For the last few months, I’ve struggled to summon the passion to write a blog about a UFC event. Outside of a certain Notorious Irishman, nothing has really moved the needle in my neck of the woods since I attended the UFC event at Foxwoods in early September. Sure, some fights were cool and had some legit implications, but NONE of those can hold a candle to the 181 card. For my money, this is the best card the promotion has put on all year.
After Anthony Pettis ended the snoozeworthy Benson Henderson title reign, I was amped up to see what kind of star Showtime could become. Unfortunately, his balky knee kept him out of action for over a year. Finally, one of the most spectacular strikers in the sport will be walking to the cage once more this Saturday evening. And against who? Oh, one of the combatants in my second favorite fight of all time: Gilbert Melendez? Word, sign me up!
If you have ever read my rambling thoughts before, you know I have been driving the Bigg Rigg bandwagon for some time now. I’m generally not a fan of title rematches, but after the phone-booth brawl that Hendricks and Lawler put on he first time they clashed, I’m counting the seconds until they touch gloves again.
Add in Urijah Faber, Travis Browne, Todd Duffee, and Sergio Pettis and UFC 181 is what we in the business call “must-see TV.” I’m going to throw an old school breakdown at you, every fight on the main card will be previewed!
Tony Ferguson (-265) v. Abel Trujillo (+225)
Well, this is quite the spark to start the night. Second for second, Tony Ferguson may be one of the most exciting fighters in the sport. Some of those holds he dove for against the hard-headed Danny Castillo at UFC 177 were absurd. I’ll be damned if they didn’t grab my attention. In his UFC run, Tony has beaten up the who’s who of the lightweight mid-card. He needs this win over the imposing Abel Trujillo to legitimize his role at 155.
Legal issues aside, Trujillo is a force at lightweight. If you haven’t caught his fight against Jamie Varner, fire up the ol’ Fight Pass and give it a watch, that one is worth your time.
While Trujillo trumps Tony on power, this feels like Ferguson’s chance to become a known commodity. Constant pressure and stronger cardio will hand Ferguson an entertaining decision. (That sentence is an SEO goldmine sadly…)
Todd Duffee (-345) v. Anthony Hamilton (+285)
Two thoughts enter my head when I read the names of the athletes in this bout:
1. Where the #%$@ has Todd Duffee been? (If he was in a hyperbaric chamber hooked up to some Ivan Drago machines, you wouldn’t find me surprised….)
2. Anthony Hamilton?!? THE Anthony Hamilton with the golden pipes? Oh, no? Darn. This was my JAM back in the day…
You never know what you are going to get with two middling heavyweights. Anything from a first round KO to a sluggish three round slop-fest is in play here. Back in 2012, it seemed as though Todd Duffee was righting his ship and the UFC Heavyweight division was his oyster. Since sending Phil De Fries back to the minor leagues in 2012, Duffee has been out of action due to Parsonage Turner Syndrome.
With that thankfully behind him, Duffee returns to a depleted division that is in desperate need of a relatively young KO artist. Anthony Hamilton is a Jackson-trained product, but this fight is built for Duffee to win. 2012 Todd was faster, stronger, and in better shape than Hamilton. Let’s see if that still holds true 24 months later… Duffee by TKO.
Travis Browne (-350) v. Brendan Schaub (+300)
You rarely get more than one decent Heavyweight fight on a card anymore, but if that previous fight is a snoozer, this one is sure to bring the violence. In my opinion, 95% of that violence will be doled out by Travis Browne. Does anyone think that the only reason that Duffee/Hamilton fight is on the main card is in case one of THESE heavyweights got hurt, they could slide Duffee in and bring Faber up to the PPV? Hey, just a thought… I’m no Joe Silva or anything.
Flat out, I don’t think Brendan Schaub is a very good fighter. Hell of an athlete, pretty intriguing podcast personality, but close the cage door and I believe he is at his best. Travis Browne on the other hand is a destroyer of worlds (Have you seen his freakin’ beard?!?). Verdum taought him a vet lesson last time out. Browne was shocked he couldn’t overwhelm and assault the aging grappler.
After dropping that tilt to the current Interim Champ, Browne decided to bolt from Jackson’s (GOOD CALL) and start training with Ronda Rousey’s coach Edmund um…Targaryen (Winter is coming…) The way the 225+ division is currently assembled, Browne does not need to be an all-around martial artist. All he needs to do is sharpen the skill he is most vicious with, his striking. Edmund at GFC will help him do just that.
I don’t think the tired trope of Schaub having a weak chin is a lie. The dude does not thrive when he gets smacked in the dome. Travis Browne will do that early and often. Browne by KO.
Lightweight Title Fight
Champion Anthony Pettis (-280) v. Gilbert Melendez (+240)
Straight up, the sport of MMA is in a better place with Anthony Pettis being the Lightweight Champ. That being said, it is also in a better place if he actually defends that title….
Pettis hasn’t seen action in over a year since he snatched up Ben Henderson’s arm and his shiny gold belt on that fateful night in Wisconsin. These last 12 months have been pretty bleak on the MMA landscape for titleholders, the fact that this fight isn’t even a Main Event just boggles my mind. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I’ll take it!
We know what Pettis brings to the cage. Some of the best striking in the sport, relentless cardio, and flare for days. His perfect foil might just be Gilbert Melendez. Melendez walks into the cage like you just insulted his mother using a greasy four letter word. His scowl is a metaphor to his fighting style. Compact, violent and grinding. No matter how long the fight is booked, 3 rounds, five rounds, hell 12 rounds, Gilbert Melendez is going to be in your face tossing leather at your head until the final bell tolls. Will it be the crispest set of strikes? Not likely. Will they look pretty and become UFC commercial fodder? Probably not, but the guy is champion stock through and through.
That’s why it is so hard for me to make this prediction, but I believe Anthony Pettis will be the first man to KO Gilbert Melendez in an MMA fight. Pettis will use his speed and agility to stay at range and avoid Gil’s swarming combinations. At range, his kicks will land with relative ease. He will double over Gil with a liver kick and finish him with a series of strikes. 4th round. TKO Pettis. Wheaties for everyone!
Welterweight Championship Fight
Champion Johny Hendricks v. Robbie Lawler
“Woo doggies! This gon’ be a heck of a tussle.” – Johny Hendricks, probably.
I loved these two gladiator’s first fight. It was a back and forth tilt fought within the confines of a fitting room at your local Old Navy. The strategic boxing that took place was a joy to watch. Lawler was tossing some complex stuff at Hendricks, but the future champ shrugged it off, countered, and never faltered.
Personally, I see this fight going down in a drastically different manner than the last one for one major reason: Johny Hendrick’s bicep. No, no, no, he hasn’t been crushing curls on Venice Beach. In the first fight, Bigg Rigg ripped his bicep from the bone on a takedown attempt in the 1st round. That essentially turned him into a one armed fighter for the remainder of the bout. He admitted his wrestling was useless and you could tell whenever he threw that right, it just didn’t have the same pop that his punches usually do.
While Lawler has looked like a man on a mission to claim that UFC gold since his initial loss to Johny, I just don’t think the grizzled vet has what it takes to defeat a 100% healthy Hendricks. Hendricks has alluded to the fact that he will try to use his wrestling more in this matchup, likely just to save his face from being turned into a pulp by Lawler’s stinging strikes.
Will they still exchange brilliantly on the feet from time to time? I sure as hell hope so, but Hendricks will return to his roots and dominate on the mat. According to UFC.com, Lawler sports a 64% career takedown defense rate. That doesn’t bode well when a healthy Bigg Rigg is coming down the interstate with full intentions of steamrolling you to the mat. Choo choo!
Another decision for Johny Hendricks. And stilllllllll!