’s 2014 Event of the Year

UFC 181

By Brian Knapp Jan 6, 2015

2. UFC 181
Dec. 6 | Las Vegas

UFC 181 “Hendricks vs. Lawler 2” featured a pair of anticipated title fights, a 33-second knockout from a heavyweight once labeled a can’t-miss prospect and a pair of bulldog chokes. In the end, Robbie Lawler made sure it was all about him.

Lawler’s long journey through mixed martial arts reached its pinnacle, as he left the cage with the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title fastened to his waist. The “Ruthless” American Top Team product took a split decision from Johny Hendricks in the UFC 181 main event at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. Two of the three cageside judges -- Marcos Rosales and Glenn Trowbridge -- ruled in Lawler’s favor by 48-47 and 49-46 scores; a third, Sal D’Amato, cast a dissenting 48-47 nod for Hendricks.

A little less than nine months after their unforgettable encounter at UFC 171 -- Hendricks walked away from that one with a unanimous verdict -- in Dallas, the two high-caliber welterweights engaged in another back-and-forth battle for 25 minutes. Lawler stormed out of the gate with stunning aggression, tearing into the incumbent champion with repeated knees to the body. Hendricks survived the initial onslaught, carried the fight into the second round and found his groove. The Oklahoman smashed Lawler with two-, three and sometimes four-punch combinations, often punctuating them with heavy leg kicks. Lawler seemed frozen at times, but he never went away.

Late in the fourth round, Hendricks jumped on a single-leg and held on for too long, eating punches and elbows in a crouched position. The sequence seemed to turn the tide. Lawler shut down the “Bigg Rigg” again in the fifth and forced him into the same position of vulnerability, punishing his head with hammerfists and his body with digging elbows. Hendricks returned to his feet, only to be met by a blitzkrieg of winging punches from Lawler, the challenger clearly the fresher and hungrier of the two.

Lawler, who became American Top Team’s first UFC champion, has gone 6-1 since returning to the Octagon in February 2013.

In the co-main event, Anthony Pettis submitted Gilbert Melendez with a second-round guillotine choke to retain the UFC lightweight championship. Melendez, a former Strikeforce and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder who had never before been finished, asked out of the match 1:53 into round two.

Melendez enjoyed early success with repeated clinches, close-quarters punching exchanges and takedowns. Pettis did not flinch and responded to the adversity in spectacular fashion. The gifted champion cracked Melendez with a short right hook in the second round and slowly started to establish his foothold in the match. Later, he countered a takedown attempted by snatching and sitting down on the guillotine. Pettis then rolled into a mounted position, forcing the tapout from “El Nino.” The 27-year-old Pettis has won his last five fights, four of them finishes.

Other highlights from UFC 181 included Todd Duffee’s smashing KO on Anthony Hamilton, Travis Browne’s first-round stoppage against Brendan Schaub, Tony Ferguson’s rear-naked choke on Abel Trujillo and the aforementioned bulldog chokes from Raquel Pennington and Urijah Faber, the latter aided by an inadvertent eye poke.

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