Kelvin Gastelum (pictured) faces his toughest test to date in the form of Rick Story. Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

UFC 171: Is the UFC welterweight division the one to watch in 2014?

UFC 171 showcases eight of the best fighters that the welterweight division has to offer, and yes I do mean eight.

Beyond the three intriguing main card bouts is a fight that has gone under the radar, though should separate the contender from the gatekeeper. It also is a battle between a fighter who has fought, and on occasion beat, the very best at 170lbs against possibly the biggest prospect in the division. It is a battle between two heavy hitting wrestlers who are close to the top 10 fold. I am talking, of course, about Rick Story vs. Kelvin Gastelum.

This fight is such a great piece of matchmaking and this is exactly the sort of fight that Gastelum needs. It is the sort of fight he was originally meant to get at UFC Fight Night 27, and then at UFC on FOX 9, but even sterner competition. In the former, he was slated to meet Paulo Thiago before injury took the Brazilian out and he was replaced by Brian Melancon, who was defeated in brutal fashion by the welterweight debutant Gastelum. In the latter, he was slated to meet fellow TUF winner Court McGee, but suffered an injury which led to his withdrawal.

Gastelum needs to fight the sort of fighter that has a lot of experience inside the Octagon and, most importantly, in big fights. Rick Story has beat the likes of Johny Hendricks, TJ Grant and Thiago Alves, and has one of the most underrated resumés in the welterweight division. A win over Story for the 22 year old will be huge, and will be exactly what he needs to go from ‘prospect’ to ‘contender’.

There is little that I can say about the top three welterweight bouts on Saturday’s card that hasn’t already been said. They are three of the most interesting bouts in the division’s recent history, with such brilliant stylistic diversity between them that it is hard to predict which way the fights can go.

Can the heavy hitting Hector Lombard put himself in contention for a shot, or will Shields do what he does best and stifle the attack of his opponent?

Can Carlos Condit overcome the powerful wrestler and devastating striking ability of Tyron Woodley?

Who will connect cleanly between two of the fiercest punchers in the division in the Hendricks vs. Lawler title clash?

Such intriguing questions which I can’t even begin to answer. Add to this the fact that Matt Brown and Erick Silva will go head-to-head at an upcoming Fight Night card, as will Tarec Saffiedine and Jake Ellenberger at UFC 172. Rory MacDonald, Mike Pyle and Dong Hyun Kim are coming off very impressive recent performances, Nick Diaz could potentially return in the future and Brandon Thatch, Stephen Thompson and Gunnar Nelson are all fighters to keep a close eye on this year.

The welterweight division has quite simply grown leaps and bounds recently, and I cannot wait to see how it unfolds starting with UFC 171.

Tags: Carlos Condit Hector Lombard Jake Shields Johny Hendricks Kelvin Gastelum Rick Story Robbie Lawler Tyron Woodley UFC 171

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