Current Champion: Kamaru Usman

Kamaru “Nigerian Nightmare” Usman won the UFC Welterweight title by dethroning Tyron Woodley at UFC 235. Usman dominated Woodley for 5 rounds, and has gone on to defend his strap 5 times, most recently in a rematch against Colby Covington. Usman is considered one of the most dominant champions in recent years and is unbeaten since 2013.

A Short History of the UFC Welterweight Division

The UFC Welterweight Division has seen many of the UFC’s biggest stars in action. Legends of the sport like Georges St. Pierre, Matt Hughes, Robbie Lawler and Kamaru Usman have all had the 170 lb belt strapped around their waist.

The division was known as the Lightweight division prior to its renaming in 2001. The first champion was Pat Miletich, who won the belt at UFC Brazil in October 1998. Miletich held the belt for two-and-a-half years with four successful title defences, before his shock defeat by submission to Carlos Newton at UFC 31.

Matt Hughes beat Miletich’s record for title defences with five, earning notable victories over Sean Sherk and Frank Trigg. After losing to B.J. Penn by first-round submission, Hughes reclaimed the belt (vs. Georges St. Pierre) and defended it a further two times.

However, Hughes’ rematch with St. Pierre went the way of the Canadian, who would go on to become the Welterweight division’s most-dominant champion. After a shock upset to Matt Serra in his first defence at UFC 69, St. Pierre avenged the defeat and would defend the belt a staggering nine times, taking down challengers including Jon Fitch, Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks.

St. Pierre vacated the title in December 2013, five-and-a-half years after reclaiming the belt against Matt Serra at UFC 83. Johny Hendricks beat Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 to become the 9th UFC Welterweight champion, before losing to Lawler in a rematch at UFC 181. Lawler defended the belt twice but lost the title to Tyron Woodley via first-round KO.

Woodley mounted four successful title defences before running into Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman at UFC 235. Winning via dominant decision, Usman has since established himself as this era’s Welterweight king with five title defences. Most recently, Usman beat Colby Covington at UFC 268.

Complete History of the UFC Welterweight Division

The early Welterweight days

The UFC Welterweight Division was formerly known as the Lightweight division until the UFC renamed it in 2001. Pat Militech was the first Middleweight champion after beating Mikey Burnett at UFC Brazil in October 1998.

After four more successful defences, Militech lost to Carlos Newton via third-round submission at UFC 31. Newton would go on to lose the belt in his first defence against Matt Hughes, one of the division’s future greats. 

Hughes saw off five challengers during his first reign as champion before a submission loss to B.J. Penn at UFC 46. Interestingly, highly-touted prospect Georges St. Pierre (5-0) was making his UFC debut on the same card. When Penn left the UFC, Hughes would face off against St. Pierre at UFC 50 for the vacant belt.

Matt Hughes emerged victorious via a Round 1 armbar, handing a young St. Pierre his first career loss. Further defences against Frank Trigg and a returning B.J. Penn cemented Hughes’ position as one the finest welterweights in UFC history. 

The rise of St. Pierre

Georges St. Pierre bounced back from his unsuccessful title shot against Matt Hughes with four consecutive victories in less than a year. Earning another shot at Hughes’ title at UFC 65, St. Pierre put in a spectacular performance to win by knockout in Round 2. 

The Canadian’s reign as Welterweight champion would begin with a major disaster. In his first defence at UFC 69, St. Pierre was sensationally knocked out by +850 underdog Matt Serra in one of the biggest shocks in UFC history. However, St. Pierre got his revenge a year later when he reclaimed the belt at UFC 83, finishing Matt Serra in Round 2.

St. Pierre’s second reign as champion would last over 2,000 days. Over his nine successful title defences, St. Pierre defeated the division’s top fighters, including Jon Fitch, Dan Hardy, Josh Koscheck, Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks. St. Pierre vacated the title in December 2013 and would be out of the sport for almost four years until his return at Middleweight.

Title vacated

With the Welterweight title now vacant, former challenger Johny Hendricks narrowly beat Robbie Lawler at UFC 171 to claim the belt. The two would rematch at UFC 181, with Lawler winning by split decision this time. Lawler defended the belt twice, including a bloody war with Rory MacDonald at UFC 189.

However, Lawler was knocked out in his next title defence by Tyron Woodley, who became one of the more successful Welterweight champions in UFC history with four defences. Notable defences include a victory over Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and a second-round submission win over Darren Till.

The Nigerian Nightmare

Tyron Woodley was well on his way to earning legend status before running into Kamaru ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ Usman at UFC 235. In a display of sheer dominance, Usman won all five rounds and became the new Welterweight champion. 

A grudge match with Colby Covington at UFC 245 was next for Usman. A back-and-forth standup war between the two wrestlers ensued, with Usman pushing the pace in the fifth round and securing a TKO finish.

Usman was set to defend his title against old teammate Gilbert Burns at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi. However, Burns was pulled from the card and replaced by Jorge Masvidal on just six days’ notice. Usman won the fight by unanimous decision and his fight with Burns was rescheduled for UFC 258.

Despite getting wobbled in Round 1, Usman took control of the fight and finished Burns in the third round. A rematch with Masvidal took place just two months later at UFC 261. This time around, Usman’s polished striking skills were on full display with a spectacular knockout in the second round.

A much-anticipated rematch with Colby Covington was set for UFC 268. Usman secured the unanimous decision victory to take his total title defence up to five. The win also took Usman to the top of the UFC’s pound-for-pound list. 

UFC Welterweight Rankings

Michael is a lifelong fight fan and martial artist. He has been in the MMA world for over a decade as an athlete and analyst. A consummate student of the game, Michael lives and breathes fight sports.