Nick Diaz is one of the hardest fighters to rank in mixed martial arts.
Some folks argue that Diaz is a Top 5 welterweight, and maybe even the guy with the best combination of skills to dethrone the consensus No. 1, Georges St. Pierre. His win over Evangelista Cyborg Santos was Diaz's ninth straight victory, and he's finished eight of those nine opponents. It's been a long time since Diaz stepped into the cage and turned in an unimpressive performance.
But others argue that Diaz isn't even a Top 10 welterweight because the quality of his opposition has been less than stellar. None of those nine wins has come against anyone who's even close to a Top 10 opponent himself. And Strikeforce has matched Diaz up with opponents who play to his strengths, while never testing what may be Diaz's greatest weakness by putting him in the cage with a wrestler.
So where do we rank Diaz? I have my answer below. Your answer may differ.
(Editor's note: The individual fighter's ranking the last time we did welterweights is in parentheses.)
1. Georges St. Pierre (1): There's no disputing that St. Pierre is the best, and that he's beaten the best -- GSP has defeated four of the next five names on this list, and he can make it 5-for-5 if he beats Jake Shields in April.
2. Jon Fitch (2): Sure, some fans are put to sleep by Fitch's methodical tactic of taking opponents down, getting on top of them and winning decisions. But you can't argue with a 13-1 record inside the Octagon. With all due respect to Matt Hughes, Fitch might just be the second-best welterweight in MMA history, but he's stuck behind the best ever.
3. Jake Shields (3): Shields has blown out everyone who's stepped into the cage with him for years, through multiple promotions and in two different weight classes. He deserves this lofty ranking, but he also deserves to be the huge underdog that he is against St. Pierre. That just shows you how big the gap is between GSP and the rest of the pack.
4. Thiago Alves (4): Alves is slated to fight Rick Story at UFC 130 in the kind of fight that won't do much of anything for Alves if he wins, but would send him into free fall in the rankings, while moving Story into the Top 10.
5. B.J. Penn (5): Penn has often said he'd like a third chance at St. Pierre. I'm skeptical of Penn's chances if that fight ever happens, but if he can beat Fitch at UFC 127, he'd have as good a case as anyone else that he deserves to be the next welterweight title contender. Beating Fitch would almost certainly make Penn the No. 1 contender if Shields upsets St. Pierre.
6. Josh Koscheck (6): Koscheck deserves a long rest after the beating St. Pierre put on him, but when he comes back I'd like to see him right back in the mix with a tough match-up, maybe against Penn.
7. Nick Diaz (8): So this is where I have Diaz: Moving up one spot after a solid victory over Cyborg, but still not up there with the truly elite in the UFC. Unfortunately, as long as Diaz is fighting under the Strikeforce banner, we're not going to know for sure how he'd match up with the other nine guys on this list.
8. Martin Kampmann (7): Kampmann gets Diego Sanchez in the main event of the UFC's March 3 card on Versus, and that should give him lots of exposure against a well-known opponent. At age 28 Kampmann may just have a run at the welterweight title in him, and beating Sanchez would go a long way toward starting that run.
9. Carlos Condit (9): Condit went 2-0 in 2010 and won a Fight of the Night and Knockout of the Night bonus along the way. If he beats Chris Lytle at UFC 127 and looks good doing it, don't be surprised if Condit's name is mentioned as a potential title contender for later in the year.
10. Matt Hughes (10): Although he's undoubtedly close to the end of the line, and although he was whipped by B.J. Penn, I still would favor Hughes to beat most UFC welterweights. He's talking about retirement, and you can hardly blame him as a 37-year-old who's already accomplished everything he wants to accomplish. But if he wants to keep going, he has more good fights left in him.