UFC 181 marked the first time in a couple months that I sat down with the old group of family members and ordered a PPV event. I was becoming a bit disenchanted with a lot of decisions the company (UFC) had been making, involving some uninteresting fights with uninteresting fighters, on pay-per-view cards that weren't worth the $60 they were charging me on my Verizon cable bill. This even, though, was exciting on paper and was filled with fighters I enjoy and knew would put on a good show.
And HOLY SHIT were we not disappointed. Even in my excitement building up to the card (a renewed excitement, almost like a foreshadowing that this event would bring me back into the regular mix of actually reserving the Saturday night time to watch these events when they are on), what transpired was greater than I had hoped.
Initially, I expected the titles to stay in the hands of the men who held them. As the Anthony Pettis vs. Gilbert Melendez fight began, my thoughts swayed. Gilbert looked like he had a great game plan and knew exactly what he needed to do to stop the mostly inactive current champion in Pettis. In the first round, Pettis looked a bit slow (except for a few flashy kicks), his hands didn't look the same, and Gilbert's pressure looked to stifle everything that made Pettis a dangerous fighter. Then the second round happened, and Pettis pushed Melendez's head down and pulled the Alpha Male-reminiscent guillotine choke. The finish was a tremendous surprise, especially given the pedigree of Gilbert Melendez's grappling credentials.
Then Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler happened. I had in my mind that Hendricks would win no problem this time, and initially, after the opening barrage by Lawler, it appeared that way. Jump ahead all the way to the end of the fifth round with Lawler pumping himself up as though feeding off of the gritty energy from the pro-him crowd, and the first words that came out of my mouth were, "If only this fight was scored by the old Japanese rules of scoring a fight at the END of the entire fight, not every round."
Robbie Lawler pulling the "surprise" split decision victory to become the new Welterweight Champion actually shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. The majority of Hendricks' takedowns resulted in nothing offensive, if only to "score points" (as Melendez would keep putting it as coach of the current season of the Ultimate Fighter). I remember asking if anyone had Dana White's Twitter feed handy in the fourth and fifth round because he had to have been pissed with all the holding Hendricks was doing. That kind of "late in the fight" performance is exactly the kind of thing that makes for boring fights, even if earlier in the fight he was scoring with some great combinations and leg kicks.
What actually surprised me the most was that the judges saw the fight in favor of the guy who was on the opposite side of the takedowns for what as far as I can remember is one of the first times in UFC or even MMA history that a high profile fight was scored for the actual aggressor at the most important time of the fight - the bitter end. The very bitter, bitter end.
I couldn't be happier with the decision. I'm happy to see Robbie Lawler's journey through his young adult life in the early days of the UFC and throughout his growing career as one of the top fighters in the world today. Johny Hendricks is a great fighter as well, but I don't like seeing champions playing it relatively straight and safe. I like seeing risk takers, and that's what Anthony Pettis did.
As for the rest of the card, I was very pleased with the amount of actual finishes. Tony Ferguson's rear-naked choke of Abel Trujillo was pretty solid given the beat-down he was narrowly taking in the first round. Todd Duffee's return from his two-year layoff battling Parsonage-Turner syndrome was almost as fast as his UFC debut as he knocked out Anthony Hamilton with a right hand powered from the ground up 33 seconds into the first round.
As a fan of Brendan Schaub, it was a bit difficult to watch Travis Browne demolish him the way he did. It was unfortunately expected, as I saw Browne on a much higher level of fighter than Schaub and knew it would end pretty much exactly this way back when the fight was first announced.
Overall, I'm happy to have watched this card on my return to the old family digs of watching the PPV with the old crew again. The night was filled with finishes all around (with an awesome head kick by Josh Samman in the prelims, and a rare "bulldog choke" ala Carlos Newton on Pat Miletich by a 4-5 record Raquel Pennington), and you couldn't ask for a more stunning finish to the night.
PREDICTIONS FOR FUTURE MATCHUPS:
Robbie Lawler vs. Rory MacDonald 2 for the Welterweight Championship
Johny Hendricks vs. winner of Hector Lombard vs. Josh Burkman
Anthony Pettis vs. Rafael dos Anjos if he beats Nate Diaz, OR the winner of Donald Cerrone vs. Myles Jury
Gilbert Melendez vs. Rafael dos Anjos if he loses to Diaz, OR Khabib Nurmagomedov OR Edson Barbosa
Todd Duffee vs. Ben Rothwell
Travis Browne vs. winner of Junior Dos Santos vs. Stipe Miocic
Tony Ferguson vs. Bobby Green