The UFC's welterweight rankings are home to a wealth of high-level grapplers. As such, strikers like Stephen Thompson and Jorge Masvidal have struggled to get their hands on that elusive UFC gold. One fifth-round "headshot" later, we find the well-rounded Leon Edwards taking the throne. While many fans attribute the result to luck, the truth could be that the key to contending at welterweight is a well-rounded game that calls for an ability to compete wherever the fight goes. Some of the up-and-coming fighters at this 170 possess this multifaceted toolbox, signaling a bright future for the division. Let's take a look at some of them!
If you don't know about this hard-hitting Aussie, you will soon. Jack Della Maddalena burst onto the scene after beating Ange Loosa on the contender series and eviscerated all UFC competition in his wake from then on. Three first-round KOs later (including a devastating liver punch against Ramazan Emeev), he's scheduled to fight Randy Brown in February in front of a home crowd. While Della Maddalena only turned 26 this past September, he is ready to take the next step in his career and is poised to make a splash in Perth and break into the rankings. Jack fought three times in 2022 and should be just as active in the new year, pending a clean bill of health. While his ground game remains a question, he may hit harder than anyone else in the division. So with plenty of career in front of him, expect to hear the name Jack Della Maddalena for a long time.
Continuing the trend of guys with three names, Ian Machado Garry slots into the second spot on the list with a perfect 10-0 record. The Ireland product made a home at Kill Cliff FC in Florida under Henri Hooft's tutelage, arguably the deepest MMA gym in the world for welterweight fighters. From former legends like Robbie Lawler to current beasts like Vicente Luque and Gilbert Burns to Bellator stars like Logan Storley and Jason Jackson, Garry has surrounded himself with everybody he needs to test himself regularly and improve as a fighter. Garry's most incredible skill is his combination striking – he's capable of delivering crisp, clean, and diverse strikes in bunches, limiting an opponent's ability to problem-solve mid-fight. Like Della Maddalena, Garry has time on his side at only 25 years of age, but three solid performances should be enough to earn him his first step up. For a guy who went pro just four years ago, the Irish prospect has shown an unparalleled level of poise in the octagon at his age, and his exciting style will be a problem for all comers.
With two young guns leading the list, Jeremiah Wells managed to sneak into the third spot at 36. While the UFC typically strays away from promoting older fighters without a considerable history in the UFC, Wells has become undeniable with three finishes in three UFC bouts. The Philly product comes from one of the best up-and-coming gyms in the country, featuring guys like Sean Brady, Pat Sabatini, and Andre Petroski. Wells' well-rounded game makes him so dangerous – his style is more grappling-heavy, but he has demonstrated KO power in two of his first three UFC fights. The performance of the night bonus he earned last time against TUF winner Court McGee should give him enough steam to land a matchup with a fighter in or just around the top 15, positioning him for an opportunity to enter the rankings at the end of the year. It took Wells a while to enter the big show, but now that he's here, he's not looking back.
The first honorable mention features a familiar face Rafael Dos Anjos. RDA announced his second foray into welterweight after suffering a fifth-round KO to Rafael Fiziev last July and subsequently made a triumphant return against Bryan Barberena. RDAs well-rounded approach with a focus on implementing his high-level jiu-jitsu presents issues for any fighter matched up against him. Still, he's shown an inability to get over the hump at 170 with higher-level competition. Dana White has repeatedly stated that RDA is one of his favorite fighters, which should work in his favor regarding getting the right matchups to move up the ladder. However, at 38 years old, it's challenging to predict better results for RDA in his second run at 170 than in his initial attempt at welterweight, which is why he falls in the honorable mention spot. Dos Anjos has earned the respect of the MMA community with his BMF mentality, but it's hard to see him as anything more than a rankings gatekeeper at this point in his career.
This Russian wrestler with legitimate knockout power made a lasting impression in his mauling of TUF winner Bryan Battle in December, when he earned a knockdown early in the fight and proceeded to dominate for three rounds. Rinat Fakhretdinov stamped his spot on the UFC roster when he viciously KO'd former UFC veteran Eric Spicely in just one minute on the regional scene. The Moscow product could see a considerable step up in competition the next time he graces the octagon, and at 21-2, this man is in the prime of his career. While he is yet to earn his first UFC finish, "gladiator" has a record littered with both knockouts and submissions and should get his signature win soon. Since Fakhretdinov just fought in December, it could be a little while before we see his name on a UFC card again, but having taken little to no damage, it depends on how quickly he wants to get back in there. The lack of UFC finishes and a weak strength of schedule outside of the UFC puts him just a few steps behind Jeremiah Wells in regards to making the top three of this list, but Fakhretdinov is pretty close.
After a rocky start to his career, few UFC fans expected "The Fresh Prince" to build the win streak that he has accumulated as of late. Three KOs in a row puts him right into the rankings conversation at 170, though, and with the last one coming against a formerly ranked Niko Price, Phil Rowe has shown an ability to compete with anyone. At 6'3" with an 80.5" reach, Rowe's frame is reminiscent of Neil Magny (currently ranked 12 in the division). Longer fighters like Rowe present a complicated puzzle on the feet, where he is likely to have the reach advantage against all competition. Opponents need to weave their way into distance, rarely being able to do so without taking some form of punishment on the way inside. Rowe has also demonstrated a relentless desire to improve his skills, constantly entering different grappling competitions in his time out of the octagon. The Fresh Prince doesn't have the prettiest record, but you can never overlook a guy whose wins all come by finish.
There is a legitimate Dagestani prospect at every weight class, and this one is no exception. Aliaskhab Khizriev holds a perfect 14-0 record and capped off his UFC career with a submission win against Denis Tiuliulin last March. Khizriev announced after that fight that he was planning on moving down from 185 to 170, where he won an interim belt against Rousimar Palhares in Russia. "The Black Wolf" has excellent ground skills and looks to finish the fight in any way possible. Unfortunately, since entering the UFC in 2020 via DWCS, Khizriev has had some bad luck regarding matchmaking, with four canceled fights. Nevertheless, he looks to continue the momentum he gained last March against Tiuliulin. Still, without the activity, it will likely take an extra year or so for him to crack the rankings. Still, keep an eye on Aliaskhab Khizriev.
The youngest fighter on this list is Michael Morales, hailing from Ecuador. At just 23 years old, Morales is sure to have a long, fruitful career in the UFC, and with two finishes coming out of the gates, he's already off to a great start. Morales is the second Ecuadorian to make a splash in the octagon, following in the footsteps of Marlon "Chito" Vera. Naturally, the UFC is ecstatic to have another fighter from that region to help build up an untapped market, but they will likely want him to take a more measured approach to climb the rankings. Still, Morales has just one decision on his record and can be viewed as a part of that new breed of fighters who have spent their lives training for MMA rather than simply crossing over from wrestling or boxing. As such, Morales has legitimate skills on the feet and the ground and will find a way into the rankings. The sky is the limit for the guy born in 1999.
A familiar face rounds out this list in Kevin Holland. The "trailblazer" has had one of the most captivating careers to date. A modern-day Nate Diaz, Holland started his UFC run at 185, where he bravely lost a short-notice decision to Thiago Santos (yes, THE Thiago Santos). From there, he would go 7-1 at 185, including a legendary run in 2020 when he went 5-0. 2021 would be the opposite for him, though, after Derek Brunson exposed a significant deficiency in his style – wrestling. Marvin Vettori would then follow Brunson's blueprint to hand him another loss, and after getting knocked out from an accidental headbutt by Kyle Daukus, Holland would move down to 170. 2022 then put him back in the win column after he ran through two veterans in Alex "Cowboy" Oliveira and Tim Means, but would end the year with two losses. First, Khamzat Chimaev fake-glove-touched him and capitalized into a wrestling exchange, where he would quickly submit Holland, much to his frustration. That leads us to his last fight against Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson. The fight immediately shot into fight of the Year contention, with both warriors opting to keep it standing, but Holland would ultimately suffer a loss when he refused to come out for the fifth round due to a broken hand. This injury should keep Holland out of the octagon for the majority of 2023, but with his exciting style, we can see him back in contention for a ranking in 2024. Upon his return, it would be nice to see him fight Daniel Rodriguez, who he was slated to fight before the UFC 279 fiasco.