UFC 181 features two championship bouts to close out the promotions pay-per-view calendar for the year. With an unprecedented 45 events scheduled for 2015, this card will go a long way in bringing clarity at the top of the welterweight and lightweight division. From top to bottom, this looks to be the most intriguing and action-packed card of the year.
– Tony Ferguson vs. Abel Trujillo
This is a fight of technique versus raw aggression. Ferguson is very skilled, and Abel Trujillo made some serious noise with his win over Jamie Varner that turned into a violent slugfest. Ferguson cannot win a firefight and has to dictate the pace with takedowns. I believe that Trujillo will land big shots, thus forcing Ferguson out of his wheelhouse.
The Pick: Abel Trujillo
– Todd Duffee vs. Anthony Hamilton
The word “potential” has been hovering around Todd Duffee since he entered the UFC in 2009. The talent is evident, but there has always been something holding Duffe back from breaking through, and he is returning after a two-year absence due to illness. Anthony Hamilton is a tough customer who mixes up in the striking and works well in the clinch. Duffe’s power will prevent Hamilton from doing any significant damage against the cage, and he is the better striker, which should earn him a stoppage early in the third round.
The Pick: Todd Duffee
– Travis Browne vs. Brendan Schaub
This is the story of a big athletic heavyweight fighting a bigger athletic heavyweight. Schaub likes to slow things down to a degree and land big shots, while Browne is the more offensive fighter who is always looking for the finish. Schaub has a suspect chin would be wise not to trade shots with “Hapa” in the pocket.
Browne is coming off a dominating loss against Fabricio Werdum after showing extreme confidence in his previous wins against Josh Barnett and Alistair Overeem. If he has lost his combative swagger, Schaub might have the advantage, but I don’t think that will be the case. After finding his range, Browne will overwhelm Schaub at every turn and put him away early in the second round.
The Pick: Travis Browne
– Gilbert Melendez vs. Anthony Pettis
Pettis is the favorite, and rightfully so; however, Melendez is far from being the underdog in this situation. Pettis dethroned Benson Henderson, which Melendez didn’t do, but the split decision in that affair suggests that “El Niño” was robbed of a victory. Pettis is coming off a fourteen-month layoff due to shoulder surgery and a coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter he shared with his worthy opponent.
Melendez is highly skilled in all areas of the game, very durable, and has a high fight IQ. However, it will be advantageous for him to avoid long periods of time on the feet. Pettis’ kickboxing is tailor-made for Mixed Martial Arts, and his leg kicks make fighters think twice about fighting inside, which is where Melendez does his best work.
Pettis has an affinity for the finish and makes good with that instinct most of the time. Melendez battles and scraps until the final bell and is always calm under pressure. Ultimately, the story inside the cage will be about longevity. “Showtime” is efficient and viciously accurate with everything he does. Still, Melendez will carry this into deep water where his experience in that plain, along with applying constant pressure, will earn him UFC gold.
The Pick: Gilbert Melendez
– Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler
The fight is the same, but the narrative has changed this time around. Lawler is going into the bout as the only challenger against the champion who narrowly defeated him. Hendricks is coming off a ten-month layoff due to bicep surgery, and reports indicate that he won the title with that very injury. Is this just gamesmanship, or is this the key to perhaps an easier go around?
Lawler wasted no time getting back into the thick of things after his loss to Hendricks in March by dispatching Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown. The Ruthless one is laser-focused on becoming the champion. Hendricks indicated that he didn’t want to fight again until next year and shortly afterward took this fight. Hopefully, his bicep has fully recovered, and his nagging inquiries be healed.
On a punching power scale of one through ten, Lawler is a nine, and Hendricks is a ten. Lawler is the more versatile striker and will hopefully throw more kicks this time around. Hendricks has the wrestling advantage, which I think will be the difference in what should be another classic.
The Pick: Johny Hendricks