Fight Picks – UFC 181: Hendricks vs. Lawler

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The Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA will this weekend play host to UFC 181 – arguably, on paper, the best UFC card of 2014. Two titles are up for grabs on Saturday night with the welterweight and lightweight straps being contested. The UFC fight pass prelims begin at midnight for Irish viewers followed by the prelims at 1am and the main card at 3am – both of which can be seen on BT Sport 1. Here are my individual fight picks, bonus predictions and bet of the week.

Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler

After Georges St-Pierre vacated his UFC welterweight title following a tight tussle with Johny Hendricks, the belt was put up for grabs in a fight between Hendricks and veteran Robbie Lawler in March of this year. That bout was a razor thin contest won by Hendricks after securing a late takedown in round 5 and will be re-matched this Saturday night. The first fight between the pair was the last outing for champion Hendricks who has been nursing and recovering from a series of injuries ever since. Lawler, conversely, has been extremely active – beating Matt Brown and Jake Ellenberger on his way back to the gold.

The second edition shouldn’t be too much different to the first. Both men are short, stout power punchers who have no problem standing in the pocket, hand-fighting and exchange combinations. Hendricks is by far the more accomplished wrestler but had trouble taking Lawler down in the first fight – something he blamed on the injuries he was carrying. If there is even a little truth to that, and Hendricks is healthier this time around, he should be taking the win here. The former Oklahoma wrestler proved he has the capability of matching or bettering Lawler on the feet the last time they went at it; if he can add in more takedowns this time around it should be a straightforward path to victory.

My pick – Hendricks via decision

Anthony Pettis vs. Gilbert Melendez

Finally, after more than a year on the shelf, the UFC lightweight belt will be dusted off and brought out to play this Saturday night as the perennially injured champion Anthony Pettis takes on the former Strikeforce lightweight king Gilbert Melendez. The latter also had his fair share of inactivity in the last year as he coached The Ultimate Fighter alongside the recovering Pettis following a contract dispute which saw “El Nino” almost sign with Bellator. The last time Melendez was seen in action he became part of arguably the greatest MMA bout ever against Diego Sanchez just a few weeks after Showtime took the belt from former champion Benson Henderson.

Pettis is a slick striker who whips in blows using every method you could come up with to finish his opponent. Melendez is much less flashy and will come forward, chew down on his mouthpiece and give every single ounce of himself to the cause. In his last fight, Pettis showed off his improving submission game and, against someone with the wrestling ability of Melendez, he may well need it. I see Pettis coming out strong here and Melendez needing to weather a storm in the first two rounds. Once he does that, the fight is there for the taking. Melendez isn’t an easy man to finish and can more than hold his own striking while Pettis isn’t the strongest wrestler in the world. When the fight goes into deep waters Melendez will shine. I think he has enough to be competitive on the feet and get enough takedowns to win at least three rounds. This is a huge fight for both men and will be the best victory of their career for whoever wins. I’m taking the underdog.

My pick – Melendez via decision

Tony Ferguson vs. Abel Trujillo

When a match is made between two similarly ranked fighters in the UFC usually you’re not sure if the two competitors will cancel each other out in a boring fight or put on a great show for the fans. Sometimes, though, you just know it will be an epic back and forth brawl – this is one of those fights. Trujillo and Ferguson are two of the most exciting fighters in MMA’s most exciting division. Trujillo is all about power from the pocket while Ferguson throws unorthodox speed strikes. Neither man is all that worried about wrestling but Ferguson is a submission whizz if the bout does hit the floor – and, the way these two hit, I think it eventually will. The fans are the real winner in this one but I think Ferguson will latch onto a limb at some stage and force Abel to submit.

My pick – Ferguson via submission

Travis Browne vs. Brendan Schaub

After losing to Fabricio Werdum last time out, Travis Browne decided to uproot from his regular training camp with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque and instead train at Ronda Rousey’s camp in California; something which his opponent Brendan Schaub, who is a good friend of Rousey, says will be a bad thing. Schaub himself lost last time out also (although he was robbed by the judges) in a snoozefest with Andrei Arlovski and will be looking to bounce back here – that won’t be easy. Browne is a big athletic heavyweight with good wrestling and varied striking. Schaub is a more methodical fighter who fights in a manner which protects his suspect chin. On the floor, though, Schaub has been improving no end and will likely look to use his submissions to get the finish. I don’t see that happening, though. Browne will only need to find the chin once to finish the fight and with his ability, despite Schaub’s defensive prowess, it will be a tough task to stop him from doing that.

My pick – Browne via KO

SHORT PICKS  
Todd Duffee vs. Anthony Hamilton – Duffee via KO
Urijah Faber vs. Francisco Rivera – Faber via submission
Eddie Gordon vs. Josh Samman – Gordon via decision
Corey Anderson vs. Justin Jones – Anderson via decision
Raquel Pennington vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith – Pennington via decision    
Sergio Pettis vs. Matt Hobar – Pettis via KO
Alex White vs. Clay Collard – Collard via decision

BONUS PICKS

Fight of the night – Pettis vs. Melendez

Performance of the night – Faber and Duffee

BET OF THE WEEK

My bet of the week this time out is a four way accumulator of Browne, Duffee, Gordon and Sergio Pettis which will quadruple your money. Also, although I’m siding with a KO win for Travis Browne, 5/1 for him to win via decision against Brendan Schaub, who has been known to be ultra defensive, could be a nice money maker.

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma