By Jaime C. Feal
What a stacked main card for tomorrow night in Las Vegas, Nevada, with title fights in two of the most popular divisions in the UFC: the lightweight and welterweight divisions.
The main event of the evening is Johny Hendricks defending his Welterweight title in a rematch against Robby Lawler after a back and forth brawl that the judges scored in favor of Hendricks.
The co-main event may be just as good, if not better, as Anthony “Showtime” Pettis finally gets back in the cage to defend his Lightweight title against Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez. Also on the card is an exciting Heavyweight showdown between highly ranked Travis Browne and former TUF runner up Brendan Schaub. UFC 181 is a can’t-miss PPV, something that hasn’t been said much about UFC shows this year, as evidenced by them making about 40% less profits in 2014, according to recent reports.
Heavyweight Division (265 lbs.):
Brendan “Big Brown” Schaub vs. Travis “Hapa” Browne
With two agile Heavyweights who love to stand on their feet and strike, don’t expect this fight to last long. Schaub has a notoriously weak chin, but also is a former Golden Gloves champ with solid speed and power in his hands. Travis Browne brings much more to the table offensively, with a bigger frame, reach, and kicking game.
This will be a quick one, as both men are highly motivated to get back on track in the ever-evolving landscape of the UFC heavyweight division. At the weigh-in staredown, they had to be immediately separated by Dana White, and tensions were very high.
Expect Schaub to come out fast and furious with lots of aggression, looking to prove he can hang with the upper echelon of the division. Browne, a somewhat slow starter, could very well get caught by Schaub early, but historically “Hapa” has been able to withstand punishment. After that initial flurry, Browne will take over with the more crisp and diverse striking, and in the process will put himself back in the mix for a title shot in 2015.
Prediction: Travis “Hapa” Browne wins by TKO, Round 1.
UFC Lightweight Championship (155 lbs.):
Anthony “Showtime” Pettis vs. Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez
The coaches from the latest TUF season square off for the UFC Lightweight title, and although there is not much bad blood between the two, both are very exciting fighters and clearly the motivation for each is extremely high.
Pettis has some of the nastiest kicks in the game, with amazing technical speed and power. His body kicks have put away the likes of Donald Cerrone, and if you prefer the flashy variety, Pettis is often remember for his off-the-cage jump kick that landed on the chin of Benson Henderson in the last ever fight in the WEC.
Pettis is very athletic with excellent cardio, and even flashed slick submission ability when he armbarred the almost impossible to submit Benson Henderson in their rematch in the UFC. Pettis has owned Henderson, something that bodes well for him tomorrow night as he takes on another wrestler in Gilbert Melendez.
Melendez will be looking to get the fight to the ground and unleash his tenacious top game. In this regard, he is far superior to Benson Henderson, as Melendez has much nastier, and more powerful ground and pound. The problem for Melendez, of course, is that Pettis has only improved his takedown defense as the years have gone on. The X factor is that Pettis is coming off a long injury layoff, but he is still in his fighting prime and is athletic enough for it to not matter much.
While Melendez may have a slight edge in cardio, and may be able to get Pettis down in the latter rounds, Pettis should dominate the striking exchanges at the start. Unless Melendez has suddenly developed a kicking game, he is strictly a boxer, and can’t compete technically with the striking prowess of Pettis.
This will be Melendez’s undoing, as he gets picked apart and frustrated on the feet by the Champion, before scoring some consolatory takedowns and maybe a round or two towards the end of the 5 round bout.
Prediction: Anthony “Showtime” Pettis wins by unanimous decision.
UFC Welterweight Championship (170 lbs.):
Johny “Big Rigg” Hendricks vs. “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler
The last time these two brawlers fought, they engaged in an epic five-round stand-up war that went the way of Hendricks. Now, towards the end of his long and successful career, Lawler knows the rematch means it’s now or never if he is to become the UFC Welterweight Champion.
Both men are talented wrestlers, but the edge goes to Hendricks as he has competed at a higher level.
Lawler’s counter-wrestling, particularly his takedown defense, was able to keep him upright for most of their first fight. On the feet, where this rematch is very likely to take place, both men possess tenacious power.
While Lawler has some serious power in his hands, it is not quite the equal of the champion. Some of Hendricks’ one-punch knockouts, especially his eight second destruction of Jon Fitch, cannot be topped in terms of sheer power. Lawler, however, has a unique brawling style, and Hendricks is not an especially technical striker, so the Champion is usually more than willing to engage in a brawl with Lawler.
Despite the tremendous power each welterweight has, a knockout in this fight would still be very surprising, as Hendricks has never been finished by strikes, and Lawler only once, in 2004 by Nick Diaz.
Both Lawler and Hendricks are very equally matched, and extremely tough to finish. We can therefore expect another epic five-round war, but this time with the more motivated and fresh Lawler getting the nod, and finally getting over the hump to become the new UFC Welterweight Champion.
Prediction: “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler wins by split decision.
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