At the start of 2014, the welterweight division had a Wild West feel.
Longtime champion Georges St-Pierrehad had vacated the title in mid-December of last year, leaving a wide-open field at 170 pounds.
Since then, nearly all the top names have fought at least once, some twice. And with that, the dust is beginning to settle.
The top three fighters in the current SB Nation pound-for-pound poll are unanimous picks. UFC champion Johny Hendricks, as one would suspect, got all six first-place votes, for 60 points. The man he edged for the vacant title in March, Robbie Lawler, took all six second-place votes. And the man who has defeated everyone placed in his path over the past few years except Lawler, Rory MacDonald, takes a unanimous third in the wake of his victory over Tyron Woodley.
The fourth through sixth place fighters all were named on all six ballots, with, in order, Woodley, Carlos Condit, and Matt Brown taking the slots. Seventh- and eighth-place finishers were named on a majority of ballots in Hector Lombard and Dong Hyun Kim. And finally, Jake Ellenberger, Demian Maia, and Ben Askren all finished in a ninth-place tie.
(Scoring: Fighters are given 10 points for a first-place vote, nine points for a second, etc., down to one point for 10th place. The results are then tallied up and presented here. Official SB Nation rankings policy: Fighters under commission suspension are ineligible to be ranked during the duration of their suspension or if they have licensing issues. As of this writing, this does not affect any welterweights of note. Also, since St-Pierre relinquished his title and walked away from the sport without any guarantee of returning, he will be regarded as a retired fighter for rankings purposes and is ineligible).
1. Johny Hendricks (16-2, 60 points): As of this writing, the champ has yet to be cleared to return to full training after his biceps surgery.
2. Robbie Lawler (23-10, 1 NC, 54 points): Lawler's fought nearly eight full rounds against top-notch competition over the past three months, yet he jumps right back into things with his July 26 bout against Matt Brown.
3. Rory MacDonald (17-2, 48 points): Probably has the best case besides Lawler for a title shot at the moment, but timing and circumstances put him in a wait-and-see spot after his win over Woodley.
4. Tyron Woodley (13-3, 36 points): Voters clearly aren't nearly as down on Woodley as Dana White was after Woodley's loss. Still, Woodley needs to go back to the drawing board if he's going to get over the hump.
5. Carlos Condit (29-8, 35 points): The former WEC champ is on the long road to recovery after ACL surgery. He could end up out a full year.
6. Matt Brown (19-11, 28 points): Seven straight wins have vaulted Brown into position to potentially earn a title shot; a win over Lawler should silence those who still insist he doesn't deserve it.
7. Hector Lombard (34-4-1, 1 NC, 23 points): A victory over Dong Hyun Kim on Aug. 23 would give him three in a row for the first time since he was Bellator champ.
8. Dong Hyun Kim (19-2-1, 1 NC, 11 points): A longtime presence at 170 pounds, Kim finally has his chance to vault ahead and join the big boys of the division.
9t. Jake Ellenberger (29-8, 7 points): Ellenberger has had his chances against the elites of the division and has consistently come up short.
9t. Ben Askren (13-0, 7 points): Askren's pure talent will keep him in the discussion. Choosing to fight halfway around the world when there are three companies here with better welterweight classes will keep him from going much higher.