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Winner's Circle! UFC 181 championship preview for 'Hendricks vs Lawler 2' PPV

What could victory mean for Johny Hendricks, Robbie Lawler, Anthony Pettis, and Gilbert Melendez ahead of their respective title bouts this weekend (Sat., Dec. 6, 2014) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada? ponders the consequences below.

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In the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), there is little room for error. In Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), every successive bout could mean one more step towards glory and stardom or a pink slip from UFC brass. In the end, winning is absolutely paramount.

UFC returns to the pay-per-view (PPV) fold this Saturday (Dec. 6, 2014), with UFC 181: "Hendricks vs. Lawler 2" live from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the final UFC PPV of 2014, the promotion has stacked the deck with two sensational title fights as well as a plethora of intriguing match ups throughout the card.

In the main event, UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks will defend his title against Robbie Lawler in a rematch of arguably the year's best fight. At UFC 171 back in March, Hendricks defeated Lawler via unanimous decision in a razor close and exciting battle, earning the vacant title in the process.

The co-main event features the lightweight title fight between Anthony Pettis and former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez. Both men are coming off long layoffs and have yet to fight in 2014, but fans can rest assured the world's top two lightweights will shake off any ring rust in order to deliver a sensational fight.

With victory meaning the difference between leaving Las Vegas with UFC gold, there could not be more on the line for the four headlining fighters heading into this weekend's PPV. With that being said, let's take a glimpse into the future and predict what victory could potentially mean for each competitor.

Johny Hendricks

History is on the line for "Bigg Rigg" this Saturday evening.

In a division that was dominated by Georges St-Pierre for seven years up until he vacated his title in December 2013, Hendricks can become the first welterweight champion not named "Rush" to defend the strap in nearly nine years. The last person to defend the welterweight title prior to St. Pierre's reign was Matt Hughes in his defense over BJ Penn back at UFC 63 in 2006.

Besides the historic nature of this title fight, Hendricks wants to prove once and for all that he is the best welterweight on the planet. After defeating Lawler back at UFC 171, questions remained whether or not Hendricks earned the decision due to the fact the fight was so unbelievably close.

If Hendricks defeats "Ruthless" this weekend, even his harshest critics will have nothing to lament about come Sunday morning.

Hendricks won't have much time to rest on his laurels if he does defend the belt this weekend, as No. 2 ranked Rory MacDonald is patiently waiting for his crack at UFC gold. Expect to see Hendricks vs MacDonald throw down in the first half of 2015 barring any injuries to the champion this Saturday night.

Robbie Lawler

Redemption is on the mind of the "Ruthless" one.

Robbie Lawler made his UFC debut all the way back at UFC 37, defeating Aaron Riley via unanimous decision at the ripe age of 20. Twelve years later, Lawler is set to battle in his 14th UFC bout, and he has the opportunity to leave Las Vegas as the undisputed champion.

Lawler and Hendricks may have provided an epic war nine months ago, but "Ruthless" wants nothing more than to "dominate and dictate" on Saturday night en route to a knockout victory over the champion.

Lawler was just five minutes away from UFC gold back at UFC 171, as Hendricks poured it on in the fight's waning moments, earning a crucial takedown that ultimately sealed the victory for "Bigg Rigg." With a second opportunity to earn the UFC belt, Lawler will need to put on a career performance against Hendricks on Saturday night.

If Lawler does pull out the victory, he too won't have much time to enjoy his victory, as a hungry Rory MacDonald would love a rematch against Lawler in early 2015. Back at UFC 167 in late 2013, Lawler defeated MacDonald by split decision in a back-and-forth bout. That victory earned Lawler his first shot at UFC gold, and now he has one more chance to get the job done at UFC 181.

Anthony Pettis

Let's not jinx it folks, but it finally looks as if Anthony Pettis will return to the Octagon this weekend.

The oft-injured champion has been unable to stay active during his UFC career, although in each successive fight his talent and stardom shine ever brighter.

Since winning the WEC title back in December 2010, Pettis has only fought five times. In fact, Pettis has yet to have more than two fights in a year during his UFC stint. Regardless, "Showtime" is the champion for a reason, and you can bet he is dying to showcase his skills this Saturday evening.

With Pettis returning from a long injury layoff as well as a coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20, this title defense will be his first since winning the belt back at UFC 164 in August of 2013.

If Pettis does get through Gilbert Melendez this weekend, we hope that he will utilize that momentum into a very active 2015 that sees him defend the belt at least three times. As for his next potential opponent, I would expect to see "Showtime" take on what would likely be the stiffest test of his career in the returning undefeated Russian Sambo champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.

With Nurmagomedov eyeing his return from knee surgery for February, UFC can opt to have him fight in a No. 1 contender bout, or take on Pettis right off the bat for UFC gold.

Gilbert Melendez

The former Strikeforce champion has something to prove, and Anthony Pettis is the lone man standing in his way.

"El Nino" has long believed that he is the best 155-pound fighter in the world, and that is certainly saying something when you consider the depth of this division over the last five or so years.

While UFC champions BJ Penn, Frankie Edgar, and Benson Henderson dominated the lightweight division inside the Octagon, Melendez was busy building his own resume by pummeling his opponents over in Strikeforce. After seven straight victories, all in title bouts, Melendez finally joined UFC when Strikeforce's roster folded back in late 2012.

Melendez was given his opportunity for UFC gold right off the bat, but the indomitable Henderson was unwilling to hand over his strap just yet, earning the split-decision nod over the former Strikeforce champ in a highly contested and controversial decision.

With the judging sting still fresh on his mind, Melendez comes into his second UFC title fight this Saturday with hopes of finishing the job within five rounds. If Melendez ultimately does walk away from the Octagon with the title around his waist, don't expect to see him sit on the shelf for an extended period of time.

Considering Melendez has not fought many of the upper-echelon UFC contenders in the lightweight division, there is a plethora of options for UFC brass if "El Nino" earns the title on Saturday. If Nurmagomedov is not ready for a title shot upon his return, Melendez could see either Rafael dos Anjos or Donald Cerrone next, assuming both men win their upcoming scheduled bouts against Nate Diaz and Myles Jury, respectively.

The future is bright.

For all the latest UFC 181: "Hendricks vs Lawler 2" news, information, updated fight card, and more click here.

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