UFC 181 Bold Predictions: It's Time for Johny Hendricks, Anthony Pettis to Roar
The champions are finally healthy, and the challengers each ready to take their second shots at UFC gold.
Parallel storylines, you guys!
As Saturday night's UFC 181 kicks off perhaps the most important (and potentially awesome) stretch of live events in UFC history, welterweight champ Johny Hendricks and lightweight titlist Anthony Pettis both ease back into active duty after significant injury layoffs. Good timing, right?
Across the cage from them will be two legitimate top contenders (Robbie Lawler and Gilbert Melendez, respectively) each preparing to make maybe his final try at capturing a world title. Lawler gets a do-over after losing a tight one to Hendricks at UFC 171 in March, while Melendez gets his after suffering a razor-close defeat to Benson Henderson in his initial title shot at UFC in April 2013.
So this ought to be interesting. With a few other compelling attractions on the main card, including—wait, what's this?—a couple at heavyweight, UFC 181 demands that bold predictions be made.
To that end, Bleacher Report lead writers Chad Dundas (that's me) and Jonathan Snowden are here to tell you how it's all going to play out—maybe.
Prediction: Johny Hendricks Makes It Look Easier the Second Time Around
Chad: Nobody is complaining about getting the opportunity to watch Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler do it again. Their UFC 171 bout back in March will wind up on a lot of Fight of the Year lists, and there's an awful lot to like about the notion they might renew that awesomeness this weekend. In fact, as crazy as it is to imagine Lawler winning a UFC title in 2014, we could all do a lot worse if it worked out that way and the welterweight division began 2015 with a Hendricks-Lawler trilogy in the offing.
Unfortunately, I just don't see that happening.
I keep going back to the idea that we didn't see the best version of Hendricks in their first engagement. He came into the fight with a cracked shin and then screwed up his bicep early on. So long as the champion can keep his body together the second time around, I feel fairly confident he'll have an easier task outdistancing Lawler.
On Saturday, I wager you'll see more takedowns, less swing-from-the-heels brawling and a far more clear-cut unanimous decision (or, heck, maybe even a stoppage) victory for Hendricks.
Jonathan: It's easy to remember Robbie Lawler's amazing run to the peak, if not the summit, of the UFC's welterweight division. After all, it was thrilling to see an old dog not only discover some new tricks, but also the joy that comes from doing things the right way and giving your all.
But for longtime fans, it's just as easy to recall the bad times, including a loss to middling prospect Lorenz Larkin, Tim Kennedy beating him and making it look easy and Ronaldo Souza choking him into submission.
None of those losses, no matter how old they feel, are anything close to ancient history. Those were all fights this decade. If Hendricks is any kind of champion at all, he simply shouldn't lose to Lawler even if seeing the old warhorse with the strap would feel pretty darn good.
Prediction: Anthony Pettis Stakes His Claim as a Pound-for-Pound Great
Jonathan: It's easy to forget what a great fighter Anthony Pettis is. That's partly his fault—he hasn't fought in 15 months and missed another 11-month stretch during 2012, just when he should have been etching his name into our collective memories.
But some of the blame has to be put on the system. The sport moves quickly these days, with literally dozens of UFC events a year fighting for space in our brains—so quickly that even a physical and mental marvel like Pettis can get lost in the shuffle.
UFC 181 changes that. Gilbert Melendez is an excellent fighter, but "Pretty Tony" Pettis is going to make him look astoundingly silly. It will be a win so impressive against a fighter so good that even this ADHD sport won't be able to do anything but stop and take stock.
Chad: No doubt about it, Pettis has suffered some tough breaks since bringing the WEC title over from the little blue cage back in 2011. He's been a UFC fighter all of four full years and has spent the majority of two of them on the shelf with injuries. In the meantime, though, the UFC has done all it can to keep its 155-pound champ in the public eye: putting him in the broadcast booth, on The Ultimate Fighter and even landing him on the cover of a Wheaties box.
That makes Pretty Tony pretty lucky if you ask me.
But your point is well made. If you cast around on this overstuffed roster for young, exciting, finely coiffed gentlemen who should be able to lead the UFC into the next generation (#TheTimeIsNow, #WhatDoYouFightFor?) Pettis is one of the guys who jumps off the page. In order to make good on that potential, obviously, he'll have to stay more active moving forward.
If anything can be said in Melendez's favor in this fight, it's that he's catching Pettis after this long layoff. Maybe the former Strikeforce champ can turn this bout into one of the knock-down, drag-out grinders he seems to specialize in and eke out a decision? Nah, probably not. I have Pettis here, too, but I'm at least hoping Melendez can give him a test so that we can see the UFC lightweight champ fight for, like, 25 minutes this year.
(One other note: In fairness, not all of Pettis' misfortune can be heaped on a body perennially set on self-destruct. He's also been a victim of circumstance. Remember, he was supposed to get an immediate title shot against the winner of Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard before their UFC 125 fight ended in a draw and the rematch was nearly a year in the making. Instead, Pettis played the good soldier and fought Clay Guida in his Octagon debut—and lost. So there was that, too.)
Prediction: Travis Browne vs. Junior Dos Santos Becomes Inevitable
Chad: The heat behind Travis Browne's rise through the heavyweight division cooled considerably while he put up a 3-2 record from October 2012 to April 2014. Because this is the heavyweight division we're talking about, however—and because Browne still qualifies as a top-flight prospect—he's managed to hold onto the No. 3 spot in the UFC's official rankings.
Similar accolades cannot be heaped on Brendan Schaub, who is unranked (seriously, how can you be unranked in the UFC heavyweight division?) and 2-3 in his last five fights.
For those reasons, predicting what happens in this bout is not particularly bold; Browne will rekindle his momentum after he wins by some kind of impressive stoppage, probably in the first round. Maybe via those funky elbows he favors.
The interesting thing is what happens afterward. The UFC heavyweight title is mired one of its typical states of duress, so we know Browne probably can't become No. 1 contender this weekend. After he beats Schaub, there'll really only be one place for him to turn, and it's a pretty fun one: Junior dos Santos.
Dos Santos will beat Stipe Miocic in the main event of December 13's UFC on Fox event, and it will set up a meeting with Browne in the spring of 2015. Yes, that's going to be awesome, and in the UFC heavyweight division, we have to take these small victories where we can get them.
Jonathan: A digression of sort: Did you know there were a group of people interested in what UFC heavyweight Brendan Schaub thinks about stuff? It's true! He's apparently the star of a podcast called The Fighter and The Kid.
Fun fact No. 2: The "kid" in question is actually a 47-year-old balding comedian. I swear, just when I think I have the world figured out, it goes and throws me for a loop like this.
Anyway, I agree. I hope Schaub is getting pretty good at this podcasting stuff because he doesn't seem to be improving much as a fighter.
Prediction: Todd Duffee Is Still a Thing
Jonathan: UFC 102 felt like the birthplace of something pretty special. Watching Todd Duffee knock out another enormity in just seven seconds was a revelation. His willingness to play along with the team at Heavy.com afterwards in a goofy skit backstage was also a pleasant surprise.
A fierce heavyweight with an active and engaging personality? I could practically smell money in the air. Of course, there's a long walk from your UFC debut to the UFC Hall of Fame—and Duffee stumbled badly.
Maybe the warning signs were there. After all, it was all over quickly enough that he had time to grab a free meal at the media buffet before they took all the food away. And maybe his personality did go beyond gregarious and straight to obnoxious?
Our mistake, like most, feels obvious when you're staring at it in the rear view mirror. Duffee subsequently lost consecutive fights, became a laughingstock for applying for a Testosterone Replacement Therapy exemption in his 20s and was so difficult to work with, the UFC simply cut ties.
Here's the thing, though: That all feels like ancient history, and the man is still just 28 years old. Considering his physical gifts and the sorry state of the heavyweight division, I can still picture him making a run. The first stride happens at UFC 181.
At heavyweight, a dude like Brock Lesnar can roll in and win the title in his fourth professional fight. Mark Hunt can come back from the dead and compete for a major championship at age 40. Sean Gannon and Kimbo Slice can both go from the basement to pay-per-view with minimal pit stops in between.
I mean, James Toney. Tank Abbott. Kimo Leopoldo. You get my drift?
So, yeah, it's not that crazy to think a blue-chipper like Duffee can still make good. His dalliance with TRT was regrettable, his 19-second knockout loss to Alistair Overeem was painful and his recent battle with Parsonage-Turner Syndrome was potentially career-threatening.
Maybe he learned something along the way?
In any case, now he's back, is still shockingly young for this weight class and going off as a 3-1 favorite over Anthony Hamilton, according to Odds Shark.
If you ask me, there's a top-five spot in the heavyweight division just waiting out there for Duffee to scrawl his name next to it.