“Which is the best division in MMA?” is a question without a single clear answer. For over a decade now, lightweight has been by acclamation the strongest in the sport, but there are other worthy candidates. In recent years, featherweight has become nearly as respected and beloved as lightweight, and for many of the same reasons: great athletes, diverse styles, and fighters big enough to boast knockout power, yet small enough to fight three (or five) rounds at an exhilarating pace. Light heavyweight, traditionally MMA’s glamour division, has its peaks and valleys, but regardless of the state of the division as a whole, anyone who can win the belt and defend it a few times—Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Jon Jones—seems guaranteed to become one of the sport’s biggest stars.
In the debate over MMA’s top weight class, 170 pounds has a unique ace up its sleeve; it may be the most difficult division for a fighter to break into the Top 10. A UFC welterweight must win six or seven fights in a row before he even enters the discussion of fringe contenders, and a single loss will send him back to square one. Just ask Santiago Ponzinibbio, who saw a seven-fight win streak snapped last weekend at UFC on ABC 1. Or simply ask Magny, who won seven in a row from 2014-2015, earned a date with Top-10 contender Demian Maia, and lost. Over half a decade later, Magny is only now recovering the divisional standing he had on the eve of the Maia fight, despite being 9-3 since then and 17-6 overall in his UFC career.
Magny’s foe this week, Chiesa, benefited from the only true shortcut to the welterweight Top 10, as he was a Top-10 lightweight who moved up in weight and then won his first three fights in impressive fashion. Nonetheless, “Maverick” stands to lose just as much as “The Haitian Sensation.” There is a ladder and there is only one rung up for grabs in the Octagon this Wednesday. One man will advance, while the other will fall. The same is true in any division, but the ladder is more crowded, and the fall harder, than just about anywhere else.
Here is the 22-year history of the UFC welterweight title and the times it was won, lost or defended. It tells the story of a hyper-competitive, cutthroat division, one whose champions have been forged in competitive fire.
Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration