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UFC 181 predictions, preview, and analysis

Esther Lin

Ready for round six?

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweight champion Johny Hendricks hasn't competed since capturing a narrow unanimous decision win over Robbie Lawler at the UFC 171 pay-per-view (PPV) event last March, thanks to an injured bicep that may or may not have hindered his performance.

As for "Ruthless?"

He came back for a pair of fights against Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown, and won them both.


Now it's time for "Hendricks vs. Lawler 2," which headlines tomorrow night's (Sat., Dec. 6, 2014) UFC 181 event inside Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, featuring a co-main event between Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez.

Two top talents who haven't competed for over a year in the prime of their mixed martial arts (MMA) careers because of injuriescontract disputes, and The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20.

Is normal.

Those are just two of the five main card PPV fights I'll be breaking down below, which includes a couple of compelling bouts in the light and heavyweight divisions, in what is shaping up to be one of the better fight cards in recent months.

Looks good on paper. Will it deliver on fight night?

Let's find out.

170 lbs.: Johny "Bigg Rigg" Hendricks (16-2) vs. "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler (24-10)

Nostradumbass predicts: Much has been made about this championship rematch ever since it first went down back in March; namely, what will happen when these two combatants enter round six tomorrow night in Las Vegas. Johny Hendricks believes his injured bicep hampered his performance the first time around, and that he'll be more dominant in this weekend's rematch.

Cool story, bro.

My problem with "Bigg Rigg" is that he's not the savvy boxer he thinks he is. There is no denying his power (just ask Jon Fitch), but his success against Robbie Lawler in rounds one and two at UFC 171 had more to do with Lawler being a notoriously slow starter than it did with Johny's ping-ping-ping flurries.

We saw what happened in rounds three and four when "Ruthless" got his sea legs and started working his stand-up game, which is just as effective defensively as it is offensively.

And those crucial takedowns in the latter half of the contest had more to do with fatigue than takedown defense, and Hendricks has been on the shelf for eight months. During that span, Lawler competed twice and looked sensational both times. If anyone is going to be sucking wind in "Sin City," it's the bearded champion.

Now if Lawler can start checking a few of those leg kicks...

Hendricks had a great performance against Georges St. Pierre, but let's not overlook the fact that he could have very easily lost that Josh Koscheck fight and he wrestled his way past Carlos Condit. I won't disagree that he's one of the best the division has to offer, but tomorrow night on PPV, he's going to have to settle for second best.

Final prediction: Lawler def. Hendricks via unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Anthony "Showtime" Pettis (17-2) vs. Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez (22-3)

Nostradumbass predicts: Showtime? More like Brotime, because all I keep hearing from the Bro Army is u see doze kix bro... Anthony Pettis is a great striker. But his boxing is not on par with his kicking game and once you shut that down, it changes the entire dynamic of the fight.

Let's not forget he was just one judge away from losing that split decision to Jeremy Stephens, which would have marked two losses in a row after Clay Guida dumped him and humped him for three rounds. This is not an attempt to discredit his recent accomplishments, which have been impressive, but rather a reminder that Pettis is not invincible.

This is not a lock by any stretch of the imagination.

How this fight plays out could depend on what kind of gameplan Gilbert Melendez employs on fight night. If he assumes the role of gritty barfighter, like he did against Diego Sanchez in late 2013, he's getting KTFO. But if he cuts off the cage, disrupts his opponent's rhythm, and makes this an ugly, grinding affair, there is really no reason he can't outwork the champ.

Especially if the fight goes past the second round.

Both fighters have been out of the cage for over a year, but the difference is that Melendez has still been able to train, whereas Pettis just started getting sweaty a few months ago.

In addition, "El Nino" has been five rounds a staggering seven times in his career and can probably do it with his eyes closed. That's of particular importance in this fight because it won't be a pointfighting match, where Pettis will be afforded ample time to strike, retreat, reset, circle out, and so on and so forth.

Melendez is going to be in his face, grinding him into the cage, taking him down, and wearing him out for 25 grueling minutes. Pretty? No. Effective?

We'll find out tomorrow night.

Final prediction: Melendez def. Pettis via unanimous decision

265 lbs.: Travis "Hapa" Browne (16-2-1) vs. Brendan "Big Brown" Schaub (10-4)

Nostradumbass predicts: Travis Browne made a name for himself by knocking out a bunch of guys in the top 15, in the same way Brendan Schaub made a name for himself by getting knocked out by a bunch of guys in the top 15. Put those two together and what do you have?

A foregone conclusion.

Schaub is 6-4 under the UFC banner and four of the six fighters he defeated are no longer employed. I just can't build a credible case for him and that's not even taking into account that he has been knocked out -- brutally -- in three of his four losses.

Browne is bigger, nastier, and has fought much tougher competition over the past four years. He's not a perfect fighter, as we saw in his most recent loss to Fabricio Werdum, but he can absorb a tremendous amount of punishment. Alistair Overeem was playing Hawaiian whack-a-mole in 2013, but "Hapa" weathered the storm, came back, and won by knockout.

I don't think it's disrespectful to suggest that Schaub is a better athlete than he is a fighter and in the heavyweight division, that can probably win you 50-percent of your fights. But Browne is a legitimate mixed martial artist, and it's only a matter of time before he proves it at UFC 181.

Final prediction: Browne def. Schaub via knockout

265 lbs.: Todd Duffee (8-2) vs. Anthony "Freight Train" Hamilton (13-3)

Nostradumbass predicts: Todd Duffee was -- and continues to be -- a mystery to me. Is he a next-gen fighter with unlimited potential? Or a whiny crackpot who looks simply looks the part? Duffee was just 23 when he made his Octagon debut, a seven-second knockout win over Tim Hague.

Like most young fighters with instant success, you couldn't tell him anything and he bounced around from camp-to-camp, doing his own thing and getting cut from UFC for having a bad attitude. Well, a few losses -- and one debilitating syndrome later -- and he's back inside the cage.

Without TRT.

Since he's fought 10 times and all 10 fights have ended by way of knockout, I'm not expecting this one to go to the cards. But rolling over Anthony Hamilton is not going to be easy. The "Freight Train" is a towering 6'5" and has done some knocking out of his own.

But just one submission win gives me pause.

If this plays out on the feet, and I believe it will, I have to favor the younger, faster, and more agile fighter. It may not even be a question of who the better striker is when you talk about fighting at heavyweight, because with this kind of power, it's usually just a question of who lands first.

Final prediction: Duffee def. Hamilton via technical knockout

155 lbs.: Tony "El Cucuy" Ferguson (16-3) vs. Abel "Killa" Trujillo (12-5, 1 NC)

Nostradumbass predicts: Abel Trujillo -- like a lot of up-and-coming fighters -- quickly made a name for himself in UFC by putting his opponents to sleep in devastating fashion. That includes his grotesque knockout over Jamie Varner back in February, one that marked his third finish in four UFC fights.

But that doesn't mean he's a one-trick pony.

"Killa" is also a competent wrestler and not completely helpless on the ground. Whether he wants to or not, Tony Ferguson is going to have to win this fight on the feet. Dangerous, but not impossible. It all depends on whether he fights intelligently, using his reach and cutting off angles, or if he gets lured into a brawl.

The former is the path to victory, while the latter is the path to the emergency room.

"El Cucuy" is also a prolific finisher and has grown considerably since his time in the TUF house, and a submission win over his overly-aggressive foe would not surprise me. That said, I do expect him to get rattled early, only to regain his composure and win this lightweight battle using brains, not brawn.

Final prediction: Ferguson def. Trujillo via unanimous decision

That's a wrap. will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 181 fight card tomorrow night (Sat., Dec. 6, 2014), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised under card bouts at 8 p.m. ET and then main card PPV, which is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET.

For previews and predictions on the preliminary card fights click here and here. To see all the odds and betting lines for UFC 181 click here and remember to come check us out after the show for all the latest results, recaps and coverage of "Hendricks vs. Lawler 2."

What do you think? Now it's your turn ... let us have it in the comments section and share your thoughts and picks for tomorrow night's event.

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