Top 5 UFC Welterweight Challengers

Many have tried to end Georges St-Pierre’s dominant run as UFC Welterweight Champion. Most have failed, but that doesn’t mean the division is cleaned out yet. If St-Pierre defeats Hardy on Sat. night, there are five welterweights who would give him a good fight, including a few who lost their first title shot but can build a strong enough case to earn a second chance.

Josh Koscheck

Koscheck took umbrage over how Hardy and not he was named No. 1 contender. The fact is that Koscheck has fought GSP before – and lost via unanimous decision at UFC 74 in a bout where the former Division I national champion and four-time All-American wrestler was outclassed at his own game.

Since his shocking KO loss to Paulo Thiago, Koscheck is 3-1 in his last four, the latest a submission victory over Anthony Johnson when he looked the best he has in years. At 32, Koscheck is peaking but faces a major challenge in Paul Daley at UFC 113 in May. A win over “Semtex” and he’ll likely earn a coveted rematch with GSP or face the man he publically condemned.

Paul Daley

Daley isn’t just winning – he’s destroying everything put in front of him. Eighteen of his 23 MMA wins have been by knockout or TKO and his two UFC wins were first-round demolitions of Martin Kampmann and Dustin Hazelett. Koscheck is Daley’s greatest challenge to date, but if Daley wins and Hardy unseats GSP that could create a problem – the two are teammates at the Nottingham, England-based Team Rough House.

Paulo Thiago

Thiago has had one hiccup in the UFC, a unanimous decision loss to Jon Fitch at UFC 100. The rest of his run has been stellar: wins over Koscheck, Jacob Volkmann and Mike Swick (Submission of the Night at UFC 109). A victory over Kampmann at UFC 115 in June will earn Thiago another feather in the cap and an eventual shot at the title before year’s end.

Jon Fitch

Fitch is another of GSP’s many victims, but that unanimous decision loss is the only blemish on his UFC record. The AKA product meets the talented Thiago Alves, who begins his comeback after he was battered by St-Pierre at UFC 100. Fitch is the type of fighter few want to encounter: rugged, spirited, durable and determine. A couple more wins and Fitch may get another chance at glory.

Ben Saunders

“Killa B” pulled off seven straight wins after beginning his career with consecutive draws before he succumbed to a series of unanswered strikes from Swick at UFC 99. He responded by pulverizing Marcus Davis to become the first fighter to knock out “The Irish Hand Grenade.” Saunders’ next test is Jacob Ellenberger, an injury replacement for Kampmann, at UFC 111. Saunders will have to defeat Ellenberger and at least a couple of top-10 opponents before venturing into title contention, but his brute strength and unorthodox style – he’s a student of Jeet Kune Do – presents a scary proposition for anyone.

Wild Card: Jay Hieron

Hieron is an interesting case who remains in limbo. He’s a free agent after his Strikeforce contract ended with his win over Joe Riggs and will not re-sign unless he’s granted a shot at champion Nick Diaz. Dana White can stick it to his main competition by giving “The Thoroughbred” a second UFC run. Hieron lost via TKO to St. Pierre in 2004 – in just his fifth MMA fight. Today he’s 19-4 and on a seven-fight winning streak.

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