In the main event of UFC 258 on Saturday, “The Nigerian Nightmare” showed off a rugged chin and a champion’s composure in weathering an early blitz from Gilbert Burns. He then displayed his growing offensive arsenal, as he used kicks and a crushing jab to put away the challenger early in the third round, without needing to lean on the wrestling and suffocating clinch work that have traditionally been his go-to weapons.
In the wake of his third title defense, the 33-year-old champ was the target of divisional “GOAT” accolades, including at least partial endorsements from his boss, UFC President Dana White and another all-time great fighter in Jon Jones. Those discussions, while fun, are largely for the birds, but a good case can be made that Usman is the most dominant active champion in the sport today, and that is an endorsement in itself, since welterweight is one tough division in which to dominate.
If the 170-pound division isn’t the best weight class in UFC history, it must be a close second behind lightweight. Scan the 10 names on the left-hand side of the infographic, and you see a lot of meat and not a lot of filler. There are a couple of the greatest fighters of all time and several more who were at least among the greatest of their time. The right-hand side tells a story as well, with some incredibly skilled and accomplished fighters trying and failing to scale the throne. Not many weight classes have a second tier as historically impressive as Jon Fitch, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit and Demian Maia.
Of course, that’s owing to welterweight’s chief charm: It is a division historically ruled by great champions. Compared to the sad-sack early years of the UFC’s lightweight and heavyweight divisions, where nobody even seemed to want the belts, and in fact multiple sitting champions bailed for greener pastures, 170 was put in an immediate stranglehold by Miletich, who held the newly-minted strap for almost three years, even if he continued to take — and sometimes lose — fights outside the UFC. Ever since, it’s been more of the same. While welterweight has its share of parity and weirdness, and boasts two of the greatest championship upsets ever, it’s a division where a man often gets the belt and spends a couple of years turning away all comers.
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 where to strap the belt on your waist was to attach one of the sport’s largest bull’s eyes to your back.
Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration