UFC 181 takes place Saturday night in Las Vegas. It is one of the biggest UFC events of the year, headlined by a pair of major title fights. In the main event, UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks (16-2) defends his title against Robbie Lawler (24-10). Hendricks defeated Lawler via decision in an exciting and close bout in March. Lawler rebounded with consecutive wins over Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown, setting up this rematch. In the other title bout, Anthony Pettis (17-2) seeks his first UFC lightweight title defense against top contender Gilbert Melendez (22-3). Both Pettis and Melendez are exciting action fighters.
UFC Welterweight Title: Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler
Hendricks entered into MMA with an elite wrestling background, having won the NCAA division I wrestling title twice. Over time, he developed excellent striking to go with his wrestling and he has been blessed with natural knockout power. He is 16-2 in MMA with his only losses coming via decision including a controversial loss to the all time great Georges St. Pierre. Lawler is first and foremost a striker. He burst onto the scene in 2002 as a top prospect but ended up out of the UFC after a series of losses and was thought to be finished a few years ago. He has undergone a career resurrection, winning five of his last six with the only loss a close decision to Hendricks where most had the fight even going into the final round that Hendricks took. Now, Lawler is looking for revenge and the UFC title he has sought for well over a decade.
Round 1. Lawler comes out aggressively. He grabs a clinch and lands knees. Hendricks moves down looking for a takedown. Lawler defends well and throws punches and knees when he has the opportunity. Lawler keeps throwing knees to the body. Hendricks throws a knee to the head of his own and separates. Hendricks lands an overhand left and then a few leg kicks. Hendricks lands some big punches and then slams Lawler down. Hendricks lands some elbows and the round concludes. Lawler was in control early but Hendricks steals it at the end. 10-9 Hendricks.
Round 2. Lawler throws a few jabs and a body kick early. He then nails Hendricks with a hard kick to the head that Hendricks walks through. Hendricks lands a series of leg kicks to Lawler's lead leg. Hendricks follows with a stiff 1-2 combination of punches to the head that send Lawler backwards. Hendricks then switches levels and looks for a takedown. Hendricks gets the takedown halfway through the round. Lawler gets up and then lands a big front kick to Hendricks. Hendricks goes back to work on the leg and then follows with hard punches. Lawler counters with a knee and Hendricks looks for a guillotine choke late. That was another difficult round to score. 10-9 Hendricks.
Round 3. Lawler is active early with his jab and straight kicks up the middle. Hendricks answers with a solid three strike combination with a couple punches to the head and another hard leg kick. Hendricks presses forward with punches but isn't able to land a decisive shot. Hendricks continues to land leg kicks and then mixes in big shots upstairs. Hendricks gets a takedown with 90 seconds left in the round but Lawler is able to work his way back up to his feet. Hendricks gets another takedown late. Hendricks is pulling away. 10-9 Hendricks.
Round 4. Hendricks looks for a takedown but can't get it. Both men have slowed but Lawler just isn't throwing enough. He does connect with a high kick. Hendricks again looks for a takedown late. Lawler defends and throws a few punches and elbows at the close of the round. 10-9 Lawler.
Round 5. Hendricks lands a few jabs and then looks for a takedown. He doesn't get it. Hendricks with a nice hook. Hendricks follows with some additional punches high mixed with kicks low. Hendricks looks for another takedown halfway through the round. He doesn't get it and referee Herb Dean separates them. Hendricks looks for another takedown late. Lawler lands punches while defending. He backs away and attacks viciously with huge punches as the fight comes to an end. Lawler continues to stare down Hendricks as the fight ends. 10-9 Lawler, 48-47 Hendricks.
Winner: Robbie Lawler, split decision (48-47, 47-48, 49-46).
UFC Lightweight Title: Anthony Pettis vs. Gilbert Melendez
Pettis, 27, is one of the most dynamic athletes in MMA. His "showtime" kick where he ran up the cage to land a devastating kick is one of MMA's all time highlight reel moves and he is coming off an extremely impressive submission of Benson Henderson to capture UFC gold. Melendez, the former Strikeforce and WEC champion, is his first title defense. Melendez, aptly nicknamed "El Nino," is known for his hectic offensive style. He has great striking, wrestling and cardiovascular conditioning and wants to capture the UFC title for the first time.
Round 1. Melendez presses in with some looping punches and then shoots for a takedown. Pettis defends well initially. Melendez gets him down but Pettis gets back up. Melendez continues to work to get Pettis down against the cage but cannot do it. Melendez lands a few more punches and then takes Pettis down halfway through the round. He lands a few punches but then Pettis gets back up. Pettis throws a head kick but Melendez avoids it and charges back in. They trade punches from close distance and Melendez looks for another takedown. Pettis catches Melendez with a hard hook and Melendez backs off. Melendez then lands one of his own. Pettis connects with a flying knee but Melendez works a few more looping punches and goes for another takedown. Melendez is clearly relying on pressure to be a big factor in his favor.
Round 2. Melendez goes back to work with his first round strategy, winging his looping punches like he has done for so many fights and pushing Pettis against the cage. Melendez won't let Pettis get distance and range to work his striking. When they do separate, Pettis lands a nice front kick. Pettis stuns Melendez with a hard shot and grabs a guillotine choke. Melendez is forced to tap out for the first time in his career.
Winner: Anthony Pettis, submission, round 2.
The rest of the card:
Clay Collard vs. Alex White
Collard is a prospect who already has 19 professional fights despite being only 21 years old. He lost his UFC debut against Max Holloway. White is 10-1 in MMA competition with finishes in all but one of his fights. He lost his last bout to Lucas Martins in July.
Round 1.The pace is quick from the onset, with each man mixing in shots at different angles. White presses the action a little bit more early but Collard becomes comfortable and starts landing the better shots. Collard lands some nice leg kicks and some looping punches high. White moves in close and lands a few hard knees from the clinch. Very good opening round with both fighters looking confident. 10-9 Collard.
Round 2. Collard drops White with a left hook. He follows White to the ground and looks to finish the fight with strikes. White recovers well and defends. Collard looks for a heel hook but doesn't get it. They return to the feet and White lands a couple nice shots. Collard answers with more of his looping punches. White goes for a takedown but has it stuffed and eats a knee. He does land a nice uppercut moments later. The fighters clinch and scramble to the ground, where Collard immediately looks to lock up a triangle choke submission. The triangle looks extremely tight but White keeps fighting it and is finally able to roll out of trouble. White returns to his feet and looks to land a big shot on Collard. Collard instead lands a big counterpunch. Another really good round. 10-9 Collard.
Round 3. The pace early in the third round is markedly slower than that in the first and second rounds, understandable given the fast pace early. White opens up and begins throwing power punches at Collard by the cage and White responds by taking White down. He can't hold White down and White returns to his feet in short order. They separate and Collard shoots for another takedown. This time he gets it with ease. From the bottom, White looks to set up a triangle choke of his own and lands shots that cut Collard open. Collard avoids that and White returns to his feet. After a brief standup, Collard looks for another takedown. He can't get it and White gets a takedown late. 10-9 White, 29-28 Collard.
Winner: Clay Collard, unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
Sergio Pettis vs. Matt Hobar
Pettis, the younger brother of UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, is a highly regarded up and coming 21 year old fighter. He is 2-1 in the UFC and 11-1 overall, with his only defeat coming via a submission upset against Alex Caceres earlier this year. Hobar is 9-2 in MMA with few wins of consequence.
Round 1. Hobar stuns Pettis with a punch early that sends Pettis to the canvas. He isn't able to accomplish much on the ground and Pettis returns to the feet. On the feet, Pettis lands a couple of hard punches of his own and Hobar takes Pettis down in response. Pettis lands a pair of nice upkicks from the bottom and is mostly able to avoid Hobar's attempts at offense from the top. They return to the feet and Pettis lands a nice wheel kick. Pettis looks for a takedown but Hobar reverses him quickly and lands a few knees to the body as the round concludes. Close round. 10-9 Hobar.
Round 2. Pettis catches a Hobar attack and lands a solid body kick. He follows with additional kicks and punches and looks to finish the fight. Hobar is forced to simply retreat and goes down. Pettis lands a series of shots on the ground and has Hobar in severe trouble. They return to the feet, where Pettis again rocks Hobar with a hard punch. Hobar gets a takedown and lands a few punches from the top. That round was much more one sided. 10-9 Pettis.
Round 3. Hobar looks for a takedown but can't get it. Pettis lands a few knees and Hobar backs off. Pettis goes back to work, as he is the much more fluid and dynamic striker. Pettis blocks another takedown attempt. Pettis isn't particularly active looking to close the show, but he picks at Hobar with his superior striking as the third round winds down. 10-9 Pettis, 29-28 Pettis.
Winner: Sergio Pettis, unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28).
Ashlee Evans-Smith vs. Raquel Pennington
Evans-Smith is a 3-0 fighter making her UFC debut. She is best known for defeating transgender competitor Fallon Fox. Pennington is 4-4 but has consistently tested herself against high quality opposition.
Round 1. The fighters clinch and grapple for control. A minute into the round, Evans-Smith secures a takedown. Evans-Smith controls Pennington and lands a few shots but Pennington is able to scramble back up to her feet. They fight in the clinch, trading knees and punches. Pennington is cut in the process. Pennington is able to take Evans-Smith down briefly but Evans-Smith gets up. At the very end of the round, Pennington grabs a bulldog choke and chokes Evans-Smith unconscious. Really exciting conclusion to the fight.
Winner: Raquel Pennington, submission, round 1.
Corey Anderson vs. Justin Jones
Anderson won the last season of the Ultimate Fighter and sports an undefeated record with a propensity for first round knockouts. He also has one of the most comical nicknames in the sport: "Beastin' 25/8." Jones is undefeated in his own right and making his UFC debut. While Anderson has won mostly with knockouts, Jones has won mostly with submissions.
Round 1. Anderson lands some hard shots early. He's coming at Jones with shots when Jones lands a big counterpunch and Anderson has to back off and respect his opponent's power. Jones grabs a guillotine choke from the standing position but Anderson lands in side control as they tumble to the ground and Jones has to let the choke go. They return to the feet, where Anderson lands some nice knees from the clinch. Anderson ducks down for a takedown and gets Jones against the cage. Jones gets back up and feeds Anderson a few knees of his own. He follows with a nice punch to the body but Anderson wrestles Jones down and lands a few punches from the top. 10-9 Anderson.
Round 2. Anderson goes for a takedown at the start of the round. He can't get it initially so he throws a few knees to the body. They separate and then Anderson goes for another takedown. He gets Jones down this time but Jones works his way back to his feet in short order. Anderson lands a pair of hard knees from the clinch and sensing he may have Jones in trouble, he follows with additional power shots. Jones is able to endure. Anderson gets another takedown at the end of the round. 10-9 Anderson.
Round 3. Anderson clinches again and lands some additional knees. Anderson lifts Jones up like he's going for a big slam but he decides to be cautious and places Jones down carefully so he can obtain solid control. Anderson then rides Jones on the ground and prevents Jones from getting up. Jones finally works his way back up but only has 90 seconds left to finish the fight and immediately eats a spinning elbow. Anderson takes Jones right back down. Kind of a dull fight but Anderson did well. 10-9 Anderson, 30-27 Anderson.
Winner: Corey Anderson, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-27).
Eddie Gordon vs. Josh Samman
Gordon won the middleweight portion of the last season of the Ultimate Fighter with a spectacular upset knockout of Dhiego Lima. Samman is 10-2 as an MMA pro and won his UFC debut in 2013.
Round 1. A wild scramble ensues at the beginning of the fight. Gordon looks for a guillotine but can't get it. Gordon gets a takedown. Samman controls Gordon well from the bottom and prevents Gordon from getting offensive. Referee Herb Dean eventually returns them to their feet due to inactivity. We get some wild standup, with Samman throwing a few big head kicks and Gordon connecting with a quality counterpunch before taking Samman back down to the mat. He holds him there for the rest of the round. Awful performance by Gordon being so inactive on the ground. 10-9 Gordon.
Round 2. We get another scramble and Gordon ends up on top. Gordon does more of nothing. Holds him. Holds him. Holds him. After a standup, Samman knocks Gordon out cold with a head kick. A thrilling conclusion to a dreadful fight.
Winner: Josh Samman, KO, round 2.
Urijah Faber vs. Francisco Rivera
Faber is one of the most popular lighter weight fighters in the history of the sport. A dynamic, well rounded fighter, Faber has never lost a non title fight in his career but will have trouble getting another title fight soon given he has lost six straight title fights. He is 5-1 in his last six fights overall. Rivera is an exciting brawler coming off a loss to Takeya Mizugaki.
Round 1. Faber looks to close distance on Rivera but is wary of Rivera's power when he moves in. Rivera counters with a few hard punches as Faber moves in. Faber catches Rivera off balance with a kick but Rivera is able to get back up. Faber shoots in for a takedown but it is stuffed with ease. Rivera lands a hard kick but then is hit with a solid overhand by Faber. Rivera lands a solid kick and then blocks a takedown attempt. Rivera knocks Faber back with a big right hand. Faber's having real trouble with Rivera. 10-9 Rivera.
Round 2. The second round begins like the first. Rivera is landing shots on Faber from the outside. But Rivera gets an eye poke and has to cover up when the referee does not stop the action. Faber moves in with additional punches and then sinks in a choke for the submission. That's going to be a controversial one as an eye poke was what caused the finish. The crowd voiced their displeasure towards the finish by booing Faber after the fight.
Winner: Urijah Faber, submission, round 2.
Tony Ferguson vs. Abel Trujillo
The pay-per-view portion of the card begins with what has the potential to be an all out war. Ferguson has been known for his striking since winning a season of the Ultimate Fighter while Trujillo is a tough as nails brawler coming off one of the most exciting fights of the year against Jamie Varner in February.
Round 1. Trujillo lands a combination of punches early. Ferguson establishes his kicks but Trujillo drops him with a heavy hook and moves in looking to finish the fight. Ferguson recovers but then gets taken down by Trujillo. Ferguson returns to his feet in short order. Trujillo gets another takedown. Ferguson looks for an armbar but can't get it and Trujillo drops down some nasty punches from top position. Ferguson gets up to his feet. Ferguson stuns Trujillo with a couple of hard punches and backs him up. Ferguson was coming on late but clearly Trujillo's round. 10-9 Trujillo.
Round 2. Ferguson lands a stiff body kick early. He follows with another low kick and Trujillo goes for a takedown. Ferguson looks to lock in a D'Arce choke but quickly gives it up. Ferguson then looks for a kimura but doesn't come close. Trujillo ends up on top but Ferguson works his way back to his feet. Ferguson grabs a headlock and yanks Trujillo down to the canvas. He lands some punches while controlling the body of Trujillo. Ferguson grabs a rear naked choke and gets the tap.
Winner: Tony Ferguson, submission, round 2.
Todd Duffee vs. Anthony Hamilton
Duffee has had a unique career. He generated a ton of buzz in 2009 with a 7 second knockout of Tim Hague but followed that up with a knockout loss against Mike Russow in a fight he was dominating and has fought sporadically since then. This is his first fight since 2012. He has great knockout power. Hamilton is 13-3 and 1-1 in the UFC.
Round 1. Duffee connects with a hard right hand almost immediately and knocks Hamilton out. He follows with punches on the ground but it is all over. The fight only went 33 seconds.
Winner: Todd Duffee, KO, round 1.
Brendan Schaub vs. Travis Browne
Schaub is an excellent athlete and solid striker with a questionable chin. He holds notable wins over Mirko Cro Cop and Gabriel Gonzaga. Browne was on the verge of a heavyweight title shot before a decisive loss to Fabricio Werdum in his last fight.
Round 1. Browne lands a couple nice jabs early. Schaub shoots in for a takedown and gets it. Browne gets up but Schaub takes him back down. Browne stands up once more and they grapple for position by the cage. Browne drops Schaub with an uppercut and looks to finish on the ground. Browne drops down some heavy punches from the top and moves into mount position. He nails Schaub with a vicious punch from that position and Schaub is forced to roll over. Browne flattens Schaub out and lands punches to the side of the head until the referee stops the fight.
Winner: Travis Browne, TKO, round 1.