MMA Review: #486: UFC 181: Hendricks vs. Lawler II

-This show was always planned to be one of the biggest of 2014, as initially it was set to be headlined by a double main event of Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort for the Middleweight Title and Anthony Pettis vs. Gilbert Melendez for the Lightweight Title. It looked like injuries would ruin things again when Weidman had to pull out, shelving that fight, but then Zuffa pulled a real rabbit out of the hat and replaced it with the Johny Hendricks/Robbie Lawler Welterweight Title rematch – a fight that wasn’t expected until early 2015. With a bunch of other exciting fights on the card this was one of the most anticipated events of the year for sure.

UFC 181: Hendricks vs. Lawler II

12/06/14
Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Featherweight Fight: Clay Collard vs Alex White

This one sounded like an exciting opener as both guys come right from the Chris Leben school of fighting where they’re quite willing to take three shots to give a bigger one right back. I was leaning slightly towards White as I’d been more impressed with him in his UFC win over Estevan Payan, but with that said Collard had looked very durable in a loss to Max Holloway so it was a coin flip really.

Round One and Collard opens with a leg kick and a weird jumping double kick that doesn’t really come off right. Quick flurry from Collard backs White up and he follows with a left hand. Nice counter right to the body from Collard. Clinch from White and they muscle for position with Collard going to the body before separating. Good right hand from White and now he’s stalking forward. Nice body shots from Collard. These guys are pretty much going shot for shot here. Nice combination connects for White from close range. Collard comes right back with a couple of combos of his own. Nice flurry from Collard backs White up towards the fence. Collard looks a little looser on his feet thus far. Hard left hand lands for White though as Collard’s chin is a bit high. Collard is still slightly more active, however. They trade some nice shots from the clinch before Collard hits a single leg and dumps White onto his back. He stands over him and tries an axe kick though and that allows White to spring back up. Seconds to go and Collard leans forward to taunt White before landing a right to the body. Exchange continues until the round ends. 10-9 Collard in a close one to call.

Round Two and a left to the body opens proceedings for White. Wild exchange follows and White goes DOWN off a pair of hard left hooks! Collard leaps on him and looks to get a rear naked choke, but it’s a little too sloppy and White manages to escape and spins into top position. From there he drops back for a leglock attempt and Collard stands up over him and tries to pull free. Good shots from Collard connect from above as White continues to try the leglock. Collard escapes, but White gets a rear waistlock and uses it to hit a vicious knee as Collard stands. Uppercut breaks for White and he seems recovered. Left hook lands cleanly again for Collard. Front kick to the body from White but Collard catches the leg and lands a couple of shots with him off balance. Couple more shots land for Collard. Low kick appears to drop White and he dives for a takedown that Collard stuffs. White looks a bit busted up now. He continues to push the action though and lands with a decent uppercut. Collard is largely outstriking him though. Nice leg kick from Collard. Single leg attempt from White but Collard blocks it and gets top position for a second. A scramble follows and Collard drops right into a triangle attempt and it looks tight! White is in trouble but somehow he manages to hang in there despite the hold looking seriously locked in. No idea how White is surviving here! Somehow he works free and grabs onto a front facelock, and from there they come to their feet. Spectacular escape from White. Collard looks a bit tired now and he seems wobbly. Wild exchange ends the round with White getting the better of it. 10-9 Collard in a fantastic round.

Round Three and White presses forward with a straight right, but walks into a counter left in the process. Striking exchange follows and Collard looks a little unsteady on his feet to me like his legs are gassed out. Left hand connects for White and he seems to be having more success in these exchanges in this round. Good left to the body lands for Collard. Combo from White has Collard covering up, but he drops for a double leg to change things up. White manages to defend though and lands with a hard knee to the body. Solid knees from the clinch land for White and he separates with a left hand. White’s definitely pushing the pace now but he misses with a spinning backfist. Counter right connects for White. Collard is slowing down. Takedown is successful for him this time though and he lands in the guard. Triangle attempt from White and it looks decent as Collard seemingly doesn’t defend it at all. This looks almost as tight as Collard’s attempt in the second round! Collard slips his head out though and gets to his feet. He’s badly busted up from some shots he took while in the triangle. Spinning backfist glances for White. Takedown attempt again for Collard but White works to defend. Good job from White to stuff it and he lands some shots on the way out. Takedown ends the round for White and he finishes in side mount. 10-9 White but 29-28 Collard overall. Excellent opener.

Judges all have it 29-28 for Clay Collard. Right call from the judges in what would’ve been an easy one to screw up I think due to the closeness of the first round! At any rate White hardly came away looking like a loser as this was such an exciting fight, and I can definitely see both guys sticking around as reliable action fighters for a long time even if I doubt either one climbs the ladder into contention. It’s a pity this show was in Vegas actually as other crowds would’ve been going insane for this while the Vegas lot don’t even fucking show up for the first prelim.

Bantamweight Fight: Sergio Pettis vs Matt Hobar

Pettis the younger was coming off a workmanlike victory over Yaotzin Meza in June while Hobar had rebounded from a nasty knockout at the hands of hot prospect Pedro Munhoz by decisioning Aaron Phillips in August. I was taking Pettis to win comfortably here even though he hasn’t really lived up to his pre-UFC hype so far.

First round begins and Pettis gets DROPPED by a left hook right away! He goes for a takedown but Hobar blocks it and winds up on top. Quick sweep from Pettis puts him back on his feet and he seems fine, but eats another shot from Hobar right away. Nice straight right answers for Sergio and he lands another before Hobar gets a takedown to guard. Looks like Hobar’s resting here as he’s not doing much at all. Sergio kicks him away for a second but Hobar quickly drops back down onto him. He stands over Pettis but eats an upkick en route to going into side mount. Weird triangle variant attempt follows for Sergio but Hobar avoids, eating an upkick on his way back into the guard. Another pair of upkicks land for Sergio as Hobar stands over him before dropping back into the guard. Hobar doesn’t look comfortable from the top at all here. Foot sweep from Sergio allows him to reverse and he’s on his feet. Nice combo lands for Pettis who seems to be growing in confidence. Head kick lands cleanly too and he easily shrugs off a Hobar takedown attempt. Kick is caught by Hobar but Pettis shrugs off a takedown. Good leg kick from Hobar. Wheel kick glances for Pettis and a head kick follows too. Takedown from Pettis but Hobar scrambles and grabs a front facelock. Seconds to go and Hobar appears to be setting up for a guillotine, but the buzzer sounds before he can go for it. 10-10 round for me.

Second round and Pettis looks like the fresher fighter, putting together some crisp combos and landing a beautiful left head kick. Hobar looks laboured and he’s eating a ton of shots now. Right hand has Hobar wobbled and Sergio stuffs a takedown. More combos from Sergio and Hobar goes down and he’s in trouble. Pettis rains down some punishment from above looking to finish, but Hobar has enough about him to attempt an armbar. Sergio shrugs that off and works into the guard where he continues to land shots. Action slows down as Pettis seems to be taking a breather after that big offensive rush. Mario Yamasaki calls a stand-up with 2:20 remaining and Pettis tags Hobar again with a slick combination. He’s looking as good as I’ve ever seen him in this round. Hobar is just being eaten up on the feet. Good front kick to the body from Hobar but he gets wobbled badly with a trio of right hands. He manages to come back with a takedown though and lands in Sergio’s guard. One minute to go and it appears that Hobar is using headbutts to the chest which are illegal, but Mario chooses to ignore them. Maybe I was wrong. Triangle attempt from Sergio with seconds to go but Hobar avoids, only to eat an upkick. Another triangle attempt follows but Hobar spins out into side mount as the round ends. 10-9 Pettis. Hobar’s left eye is fucked.

Third round and Hobar pushes forward throwing strikes, but he can’t quite catch Sergio who seems like the far quicker fighter. Single leg from Hobar but Sergio defends it well and they wind up in the clinch. Good job from Sergio to separate and he lands with another quick combo. He shows some incredible movement to dodge Hobar’s punches and tag him with shots of his own. Kick is caught by Hobar and he goes for a takedown, but again Sergio stuffs it as Hobar seems too tired. Exchange continues and Sergio continues to get the better of it by tagging Hobar with the sharper punches. Right hand wobbles his legs with two minutes to go. Hobar’s face is a real mess. He does land with a decent body kick though. Beautiful right hand from Pettis snaps his head back. Takedown attempt from Hobar but he ends up on the bottom as Pettis defends it. Good knees from Pettis as they stand and he separates. Seconds remaining and Pettis continues to tag Hobar and defends a takedown on the buzzer. 10-9 Sergio for a 30-28 win.

Judges officially have it 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 for Sergio Pettis. Probably the best showing for Pettis the Younger in his UFC career thus far actually as he came back from the early knockdown to dominate Hobar standing with his sharp striking game and on the ground he never really got into trouble either and actually came closer to getting submissions. Decent if not brilliant fight and it continues to be interesting to view Sergio’s development.

Women’s Bantamweight Fight: Raquel Pennington vs Ashlee Evans-Smith

TUF 18’s exciting brawler Pennington had originally been on the main card of this show against the much-hyped Holly Holm, but when Holm pulled out with an injury, the largely unheralded Evans-Smith (word was she got the call from the UFC after stopping the infamous Fallon Fox) stepped in to take the fight, bumping it down onto the prelim card. Given Evans-Smith’s inexperience (this was her fourth pro fight) I was taking the UFC veteran Pennington to brawl her way to another win.

Round One begins and they trade some punches before Pennington surprisingly goes for a single leg. Evans-Smith blocks and they wind up clinched, and it looks like Raquel’s setting up a guillotine. She lets it go and they continue to muscle for position along the fence, before Evans-Smith hits a single leg and drops into half-guard. Short elbows to the body connect for Evans-Smith before Pennington escapes nicely to full guard. Triangle attempt follows but Evans-Smith’s posture seems too strong for her to get caught in it. Short slam follows but it allows Pennington to scramble to her feet. They remain clinched though and Evans-Smith lands with a heavy knee. Side headlock from Evans-Smith and it looks like she’s trying for a throw, but Pennington slips her head free and gets a rear waistlock. Evans-Smith turns back into the clinch but it looks like she might be cut. Apparently it’s Pennington who’s cut in fact and there’s literally blood EVERYWHERE. Good exchange inside the clinch follows and Evans-Smith gets the better of it with more knees. Pennington manages to block a takedown though. They continue to exchange knees with Pennington adding an elbow for good measure. Nice knees from Evans-Smith but Pennington drops for a takedown and gets it. Evans-Smith pops right back up but gives her back and takes a hard knee as she stands. Seconds to go and Pennington looks for a choke variant and in an INCREDIBLE moment you actually see a look of panic on the face of Evans-Smith as Raquel forces her down to her knees while locking it in! It’s a bulldog choke and it looks TIGHT and as the buzzer sounds Evans-Smith is OUT.

Really good, hard-hitting fight even with a lot of clinching and wow, what a finish. One of the sickest I can remember from the WBW division in fact and bulldog chokes are always cool – just ask Carlos Newton! Pennington might not be a proper contender or anything but man is she exciting to watch.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Corey Anderson vs Justin Jones

The first of the two TUF 19 winners making their post-TUF debut on this card, Anderson was initially pegged to face New Yorker Gian Villante, but when the StrikeForce vet got injured the unfortunately nicknamed ‘Lazy Bones’ Jones – no relation to the LHW champ – stepped in on late notice. With Jones being a natural 185lber and taking the fight with little time to prepare, Anderson was the obvious pick.

Round One and Jones stalks forward and stuffs the first attempt at a takedown. Couple of punches connect for Anderson as Jones continues to press the action. Good body kick from Anderson. Takedown attempt from Jones is stuffed and Anderson opens up on him with a flurry before Jones counters with a left hook. Nice jab from Anderson. Striking exchange continues and Jones is really getting aggressive. Guillotine attempt follows when Anderson gets too close but Corey throws him down and then opens up on him with knees and uppercuts as they stand. Really wild punches follow for Jones but Anderson gets hold of him and forces him into the fence. Hard right hook lands for Anderson. Looks like Jones is breathing heavily. Dude did take the fight on short notice to be fair. Good right hook does land for him though. Leg kick lands for Anderson. Takedown attempt follows and he dumps Jones to the ground. Jones looks for a guillotine but Anderson avoids it but loses position and that allows Jones to stand. Decent shots inside land for both men as they remain clinched. Uppercut breaks for Anderson. Jones continues to swing but he gets too close and Anderson grabs a rear waistlock and forces him to the ground where he drops some elbows from half-guard. Round ends with Jones hitting a scramble to his feet. Close-ish round but I’d go 10-9 Anderson.

Round Two and Anderson catches a body kick and goes for a takedown, driving Jones into the fence. Jones stuffs it, but ends up clinched against the cage and the action slows down before they break. Good low kick from Jones. Anderson shoots in though and takes him down this time with ease. Good job from Jones to scramble onto his knees and then back up, but Anderson stays on him and continues to force him into the fence. Good plum clinch from Anderson and he delivers some really heavy knees. Jones looks like he’s slowing down. Anderson continues to get the better of the exchange from the clinch before they break. Two minutes to go and Anderson’s beginning to land with more frequency. Jones does land with a nice leg kick though. Hard right hand from Anderson. He begins to dance around and tag Jones with some punches, but Jones comes back with a couple more nice leg kicks. Anderson gets hold of him again and looks to drag him back down, and eventually does so landing in half-guard as the round ends. 10-9 Anderson in a bit of a dull one.

Round Three and Jones comes out really aggressively but Anderson ties him up again. This time Jones goes a bit wild in the clinch with some hooks, but Anderson quickly takes over with the knees to the body again. Big takedown follows as he lifts Jones up for a slam but ends up doing it a little more softly to avoid a guillotine. He lands in half-guard but Jones hits a reversal and winds up caught in a front facelock. Anderson spins around to control him but Jones still manages to scramble onto his knees. Anderson stays right on him and looks to drag him back down, this time landing with his legs laced around Jones’s to keep him down. Good job by Jones to work back up to his feet, but he’s still stuck against the fence and Anderson hits him with a spinning elbow. Double leg follows and Anderson lands in half-guard, easily avoiding a guillotine. Less than a minute to go and this might be it. Anderson starts to work on an Americana, but he can’t lock it up. Round ends with Anderson landing some short punches. 30-27 Anderson for me.

Official scorecards read 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26 for Corey Anderson. Not the most exciting fight ever though as after his stunning knockout of Matt Van Buren in the finals this was back to his initial TUF form for Anderson as he grinded out a largely dull victory with a lot of clinching and takedowns. Jones tried but the guy was always a bit out of his depth given the size difference and the late notice.

Middleweight Fight: Josh Samman vs Eddie Gordon

This sounded like your standard post-TUF fight for Season 19’s winner Gordon, who had viciously knocked out Dhiego Lima in the finals, but it ended up being much more fascinating when Samman’s story came out – his girlfriend had been killed in a tragic accident and this show was on her birthday, and so he’d practically begged the UFC for a slot on the card so he could dedicate his fight – and hopefully his victory – to her memory. I never really liked Samman during his TUF run but how could anyone not find that story inspiring?

Fight begins and Gordon trips Samman down off an early strike but Josh pops right back up and goes for a takedown of his own. He gets Gordon down for a moment but a wild scramble sees both men come back to their feet. Good knee to the body from Samman but a low kick catches Gordon in the groin and the ref has to call time. Replay shows the knee actually caught Gordon low. He recovers and they restart, and Samman comes wildly in and goes for a takedown but Gordon throws him down into full guard. Beautiful shift of weight from Gordon. Gordon begins to work some short ground-and-pound from inside the guard and Samman seems like he’s being purely defensive here. Herb Dean decides to call a restart with just over two minutes to go and Samman swings a big kick that just misses. Gordon counters with a right hand that lands flush and then catches him coming in and gets another takedown. This time he works the body as Samman looks like he might be rolling for a kimura on the left arm. Hard elbow connects for Gordon from the top. He’s in half-guard now. Samman works back to full guard, but he can’t seem to get off his back. Round ends with Gordon on top. Clear-cut 10-9 for Eddie Gordon.

Into the 2nd and Samman opens with a crane kick attempt that glances, but he gets tagged by a quick combo coming in. Nice leg kick drops Gordon and Samman spins in an attempt to take the back, but he gets too wild and Gordon muscles him off and takes top position again. Samman does well to regain full guard, but he’s stuck on the bottom again with Gordon landing short ground-and-pound. Crowd begin to boo as the action slows down a lot, with Gordon advancing into half-guard. Herb Dean calls another stand-up and from there Samman glances on a combo and then DESTROYS GORDON WITH A LEFT HIGH KICK!~! Gordon is OUT before he even hits the ground.

Holy shit. That was like something from PRIDE-era Cro Cop’s back catalogue. One of the best head kick knockouts I’ve ever seen. Fight wasn’t much leading up to that but wow what a finish for Josh Samman. Considering his circumstances too this couldn’t have gone much better for the guy as not only did he earn a $50k bonus but the knockout was also the general consensus for best of 2014, which shows how incredible it was.

Bantamweight Fight: Urijah Faber vs Francisco Rivera

This seemed like a bit of a weird fight to make when it was announced given Rivera was hardly a big-name opponent for Faber, but then Faber’s in a weird spot anyway as he’s one of the top three or four guys in the weight class and yet he can’t really get a title shot while his protégé holds the belt and Bantamweight is such that there are no what you’d call ‘money’ fights for him. The odd part was that he was on the prelim card again but I guess Zuffa want him to headline the FS1 portion of these PPV cards so there is that. I don’t like it but what can you do?

Round One and they circle around a lot with neither man really landing much of note in the first minute. Faber seems to be coming up a little short on most of his punches so far. Overhand right lands for Urijah but Rivera comes back with a quick counter combo. Looks like Rivera’s trying to catch Faber coming in with an uppercut. Low kick lands for Rivera and he manages to avoid having his leg caught. Left hook connects for Urijah. Nice counter right hand lands for Rivera as Faber bulls forward. Low kick follows. He’s doing a good job of avoiding Urijah’s attempts to close the distance. Another heavy low kick from Rivera follows and he avoids a takedown too. One minute to go and a left hand lands for Rivera. He’s doing really well in this round. Another good leg kick lands for him. Beautiful counter right from Rivera. Body shot follows. Takedown attempt from Faber with seconds to go but Rivera stuffs it to end the round. Great round for Rivera; 10-9.

Round Two and Faber comes out pushing the pace, closing in to land to the body early. Right hook lands for Rivera. Single leg attempt from Faber is stuffed but in the scramble Rivera takes a poke to the eye and covers up. Referee Mario Yamasaki TOTALLY misses it though and Faber opens up with a flurry! Rivera goes down to his knees and Urijah immediately locks up a TIGHT bulldog choke and squeezes on it to force the tapout. Post-fight Rivera is FURIOUS about the whole deal and quite rightfully so.

Really unfortunate ending to the fight with a massive gaffe from Mario Yamasaki. It wasn’t Faber’s fault as such as the replay shows it was an unintentional poke, but even so – Rivera was winning this fight and I was interested to see how Urijah would adjust, and we never got the chance to find out. I believe Rivera’s camp protested and tried to have this changed to a No Contest, and why the NSAC didn’t oblige is beyond me as it was so clear. Fun fight but a shitty ending marred it a lot.

Lightweight Fight: Tony Ferguson vs Abel Trujillo

I was pretty excited for this opener as both fighters tend to have really entertaining fights and I’m a big fan of Ferguson full stop. He was coming into this one on a hot streak – three wins in a row since his return to action in 2013 – while Trujillo had last knocked out Jamie Varner in vicious fashion to cap off a low-end FOTYC. I thought this fight favoured Ferguson more though as he seems like a more well-rounded fighter to me – but only if he could weather the early storm that Trujillo always brings.

First round gets underway and Trujillo opens with a hard left hook. He’s really pressing the action early on. Nice body kick from Ferguson. They exchange and a BIG RIGHT HOOK from Trujillo drops Ferguson! He pops back up but Abel is on him, slamming him into the fence from a rear waistlock before OPENING UP with some wild punches! Ferguson is in trouble but he’s doing just about enough to survive by moving and covering up. Tremendous job from Tony Ferguson to get out of that situation. Trujillo continues to swing though and catches Tony again with a big left hand. Ferguson comes back with a body kick and a left of his own, but Trujillo hits a takedown and grabs a front headlock as Ferguson sits up. Back to the feet and he’s still got the headlock. Uppercut glances to break for Abel. Right hook glances off Ferguson’s head and hurts him again. Trujillo packs some serious power. Body kick lands for Ferguson but Trujillo hits a double leg to guard. Tony goes right into the rubber guard and it looks like a triangle might be open for him. Trujillo breaks through though with some BOMBS from the top. He passes the guard but it looks like Ferguson might be going for a leglock. Trujillo pulls free but it allows Ferguson to stand. Now he’s moving forward a bit more. Uppercut leads to a clinch for Abel but Ferguson shrugs it off and now he’s got Trujillo hurt with a combo! Trujillo is backing up and he looks a bit tired. Series of left hands from Ferguson have Trujillo completely on the backpedal. Looks like his nose might be cut too. Flying knee glances for Ferguson and a leg kick spins Trujillo all the way around. Right hand ends the round for El Cucuy. 10-9 Trujillo, but Ferguson’s got the advantage going into the 2nd.

Second round and Ferguson stalks forward again. He avoids a combo and lands a kick to the body. Trujillo goes for a takedown but El Cucuy stuffs it. Nice leg kick from Ferguson and he sprawls to avoid another takedown. Ferguson’s definitely taking over this fight. He goes for a D’Arce from the sprawl, and then gives it up and uses it to spin to take the back instead. He tries to float right into an armbar, but it doesn’t look like he’s quite got it and he slides off the back. He goes for a kimura instead, then switches back to the armbar, but Abel pulls free and looks to take top position. Ferguson rolls to avoid that and pops back up, and Trujillo gets the clinch. Ferguson easily switches position though and hits his own takedown, taking the back and landing shots as Trujillo looks exhausted. No hooks for Ferguson though and that allows Abel to sneak back up to his feet. Takedown from Trujillo but Tony pops right back up. Ferguson closes him down with strikes, landing a front kick to the body before using a front headlock to drag him to the ground. From there he spins to the back and begins to land hammer fists to the side of the head. Trujillo is in big trouble. Ferguson looks to slap the hooks in and manages it, and he continues to land hammer fists for good measure. Rear naked choke is SUNK and Ferguson pulls it back and forces the tapout. Nice.

Tremendously exciting opener and a great performance from Tony Ferguson. He weathered the early storm from Trujillo and never really panicked and once he sensed Trujillo slowing down towards the end of the first round he really turned up the heat and methodically broke Abel down until he could finish. That’s the mark of a great fighter and at this point I think Tony Ferguson is genuinely a great fighter. Is 2015 the year he breaks into the title picture? Personally I think so and I think he’ll beat Josh Thomson in their upcoming fight, too.

Heavyweight Fight: Todd Duffee vs Anthony Hamilton

Can’t lie – I was insanely pumped to see this as I’ve been a massive fan of Duffee’s since 2009 and still think the guy can break into the top five at some stage. He hadn’t fought since December 2012 though after suffering a rare nerve disease called Parsonage-Turner Syndrome. He was supposedly healthy and back to his best coming into this one though and this seemed like a tailor made fight for him to me, given Hamilton had looked pretty plodding even in victory in his August win over Ruan Potts, and so my pick was Duffee with another highlight reel KO.

Fight begins and Duffee swings a right hand right away that just misses. Both guys are swinging but Hamilton looks horribly stiff. Left hand glances for Todd in an exchange. Another exchange and Duffee NAILS HIM WITH A RIGHT!~! Down goes Hamilton and Todd quickly puts him away with a pair of right sledgehammers. JUST LIKE THAT!~!

Total mismatch – Duffee is still pretty inexperienced but he’ll blow away these slower, stiff-on-the-feet Heavyweights all day long. Another highlight reel for the DuffMan then and I think he takes out Frank Mir next too in what is one of my most highly anticipated fights of 2015. Brutal knockout and the whole fight went 33 seconds. If you can complain about that you’re insane. DUFFMAN!~!

Heavyweight Fight: Travis Browne vs Brendan Schaub

Browne was looking to bounce back from the biggest disappointment of his career here – his April loss to Fabricio Werdum that cost him a title shot – and this fight seemed like a good one for him on paper, as while Schaub is always a dangerous guy – and was arguably robbed in his previous decision loss to Andrei Arlovski – his big weakness is his chin and Browne hits HARD. Barring anything weird this seemed like a likely knockout win for Travis Browne.

Round One and Browne stalks forward in a pretty open stance. Announcers mention he’s now training with Edmond Tarverdyan which is interesting. Kick from Schaub is caught and Browne trips him down. Schaub comes back with a takedown attempt but Browne stuffs it and lands a couple of knees. He looks far bigger than Schaub. Uppercut into a right hand land for Schaub but don’t have much effect. Stiff left hand from Browne. Schaub’s coming up short on his punches. Takedown attempt from Schaub and he drives Browne back and manages to tackle him down. Browne scrambles right away though and looks to hit a switch. He reverses back to his feet and Schaub tries to trip him back down, but ends up on the bottom. Scramble from Schaub allows him back up and he grabs a rear waistlock, but Browne turns into him. Right breaks for Schaub. He lunges forward but Browne CRACKS him with an uppercut that buckles his legs and sends him down. Travis follows him down and looks to finish him off, then passes into half-guard and full mount. Schaub tries to buck him off, but he’s taking some big shots. Hip escape puts Schaub into half-guard but Browne mounts him again. He’s slicing through the guard at will. Big right hand from Browne. Schaub gives his back and Browne gets both hooks in and drops some nasty punches to the side of the head until Mario Yamasaki decides he’s seen enough. Post-fight Browne leans down to talk some shit before celebrating with Edmond to some boos. Total heel move right there.

Excellent performance from Travis Browne; I did expect him to win by KO but he showed some subtle improvements here, namely his control of distance inside the cage as he barely got touched by Schaub before he landed the big shot, and also improvements in his ground game to slice through the guard and mount Schaub easily to set up the finish. If we’re honest Schaub’s chin let him down again but yeah, Browne looked awesome here and I’d still be interested in seeing him fight for the title somewhere down the line.

UFC World Lightweight Title: Anthony Pettis vs Gilbert Melendez

Talk about a long time coming! This was the first fight for both men in well over a year – Pettis had been on the shelf with a knee injury and Melendez had almost jumped ship to Bellator before re-signing, thank God – and then the two had coached against each other on TUF 20 (a caveat of Melendez’s new contract) to set up this meeting here. I was massively anticipating this fight and to be honest I’d have been happy with it as the main event to the show. Difficult fight to pick, too – in terms of styles the match seemed to favour the grinding style of Melendez as we’d seen Clay Guida use that style to beat Pettis before, but to be fair that was a long time ago and since then he’d of course tapped Benson Henderson, and seeing as I remembered Diego of all people landing a ton of unanswered body kicks on Melendez, I was tending to lean towards Showtime to retain. Only just, mind you.

Round One and Melendez comes out aggressively and swings his way into the clinch. He goes for the takedown right away and gets his hands clasped around Showtime’s back, but Pettis does a good job of stuffing the shot. Pettis separates but Melendez closes him with a flurry and this time gets him down. The champ immediately pops back up but he can’t shake Gil off him. Melendez tries to take the back standing and gets one hook in, landing some short punches for good measure. Pettis seems unfazed, though. Sure enough Pettis does a great job of separating. Stiff jab from Pettis. Melendez bulls in with another flurry and although he eats a couple of counters, he gets hold of Pettis and takes him down again. This time he drops a pair of big rights before Pettis begins to spring back up. Good shots land inside for Pettis too and he escapes to his feet and glances with a head kick. Melendez flurries again but takes a spin kick to the body en route to getting the clinch. They break again and Melendez eats a trio of hard counters as he rushes forward, but he still gets to the clinch. Takedown is stuffed though and Pettis breaks and clocks him with a left hook. Takedown is stuffed by Pettis and he glances on a flying knee. Melendez comes winging in with a one-two that lands to set up another takedown attempt. Pettis stuffs it again and Melendez breaks with a right. Body kick answers for Pettis and slows Gil down, and that’s the round. 10-9 Melendez as he imposed his gameplan, but he also took a bunch of sharp counters coming in too.

Round Two and Melendez again pushes forward, but he walks into a sharp right counter and this time Pettis is circling away from the fence nicely. Big counters land for Pettis as Melendez comes in but he walks through them and goes for a single leg. Pettis stuffs it and breaks off and again he catches Gil with counters in a trade-off. Body kick follows. Melendez keeps chasing forward and swinging but Pettis catches him clean with a right hand that clearly hurts him. He pushes through it and goes for the takedown again, then lands a flurry to the body to break when Pettis stuffs it. Front kick from Pettis glances off Melendez’s jaw. Gil walks through that and throws another flurry and he’s desperate to draw Pettis into a brawl it seems. Pettis again lands the sharper counters though and this time Melendez practically dives into a takedown attempt. Pettis calmly defends though and grabs onto a guillotine, and then surprisingly drops down into guard for it! Melendez tries to defend but Pettis sweeps over into mount and FORCES THE TAPOUT! WOW.

Unbelievable finish as it was the first time Melendez had ever been tapped, and the first time he’d ever been stopped period. Melendez had the right gameplan coming into this fight – try to draw Pettis into a brawl and try to grind on him and wear him down – but what cost him was that every time he was wading forward he was being tagged by sharp counters – Pettis is probably the best striker Gil’s ever fought – and eventually I think he got tagged hard enough to leave his neck open for that choke and that was the only opportunity Pettis needed. This to me was one of the best ever performances in a UFC title match in promotional history, as Pettis overcame his toughest challenge to date, and it’s hard to believe he’s since lost the belt! Still, if this is the highest point his career reaches, it’s still pretty fucking high. Tremendous performance from Anthony Pettis and the fight lived up to all the expectations.

UFC World Welterweight Title: Johny Hendricks vs Robbie Lawler

The first fight between these two, at UFC 171 in March, was an instant classic and a high-end FOTYC and right away the talk was of an immediate rematch as it’d been such a close fight. As it was, Hendricks had suffered a torn bicep and was shelved for a while and in that time period, rather than sit out, Lawler fought and beat Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown, solidifying himself as the top contender for the belt over and above guys like Brown, Rory MacDonald and Tyron Woodley. As I mentioned in the intro the fight was initially pegged for early 2015, but when Weidman/Belfort was postponed it was signed for this show. I was leaning towards Hendricks just because I felt he had slightly more ways to win than Lawler and less mileage on him, but it was a close call.

Round One and wow does Lawler look intense. He comes out wildly aggressive, backing Hendricks up with punches before landing a trio of hard knees to the body. Another big knee to the midsection and a left hook have Hendricks hurt and the champ is backpedalling. Hendricks shoots but Lawler stuffs it and makes him pay with some more knees to the body. Finally Hendricks manages to return fire with some short hooks and uppercuts inside the clinch. This is like old school Robbie Lawler with all the aggression, wow. Lawler is all over him with knees from the clinch. Takedown attempt from Hendricks but Lawler does a good job of defending it and lands with a nasty elbow inside the clinch. Unbelievable pace for the first round. They muscle for position on the fence and Lawler lands with another strong knee to the body. Hendricks is still looking for the takedown but he can’t seem to get it. Pair of beautiful knees connect flush to the champion’s face. Even deep on a double leg Hendricks can’t get the challenger off his feet. Hendricks comes back with some knees of his own but he’s eating two from Lawler for every one he’s landing. 1:30 remaining and they separate. Good leg kick from Hendricks. Nice combo follows. Hendricks’ leg kicks look good here. Big combo from the champion but he eats a right hand counter. Takedown attempt follows and this time he gets Lawler down, landing in full butterfly guard. He advances to half-guard but can’t do much with the position and that’s the round. 10-9 Lawler for that incredible start.

Round Two and Lawler opens with a body kick and a left hand. Head kick glances for him too. Body kick answers for Hendricks. Nice left hand follows for the champ. Both men land with some jabs. Pair of leg kicks inside and outside connect for the champ. Big combo follows and ends in another leg kick. Another combo has Lawler firmly on his back foot now and Hendricks follows with a takedown attempt. Lawler works to defend but he’s taking a bunch of hard knees to the thighs in the process. Two minutes to go and he manages to force Lawler onto his back, seated against the fence. Nice knee to the body for good measure for Hendricks as Lawler attempts to get back up. Good job from Lawler and he’s on his feet with just over a minute to go. NICE front kick to the face from Lawler! Hendricks backs up a bit after that one. Combo lands for Hendricks and he lands a couple more leg kicks too. Counter uppercut lands for Hendricks and then both men land with hard body kicks. Front kick from Lawler but he slips and Hendricks dives on a guillotine on the buzzer. 10-9 Hendricks in a close round.

Round Three and Hendricks stalks forward this time as Lawler opens up with a trio of front kicks to the body. Both men exchange flicking jabs and then Hendricks hits Lawler with a beautiful right-left-leg kick combo. Another combo follows with little answer from Lawler. Leg kick from Hendricks and they might be taking their toll on Robbie now. Hendricks continues to chain his combos together incredibly well. It almost seems like Lawler is waiting for the champ to slow down a bit. To be fair he hasn’t seemed hurt by any of these combos yet but they’re definitely landing. Right hand connects for Lawler but he eats a combo in reply. Hendricks looks phenomenal here. Huge combo connects for him. Sick right hook lands flush for the champion too. Takedown follows and he plants Lawler down on the first attempt this time. Robbie looks very calm though and hangs on from the guard as Hendricks tries to pin him down properly. Reversal from Lawler puts him on his feet, but Hendricks pins him into the fence. He drops for the takedown again and eventually gets Lawler down after a struggle. Round ends with Hendricks in top position although Lawler lands some elbows to the side of the head. Clear-cut round for Johny Hendricks, 10-9.

Round Four and Lawler pushes forward with punches from the off. Hendricks responds but Lawler at least seems switched back on after that third round. Good combination lands for Hendricks. He’s still using those leg kicks brilliantly too. Takedown attempt from Hendricks and he drives the challenger into the fence. Lawler defends and the crowd begin to get restless for the first time in the fight. Herb Dean calls a clean break and Lawler lands a right hand. Combo from Hendricks but Lawler swings right back and connects on a head kick and a knee to the body. One-two from Hendricks. Big exchange sees both men land heavy shots. Left hook from Lawler and he’s backing the champ up a bit now. Head kick again connects for Lawler. Combo answers for Hendricks. Takedown from Hendricks but he doesn’t have Lawler quite on his back. Lawler clings onto a front facelock and escapes to his feet, and from there he opens up and backs Hendricks up. Good leg kick from Hendricks and he shoots again but Lawler works to defend it and ends up in a sprawled position landing body shots to the side of Hendricks. Nice elbows to the head too. Hendricks looks a bit stuck as Lawler goes to town with shots, and that’s the round. Closest round yet buuuuut I think Lawler was the aggressor so I’ll go 10-9 Lawler by a hair, evening things up.

Round Five and both men come out swinging. Takedown is stuffed by Lawler who lands a left hook. Wild swings from Hendricks and he shoots from the outside but Lawler stuffs it. Hendricks drives him into the fence though and keeps trying for the takedown. Crowd seem to be behind Lawler. Herb Dean calls a break again and Lawler pushes forward swinging the right hand. Body kick from Lawler. Hendricks’s combos are coming a lot slower now. Lawler with another body kick. Nice combo from the challenger. Hendricks is still firing but he’s definitely tired. Takedown attempt from Hendricks but again Lawler defends it. He sprawls back and works the body with punches again. Another break is called by Herb Dean with two minutes to go. Left hand lands for Hendricks. Single leg attempt follows and this time the crowd boo. Lawler defends it well again though and with just over a minute to go it could be pivotal. Lawler manages to grab Hendricks’s ankle and then force him onto all fours, and now he’s landing big shots to the body and the side of the head. Hendricks might be in trouble here as he’s turtling up and clinging onto the leg as he’s taking shots. BRUTAL elbows to the side of the body from Lawler and holy shit those have to hurt. Crowd go CRAZY now as Lawler finally makes his move and explodes to his feet, nailing Hendricks with a left hand and a vicious knee! Seconds to go and he’s got Hendricks on the run, swarming on him with a nasty flurry including four heavy body kicks and a left hand! Buzzer sounds and it doesn’t look like Lawler’s ready to stop. Wow. I think that won him the round…..which makes my scorecard 48-47 Lawler and a new champ. Very tough fight to score though.

Judges have it 48-47 Lawler…..48-47 Hendricks…..and 49-46 for the NEW Welterweight Champion of the world, Ruthless Robbie Lawler. Unbelievable. Matt Hughes in the post-fight celebration seems happier for Robbie than he was in ever winning or defending his own title which is awesome to see.

First off then, while that 49-46 score is awful – I don’t see how you could give Robbie the second or third – I do think the right man won. It was incredibly hard to score as the rounds Hendricks won, he won by a bigger margin than Lawler won his, but Lawler’s high points in the fight clearly did more damage to Hendricks than Hendricks’s combinations did to Lawler and so overall I think it was Lawler’s fight. I might be giving him too much credit but it felt to me like Lawler had a very smart gameplan in that he came out very fast, forcing Hendricks to match that pace, and then he sneakily slowed down his own pace and allowed Hendricks to burn himself out while never really being hurt, and then once he felt Johny had gotten tired in the fourth he came roaring back into the fight to take over late on. It felt like Hendricks’s cardio let him down somewhat and I think that’s to do with his weight cut which he admitted himself was a bad one coming into this fight. Great fight at any rate. This Hendricks/Lawler series has been phenomenal so far with a high-end FOTYC in the first fight and then not far off that in this one, and while I’m glad they’ve decided to do Lawler/MacDonald next I’d definitely welcome a third fight between these two. And wow, who would’ve ever thought ROBBIE LAWLER would close out 2014 as UFC Welterweight Champion after his up-and-down career trajectory? Easily the fighter of 2014 and one of the most incredible climbs to the top in all of professional sports I’d say. From basically a journeyman who never lived up to his potential to the best fighter in the world. Can’t knock it. Tremendous main event to cap off a tremendous show.

-Rogan and Goldie sum up the night by discussing the possibility of Pettis vs. Nurmagomedov (pity we won’t see that one right away…) and whether it’ll be Lawler/Hendricks III or Lawler/MacDonald II next (can’t wait for the latter in July!). And that’s a wrap!

Final Thoughts….

In my year-end rankings I had UFC 178 over this one but in hindsight I think I was wrong as I’d consider this show up there with the best in company history – one fight (Anderson/Jones) was a bit of a snoozer but outside of that everything was awesome, with TWO rare bulldog choke finishes and one of the best knockouts of all time on the prelims, and then a phenomenal main card with an exciting opener, two brutal knockouts, one of the best title defense performances in UFC history and then a great back-and-forth main event with one of the most stunning title wins and career stories in MMA history. Just a completely unmissable show.

Best Fight: Lawler vs. Hendricks
Worst Fight: Anderson vs. Jones

Overall Rating: *****

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com