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History of the UFC Welterweight Belt

Leon Edwards is set to make the second defence of his welterweight title against American Colby Covington at UFC 296 in Las Vegas.

There is no doubt the UFC 170lb division has seen some of the greatest to ever do it hold gold, but where did it all begin? Here we take a look at the history of the welterweight division.

Croatian Sensation leads the way

Pat Miletich was the first wearer of the 170lb belt, defeating Mikey Burnett at UFC Brazil in October 1998. A pioneer of the sport, Miletich made four defences of his strap before losing the belt via submission to Carlos Newton at UFC 31 in 2001.

Newton’s reign was short-lived, getting KO’d in his first defence following a memorable slam off the cage by Matt Hughes. The dramatic win for Hughes came just as it looked like he was about to go unconscious after getting caught in a triangle choke.

Hughes’ title reign saw five defences of his title between 2001 and 2004, taking the scalps of Hayato Sakurai, Carlos Newton, Gil Castillo, Sean Sherk and Frank Trigg.

His rematch with Newton was the promotion’s debut card in the United Kingdom with Hughes winning via 4th round TKO at UFC 38 at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Hughes' last successful title defence against Trigg marked the ten-year anniversary of the company in July 2003.

At UFC 46 in January 2004, BJ Penn submitted Hughes to take the belt before being stripped months later after leaving the UFC for K-1 following a contract dispute.

Hughes and St-Pierre era

Hughes became a two-time welterweight champion when defeating rising star Georges St-Pierre at UFC 50 in October 2004.

He defended against Trigg and then faced Royce Gracie at UFC 60 in a catchweight non-title fight before becoming the first person to finish BJ Penn at UFC 63.

St-Pierre ended Hughes’ second reign as champion by TKO at UFC 65 in November 2006. However, one of the biggest shocks in UFC history followed in the Canadian’s first title defence as the 1/11 favourite was stopped by Matt Serra in the first round.

Serra was supposed to defend his title against Hughes following a heated season coaching The Ultimate Fighter, however a back injury forced him out of the contest.

Instead, Hughes fought St-Pierre for the interim title, with the Canadian rounding off their trilogy with a second-round armbar submission at UFC 79 in December 2007. 

Next St-Pierre regained the undisputed title with another second-round finish, stopping Serra with knees to the body in front of a vociferous crowd in Montreal at UFC 83 in April 2008.

GSP’s reign as champion spanned 2,064 days as he successfully defended his title nine times against Jon Fitch, BJ Penn, Thiago Alves, Dan Hardy, Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Nick Diaz and Johny Hendricks.

St-Pierre vacated the title in December 2013 after announcing an indefinite break from Mixed Martial Arts following his split decision win over Hendricks a month earlier at UFC 167.

Lawlor and Woodley added to list of champs

The next battle for the welterweight title saw Hendricks defeat Robbie Lawlor at UFC 171 in March 2014.

Lawlor then turned the tables in a rematch at UFC 181 three months later. Lawlor went on to defend twice against Rory McDonald and Carlos Condit.

His fight with McDonald still goes down as one of the all-time great match-ups.

Tyron Woodley’s three-year reign as champion began at UFC 201 when he defeated Lawlor by first round KO. The American went on to defend the title twice against Stephen 'Wonderboy' Thompson, as well as claiming a victory over Damien Maia.

Colby Covington defeated Rafael Dos Anjos for the interim championship in Woodley’s absence, however, injury kept him from a shot at Woodley.

Instead, Liverpool’s Darren Till fought Woodley for the belt at UFC, with the American earning a second-round submission.

Woodley’s reign was brought to an end by Kamaru Usman at UFC 235 in early 2019. His five title defences saw him defeat Covington and Jorge Masvidal twice, along with former teammate Gilbert Burns.

Usman looked to be cruising to a sixth title defence when in the final minute of round five, Edwards produced a stunning head kick to knockout the champion.

Edwards then followed up with a convincing win in a rematch at UFC 286 in London in March 2023 to cement his standing as champion.

In his second defence, the UK fighter faces off against Covington at UFC 296, with the American looking to become champion at the third time of asking.

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