UFC title-challengers Lawler, Melendez want Hendricks', Pettis' belts

UFC champion Johny Hendricks will defend his title Saturday in a rematch with Robbie Lawler

For Robbie Lawler, it’s another -- possibly final -- chance to fix what lost him his earlier crack at wearing an Ultimate Fighting Championship belt.

For Gilbert Melendez, it’s about finding absolution to the years of work in sweaty gyms, in crafting fight plans with the hope of something lasting to experience.

On Saturday night in pay-per-view UFC title fights at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Lawler lands his rematch with champion Johny Hendricks (16-2) after their March slugfest and fight-of-the-year finalist.

And the Santa Ana-raised Melendez (22-3) takes aim at acrobatic and crafty lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.

“It’d be an accomplishment of all my goals, [proof] that I’m entertaining, a warrior, everything,” Melendez said of the bout’s meaning after losing a split-decision to then-champion Benson Henderson in April 2013. “If I can get that goal, everything will be complete in my mixed martial arts career.”

Melendez and Pettis (17-2) have both experienced extended layoffs while overcoming a contract dispute (Melendez)  and injury (Pettis) and then serving as rival coaches on the UFC’s reality television series, “The Ultimate Fighter.”

Pettis suffered a knee injury last year after winning the belt in August 2013.

Melendez said he countered the second long layoff of his career with a stringent training camp.

“Things went very well … when you get a five-round fight, you better be ready for 25 minutes and getting the confidence I can go 25 hard, minutes strong, I’m there.

“If I can get it done earlier, great.”

In addition to Pettis’ ability to hurt foes with devastating kicks, he also plots his attacks well.

“Not letting him dictate the pace” is the key to winning, Melendez said. “His fight is more controlled, pretty, a little bit more timed, with keeping his distance with his range. I’ve got to make sure I keep pressure on him. That’s the way to go.”

Neither Melendez nor Lawler (24-10) is counting on the champions showing slippage caused by the contentment of reaching their title destination.

“The game plan is to dominate,” Lawler said after losing a unanimous decision by three scores of 48-47 in a fight few expected would go to the judges. “He’s a very hard competitor, but I feel if I dictate and create some stuff with my movement, I’m capable of taking it to him.

“It came down to not doing enough [in the first fight]. I was always looking for the knockout, looking for the finish, and wasn’t doing enough to win rounds.”

He responded with impressive victories over Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown.

Amid speculation that former welterweight Georges St-Pierre could ultimately cave to UFC requests that he return to fighting, however, this could be the final opportunity at the belt for the 32-year-old Lawler.

Hendricks has a loaded left hand and is an ex-Oklahome State wrestler who is continuing to expand his MMA strengths.

“I don’t think of this as the last chance. I look at it as the chance,” Lawler said. “This is the biggest fight of my career.”

“It could lend itself to a knockout. Both of us are capable of throwing big shots and winning by knockout, but I’m just focused on coming out victorious.”

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