After a recent string of dubious pay-per-view (PPV) cards that saw Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) ask its consumers to purchase fights that were likely not even worthy of a FOX Sports 1 (FS1) main card (barring UFC 178), fight fans can revel in the fact that UFC 181 is finally next on the docket.
Headlining the absolutely stacked PPV is the colossal welterweight title rematch between undisputed champion Johny Hendricks, and formidable No. 1 contender Robbie Lawler. Back in March, at UFC 171, Hendricks and Lawler threw down in an epic five-round war that anointed Hendricks as the new champion following longtime titleholder George St-Pierre vacating the title just a few months earlier.
With Hendricks sidelined for much of 2014 following bicep surgery, Lawler stayed active, defeating Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown in order to re-earn his shot at Hendricks and UFC gold.
That's not all.
UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis will finally make his first title defense inside the Octagon as he takes on the former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. After coaching against each other on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), Pettis and Melendez will finally square off after a long sabbatical.
When the lightweights do ultimately step into the Octagon as the co-main event of the evening, it will be the first time either man fought in 2014.
UFC 181 goes down this Saturday (Dec. 6, 2014) on PPV live from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. With two title fights possibly changing the entire landscape of UFC in just one evening, MMAmania.com pondered "Five Burning Questions" heading into this weekend.
5. How will the long layoff affect Todd Duffee?
Remember when Todd Duffee made his UFC debut back in 2009, knocking out Tim Hague in just seven seconds? Well, five years later Duffee is 2-1 inside the Octagon and has been unable to stay healthy long enough to earn contender status in UFC.
After a strange release from UFC due to a "poor attitude," a loss to Alistair Overeem in DREAM overseas, his return to UFC, and a battle against the rare neurological disorder Parsonage-Turner Syndrome (PTS), Duffee is finally healthy enough to return to the cage and prove he is more than a one-punch wonder.
It has been nearly two years since Duffee last stepped foot inside the Octagon, so will the long layoff hurt him?
On the other hand, Duffee's UFC career has been littered with health issues, so his layoff could potentially pay dividends in that he will be 100-percent healthy for the first time.
Luckily for Duffee, UFC is in desperate need of contenders in the heavyweight division, and a win over Anthony Hamilton could catapult the behemoth up the rankings.
Will Duffee seize his opportunity and begin a title run, or simply fade away?
4. Who will break into the top 15 in the lightweight division, Abel Trujillo or Tony Ferguson?
The lightweight division may in fact be the most stacked in the entire promotion.
The depth of the division is truly shown in this match up of finishers as Abel Trujillo and Tony Ferguson look to continue their ascents up the lightweight ladder. Although both men have impressive UFC records, neither Trujillo or Ferguson are ranked among the division's top 15 contenders. That will more than likely change this Saturday night, regardless of who leaves Las Vegas with a victory.
Ferguson, TUF 13 winner, is riding high on a three-fight winning streak heading into this bout. Momentum won't necessarily be on "El Cucuy's" side however, as Trujillo is on an impressive winning streak of his own. "Killa" has earned knockouts in his last two bouts, proving to be one of the most dangerous and powerful strikers in the division.
This opening bout on the PPV main card could prove to be the evening's dark horse for "Fight of the Night." Who will earn a crack at a top-15 opponent with a win Saturday evening?
3. Can Urijah Faber continue his incredible streak of winning non-title fights and potentially earn another crack at UFC gold?
Former WEC featherweight champion and perennial UFC contender Urijah Faber is undefeated inside the Octagon whenever a title is NOT on the line.
In 10 UFC appearances, Faber is 7-3, losing all three chances he had at the bantamweight title. In his seven victories, Faber has taken out nearly every top contender the division has.
Considering his Team Alpha Male teammate TJ Dillashaw is the current bantamweight champion, it is unlikely Faber will be fighting for UFC gold anytime soon, so can he continue his winning streak outside title fights long enough to earn one more crack at the crown?
Looking beyond Faber's UFC career, "The California Kid" has failed to earn a title in his last six opportunities (WEC or UFC), while earning victories over 10 contenders.
With Dillashaw expected to face off against former UFC champion Dominick Cruz in 2015, a win for Cruz could potentially earn Faber a crack at his bitter rival in an epic trilogy fight. If the dominoes fall in place for Faber, he could find himself fighting for UFC gold once more in late 2015.
First things first: Faber must continue his streak and defeat Francisco Rivera this weekend in the "Prelims" main event.
2. Will Anthony Pettis or Gilbert Melendez be fighting ring rust as well as each other?
Anthony Pettis has earned a Reebok sponsorship, his picture on the front of a Wheaties box, and was the most recent coach on TUF all since earning the lightweight title back at UFC 164 in August 2013.
Basically, Pettis has done everything other than fight in 2014, but the lightweight champion will finally get his opportunity to showcase his skills as he defends his title for the first time this weekend against Gilbert Melendez.
The former Strikeforce champion has not exactly stayed very busy either, as Melendez has not competed since his epic war with Diego Sanchez back at UFC 166.
Regardless of their long layoffs, no one will question that fact that both men are two of the very best lightweights in the world, but will ring rust affect them on Saturday night?
Obviously, fans are hoping for an outstanding title fight between these two incredible martial artists, but we have seen ring rust affect the best of fighters in the past. Considering both men are of championship caliber, I think we can all reasonably expect them to shake off any ring rust early in order to deliver the epic bout we are anticipating.
1. Can Robbie Lawler learn from his mistakes from his first fight against Johny Hendricks and leave Las Vegas as the champion Saturday night?
Let's take a quick trip back to UFC 171.
It was a late March evening in Dallas, Texas, as Lawler and Hendricks stood across the cage from each other, both men just five minutes away from achieving the sports' highest accolade, the UFC championship title.
Just before the fifth and final round of their epic battle, Hendricks and Lawler pumped up the already raucous crowd as Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg got set to call the decisive round in the extraordinarily close and enthralling bout.
Ultimately, Hendricks poured it on Lawler with about 1:30 left to go in the fight, rocking "Ruthless" with a brutal combination that was finished off with a double-leg takedown that sealed the victory and championship for "Bigg Rigg."
Leaving Dallas without the title was undoubtedly difficult for Lawler, but there was no question that he was one round away from earning UFC gold. Battered, but not beaten, "Ruthless" made a quick return to the cage, defeating two opponents in succession to re-earn his shot at Hendricks this weekend.
Will Lawler be able to finish what he started back in March, or will the champion reign supreme once more in another epic battle? I for one, cannot wait to find out.
That's a wrap!
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