We rank the 10 UFC welterweight champions through history.
The UFC’s welterweight division has always been a fan favourite. From era-defining fighters such as Georges St. Pierre and Robbie Lawler, to enthralling clashes between Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor, the division has captivated us since it’s beginnings. With Kamaru Usman holding the belt firmly in his grasp after numerous defences, the term “G.O.A.T” has been making the rounds (however quietly) in the MMA community. Does GSP still lay claim to the title of the best ever in the division, or has new blood found a way to dethrone his legendary legacy? Here is every UFC welterweight champion, ranked.
UFC 31 saw the first ever UFC welterweight title change, as Carlos Newton’s third round bulldog choke forced a grimacing Pat Millitech to tap. Later in the year, his short reign came to an end. From then, Newton managed just one more UFC victory, going 6-10 in his next 16 fights before hanging em’ up in 2010. With just three UFC victories achieved throughout his career, it’s pretty impressive that he got the belt at all. That said, it was 2001, and the landscape of MMA was something of an uncertainty. Nonetheless, Newton’s iconic entrances, chiselled physique and crazy hair has not been forgotten since, and his title win managed to secure him a place in the top 20 greatest submissions in UFC history.
Widely regarded as the biggest upset in UFC history, Matt Serra’s 1st round TKO of Georges St. Pierre flipped the MMA world on it’s head back in 2007. GSP was the golden boy heading into the bout, and there was just no way that a 9-4, 5 foot 6 inch guy with NO knockouts on his resume could pose a threat to the welterweight king. Well, he did. An early flurry saw the champ back-peddling and ultimately saved by the referee. A year later, GSP righted his wrongs and claimed back the belt in dominant fashion, with Serra going 1-3 in his next four fights before retiring. Although it was something of a lottery win, the iconic win saw Serra cement his name and legacy in history.
There is no denying the greatness of B.J Penn. His trail of vicious stoppages from 2007-2010 saw him become the best lightweight in the world, if not the greatest in the divisions history. Unlucky for B.J and his fans, this is a welterweight list, and his run at 170 was something of a bumpy road. After winning the belt against Hughes in his welterweight debut, he was stripped by the UFC due to a contract dispute regarding the signing of a deal with Japanese K-1 organisation FEG. Despite a thrilling trilogy with Matt Hughes at 170, the real success in B.J’s career came in the lightweight division, where he developed and peaked, leaving a lasting legacy for veterans and new-comers alike to enjoy.
There’s a first for everything, and Pat Miletich can lay claim to being the first ever UFC welterweight champion. After a 21 minute, single round bout, Miletich saw his hand raised and gold wrapped around his waist at UFC 17.5 in 1998. Clocking in an impressive four title-defences before losing it, Miletich had once set the standard for champions to be judged upon. He then went on to find Miletich Fighting Systems, a highly successful MMA academy which hosted legends such as Matt Hughes, Robbie Lawler and Tim Sylvia.
When we think Johnny Hendricks, we think GSP. A fight that has divided the masses for years and still continues to do so, many believe Hendricks to have edged out the dominant champion in their 2013 clash. The domination of top contenders in the lead up to the bout makes it even more bitter-sweet (for Hendricks fans, at least), and GSP’s decision to step away from the sport immediately after the fight led fans to believe that even he knew there was a new king in town. Hendricks proved this the following year, taking Robbie Lawler to a decision and finally laying claim to the belt. Order was restored, and Hendricks was officially the best welterweight in the world. His fall from grace in recent years and constant battle with the scales has been a sorry sight, but Hendricks legendary run from 2010-2014 secures his spot on this list.
Just Bleed. Robbie Lawler has brought an aggression we have never seen before to the sport, and his ferocity earned him a title in 2014. Although only racking up two title-defences, the manner in which they played out has seen him catapulted to the top end of the list. A gruelling war with Rory MacDonald and instant classic with Carlos Condit rendered Lawler as the scariest man in the promotion. When prime Lawler fought, the anticipation was palpable, because one thing was guaranteed: blood.
When Lawler seemed unbeatable, Woodley stepped up. A devastating right hand knockout saw the beginning of the Woodley era. A D-1wrestler with dynamite in his hands, Woodley racked up three defences and one retention in his stint as champion. A draw with Stephen Thompson was a classic, and dominant victories over tricky opposition Darren Till and Demian Maia cemented Woodley as one of the greatest welterweights in UFC history. Once the rest of the division found his kryptonite, Woodley has struggled to find his feet amidst the shark tank at welterweight. Luckily for him, Jake Paul won’t be shooting for takedowns…
The reigning champion has looked impenetrable since arriving on the scene. After his dominant win over Woodley to claim the belt, Usman has dispatched of challengers of all styles and abilities. He showed immense durability in a barn-burner with Colby Covington, displayed his wrestling against Rafael Dos Anjos and showcased his incredible striking improvements against Jorge Masvidal and Gilbert Burns. As the inevitable rematch with Covington looms in the near future, it’s hard to image a world where Usman doesn’t come out on top.
With 7 title defences under his belt, the two time welterweight champion Matt Hughes has established himself as a legend of the sport. After his iconic slam against Newton to win the belt, Hughes has left his mark with countless performances and moments. His heated rivalry with Frank Trigg, his trilogy with GSP and mythical clash with Royce Gracie in 2006 are memories cherished by fans worldwide.
Georges St. Pierre
It’ll take a revolutionary title-run to top that of GSP’s. Contender after contender wilted under his pressure, and his two losses were avenged in spectacular fashion. After leaving a question mark looming over his career in 2013 following the Hendricks victory, he returned in 2017 and finished Michael Bisping to win the UFC middleweight championship. With Usman making light work of previous contenders, he’s a few victories short of a claim to be the greatest. For now, GSP is the best UFC welterweight champion there ever was, and one of the finest martial artists in history.