Josh Gross
Monday September 21st, 2009

On Saturday in Dallas, Texas, UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre hoped to learn the name of his next challenger.

Martin Kampmann and Mike Swick were tabbed as possible No. 1 contenders. However, that faded when Swick was forced to pull out of UFC 103 with an injury. In his place, Paul Daley, a dangerous striker with the reputation for sub-par grappling, stepped up on short notice.

Over the past 12 months, Daley (22-8-2) lost to Jake Shields and Nick Thompson, and wasn't anywhere near a top-10 ranking, let alone a shot against St. Pierre. Of course (big surprise) the 26-year-old power puncher pasted Kampmann for a first-round stoppage on Saturday.

Immediately after UFC 103, talk immediately centered on Daley meeting Swick to determine the division's next No. 1 contender. I have a hard time buying either as legit threats to G.S.P. In four fights at 170, Swick hasn't faced a ranked opponent. Kampmann, just 2-0 in the division before running into Daley, was going to take care of that. But the main reason Swick and Kampmann were listed atop the challenger heap is the fact that neither had fought St. Pierre (19-2).

Nearly every legitimate threat to St. Pierre resides in the UFC, and most have already lost to the champ. (The only top-tier welterweight who doesn't is Shields, and the dangerous Californian recently moved up to 185 pounds, where he'll fight Jason Miller on Strikeforce's Nov. 7 card.)

It's no wonder then that welterweight, notwithstanding a deep pool of talented fighters, feels so muddled and unappealing right now.

So I'm proposing something that should but won't happen. The UFC would benefit greatly from occasionally putting together Pride Grand Prix-style tournaments to establish No. 1 contenders. And I can't think of a division more perfect for this than 170 pounds, especially with St. Pierre about to re-enter the gym after injuring his groin this summer against Thiago Alves.

Tournaments are an easy promotional tool: Just set up the brackets and let 'em go. With the names the UFC could plug into a four- or eight-man event (played out over multiple shows; none of this multi-fight in one night stuff), and with credibility that would be bestowed on the winner, it makes sense. Mix and match Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Mike Swick, Thiago Alves, Matt Hughes, Dan Hardy, Dustin Hazelett, Anthony Johnson, Paul Daley, Martin Kampmann, Ricardo Almeida and the many others. Sounds fun, no?

Of course, considering the politics and posturing we're seeing from fighters and their camps surrounding title shots these days, the tourney format could also go a long way in alleviating headaches for the UFC. It would help determine a clear picture for fans wanting to understand how and why fighters earn their way up the ladder in the UFC. And the do-or-die aspect of single-elimination tourneys is always compelling to watch.

As Vitor Belfort flew home to Brazil on Sunday after successfully dispatching Rich Franklin in the opening round of Saturday's main event, all signs pointed to the veteran as being next in line for a UFC middleweight title shot, despite never having fought in the division in the Octagon.

Belfort, 32, moved to 185 pounds last year, and immediately went to work by obliterating Terry Martin and Matt Lindland in successive bouts. As Belfort's camp at Xtreme Couture talked about rebuilding "The Phenom's" legacy, starting with a successful return to the UFC, the chance to meet Anderson Silva was on their mind. And UFC president Dana White appears willing to give Belfort the opportunity.

"It's good to have Vitor," White said. "Anytime you can come up with new and exciting fights for him, it's great."

It's not a big leap for a guy with limited experience in the division. Belfort's a known commodity to UFC fans, a veteran of the sport and the kind of fighter who could pose risks for Silva.

Still, I'd like to see Belfort win a fight or two at 185 in the UFC before he's given a shot. Yoshihiro Akiyama would fit the bill nicely as the top contender, as would several others. White seems intent on giving fans a fight they've asked for between Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt. So that makes Belfort, who said he's willing to fight anyone the UFC wants him to, a prime candidate if Silva is going to defend his title in the next six months.

It was an evening of impressive finishes in Dallas, with standout performances from fighters throughout the card. Three stood out to me:

Efrain Escudero -- Entering his first UFC fight since winning The Ultimate Fighter 8 last December, Escudero plastered rangy submission fighter Cole Miller in the opening round. It took him about a minute to find the proper distance against Miller, and when he did, Escudero (12-0) attacked with accurate power punches, proving he couldn't be pigeonholed as the ground-and-pound fighter who out-pointed Phillipe Nover. Good prospect at 155.

Tyson Griffin -- Speaking of good lightweights, is there a more underrated or overlooked fighter out there than the 14-2 Griffin? His footwork and feinting against Hermes Franca -- who seemed bored and out of place in the cage -- were tremendous leading up to the stoppage in Round 2. No one has worked harder to improve on those aspects of his game than the 25-year-old Californian. Plenty of options for him in a deep UFC lightweight class. I could see Zuffa pitting Griffin against Nate Diaz to capitalize on bad blood between former training partners. Plus, Griffin was born on 4/20. Figure the Diaz brother are somehow upset about that, too.

Junior dos Santos -- Some will say the 25-year-old "Cigano" was sloppy against an aged Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. I think he looked determined. There's no doubt that Filipovic, 35, isn't the fighter he was in 2006. But he showed, what I thought was, plenty of will against the younger, hungrier, more aggressive dos Santos (9-1). This win sold me on dos Santos as a legitimate heavyweight prospect in the UFC. I'd love to see the Brazilian slugger fight whoever emerges Cain Velasquez vs. Ben Rothwell.

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