone’s radar for future contention, probably due to his losses to Condit and Maia. Nonetheless, if his UFC record wasn’t impressive enough, he just scored his third win in the last 12-months, all against game opponents with knockout power. That’s impressive. We’ve known for years about his ability to go for the takedown and control the match with his top game, and we learned against Condit that he can be caught just like anyone else, but what no one saw coming last week was Kim knocking out Silva in the second round and subsequently putting everyone in the division on notice who thought he was nothing more than a stepping stone. Despite that, it will be some time before his name is in the same hat as the contenders higher on the ladder than him. But if his next 12 months are anything like his last 12, expect the drum to start beating differently when people mention Kim and title shot in the same sentence.

Lawler is probably the most interesting fighter on this list. His 6-3 record with the UFC might not seem that impressive at first glance, but when you take into account his massive upset over Josh Koscheck at UFC 157 and his encore presentation against Bobby Voelker to prove it was no fluke, you can understand the excitement around his future contendership. Like Brown, he’s been around a while, could see himself vying for the title early next year, and is of an age where the time to repair mistakes is getting shorter and shorter. However, unlike anyone else on this list or anyone currently in the division, he made his first UFC appearance over a decade ago. In fact, Yves Edwards, Josh Barnett and B.J. Penn may be the only active UFC fighters who made their debuts before Lawler, except none of them are only 31 years old. If Lawler has a similar performance against No. 3-ranked Rory MacDonald at UFC 167, then no one will be looking at his mixed success in that first UFC stint or his time with Strikeforce. They will instead be looking to see if he can do the same thing to the man that ends up holding the belt at the end of the night.

The only fighter on this list coming off a loss is Maia. The one-time middleweight contender seemed unstoppable when he scored three decisive wins after making the drop to 170 pounds. In fact, it seemed opponents were hard to come by, as few were willing to actively throw their name out and accept a booking opposite the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wizard. Enter Shields, who has seen mixed success since he came up short in his title shot. Shields was able to put himself in a win-win situation, as he was not currently ranked in the top 10 at the time and scored himself a main-event fight against someone who was in the top five. Of course, the fighting style of Sheilds led to a controversial decision in their five-round affair, and he quickly put to rest any talk of an immediate title shot for Maia. To Maia’s credit, he showed up to fight that night. Unfortunately, he was matched up against someone who is the best in the world at winning without having to do much fighting, or anything exciting at all for that matter. Maia is still a marketable fighter with a respectable ranking, and if the UFC can find him suitable opponents in a timely manner, his rebound should be quick. If fighters like Hendricks and Brown can potentially knock out anyone on any given night, then Maia is the grappling equivalent and can potentially submit anyone, even GSP, on any given night. Let’s just hope Maia’s climb back up is quicker than the rest, because, at 35 years old, time is on his side less than anyone else on this list.

As hard as the road to a title shot is, the title fight itself will always be the most difficult challenge. In the last five years, eight different fighters in the UFC’s welterweight division have tried. All have failed, and only one of them could reasonably still be considered a contender. Hendricks, Brown, Kim, Lawler and Maia are not the only contenders in the division, but they are the most experienced, and they seem to do a good job of putting away prospects as well as fellow veterans. So it shouldn’t be surprising that we could see any one of them not only fighting for a title, but even wearing that belt in the next year or two. However, we will be surprised, because St-Pierre is the man to beat and five years is a long time to reign undisputed. And that’s the bottom line.

Photo: Johny Hendricks (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Justin Fuller
Associate Editor/Senior Writer

Justin Fuller is a writer, broadcaster, and political analyst. With a background in sports talk radio, he now runs his own podcast, "The Fuller Fight Factor LIVE."