Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler put in five more rounds in their rivalry. But this time around Ruthless Robbie scored a controversial decision win.
Lawler set a frenetic pace by bum-rushing Johny Hendricks in the first round of their welterweight title fight. The champion slowed the pace by grinding Lawler against the cage and ultimately landing a late takedown.
Hendricks scored with several beautiful combinations in the second. The wrestler landed damaging leg kicks and knees to the thigh before securing a takedown. Lawler came alive in the last minute with several front kicks.
The middle round witnessed Hendricks tee off on the challenger, following up punches with effective leg kicks. The champion scored a quick takedown before ending the round with another. Lawler appeared gassed and lethargic; Big Rig’s fuel gauge, full.
Hendricks continued to dominate the standup battle and land the occasional takedown without much in the ground-and-pound department. Lawler lands several head kicks but Big Rig drives through them. Lawler ends the round in a promising position by nailing Hendricks with hands and elbows.
Lawler enters the final round likely in need of a knockout. He stuffs a takedown early but Hendricks issues knees to Lawler’s thighs. It bores the crowd and Herb Dean, who resets the action in the center of the octagon. The fight takes place as a leanfest against the cage. Dean again resets. When Hendricks goes for another takedown, Lawler punishes him with hammerfists and elbows to the body. Lawler explodes as they rise to their feet. Hendricks finds himself in serious trouble. A grateful champion hears the horn roar.
The judges stun the crowd by announcing Lawler a split-decision winner, with one judge remarkably finding it a four rounds to one affair. Breitbart Sports, which scored the first fight 3-2 for the loser Lawler, scores the second fight 3-2 for the loser Hendricks.
In the co-main event, Gilbert Melendez landed takedowns, applied pressure through volume punching, and bullied against the cage to give Anthony Pettis a rude welcome back to the octagon after a fifteen-month layoff in the first round of their lightweight title fight. Pettis regained his footing in the second round by landing kicks and getting the better of exchanges. Showtime lived up to his nickname by locking up a tight guillotine to elicit a quick tap from Melendez at 1:53 of round two to retain his belt.
The Wheaties-box coverboy explained to Joe Rogan after the win, “I’m the champ for a reason.” Melendez philosophically waxed, “S#!+ happens.”
Travis Browne scored a devastating uppercut to Brandon Schaub in the first round of their heavyweight fight that sent the former NFL practice-squad player to the ground. The Hawaiian rained punches down from full mount before flattening out a face-down Schaub. Browne secured the finish by alternating left-right-left strikes in that dominant position that ended the bout with just ten seconds remaining in the first frame.
Todd Duffee stayed away from the Octagon for two years. He stayed in it for 33 seconds. The athletic heavyweight landed a textbook right to Anthony Hamilton’s temple that dropped the big man awkwardly and triggered the intervention of referee Herb Dean.
An explosive Abel Trujillo dominated Tony Ferguson in the first round of their lightweight fight on the opening bout of the pay-per-view card. But as Trujillo gassed in the second, Ferguson capitalized. The Ultimate Fighter-winner ultimately coaxed a tap on a rear-naked choke.
On undercard, Urijah Faber snagged a controversial submission victory over Francisco Rivera in their bantamweight tilt. After a competitive first round in which the underdog appeared to get the better of the California Kid, Faber followed up an illegal eyepoke with a bulldog choke on his damaged opponent. Josh Sammon delivered a highlight-reel kick that connected his shin to Eddie Gordon’s face that disconnected his brain from consciousness.
After a disappointing year overflowing with injuries, cancellations, and underwhelming cards, UFC 181 ends the year on an exclamation point, giving fans several highlight-reel knockouts, a new welterweight champion, and the triumphant return of the most exciting fighter on the planet in the co-main event.