Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returned to "Sin City" last evening (Sat., Dec. 6, 2014) with the exciting UFC 181 pay-per-view (PPV) event live from Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. After an outstanding PPV that capped off 2014 in style, fight fans will certainly hope for UFC to keep up the captivating cards heading into 2015.
In the main event of the evening, "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler won a hard fought and hotly contested split decision over Johny "Bigg Rigg" Hendricks in their rematch to earn the UFC welterweight title. Although Hendricks had his bright spots throughout the fight, a strong finish from Lawler may have sealed the deal for the American Top Team (ATT) product.
Check out the highlights here.
In the co-main event, Anthony "Showtime" Pettis returned from his lengthy layoff to choke out Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez in the second round of their lightweight title fight (highlights here). The win was Pettis' first UFC title defense, and was his fourth straight finish victory.
Also featured on the PPV card were heavyweight finishes as Todd Duffee and Travis Browne earned knockouts over Anthony Hamilton and Brendan Schaub, respectively. The PPV main card was kicked off with a lightweight bangfest as Tony Ferguson submitted Abel Trujillo via rear-naked choke in a sensational comeback.
With that quick recap, here are your biggest winners, as well as the runners-up from last night.
Biggest Winner: Anthony Pettis
Layoff? What layoff?
Anthony Pettis may have had a tad bit of ring rust early on in his first UFC title defense, but ultimately the lightweight champ left Las Vegas with the title firmly strapped around his waist.
After a 15-month layoff due to injury and coaching on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20, Pettis proved once again that he is the best lightweight in the world, becoming the first person to ever finish Gilbert Melendez. In his last two fights, Pettis has submitted Melendez and former UFC champion Benson Henderson; that is something special indeed.
It is quite evident that "Showtime" is a new breed of fighter who is quickly covering up any minor holes he may have had in the past. If someone does not stop Pettis soon, he could become the most prolific lightweight champion in history.
We are sure Khabib Nurmagomedov will have something to say about that.
12 years and 31 fights after his UFC debut, "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler is a UFC champion.
Lawler may not have looked his best against Johny Hendricks last night, but he did enough in the judges' eyes to earn the split decision victory in their rematch. While many will cry foul after another tough decision loss for Johny Hendricks, it could be argued that Lawler won rounds 1, 4, and 5 to win the title.
See the scorecards here.
Lawler's title victory caps off an absolutely sensational run since his return to UFC back in early 2013. After going 3-5 in Strikeforce including losses to Lorenz Larkin and Renato Sobral, Lawler returned to the Octagon a new fighter and has worked tirelessly to prove his doubters wrong.
Heading into 2015, Lawler is the undisputed UFC champion, and that is an accolade that can never be taken away from him.
The Other Comeback Kids
Todd Duffee and Josh Samman returned to the Octagon on Saturday night after lengthy layoffs, and both men returned to the win column with highlight-reel knockouts.
In the "Prelims," Samman stormed back from his 20-month layoff that saw him endure countless injuries and family hardships en route to a hellacious "Knockout of the Year" contender over the most recent TUF winner, Eddie "Truck" Gordon.
Todd Duffee returned in his usual violent fashion, knocking out Anthony Hamilton just 33 seconds into their PPV main card bout. Duffee had not fought for nearly two years, as he battled a rare neurological disorder named Parsonage-Turner Syndrome (PTS) that put his career in jeopardy.
The wins for both Samman and Duffee put both men back on the map in their respective divisions heading into 2015.
In a night where UFC fans may have seen the very best of Johny Hendricks, the former champion did not do enough to earn the decision in Las Vegas.
Hendricks looked outstanding on the feet the entire night, putting together stirring combinations that put Robbie Lawler in a defensive shell on multiple occasions. There is no doubt Hendricks was on the receiving end of some massive shots from Lawler as well, as the former champ left the Octagon a bloody and swollen mess.
As a whole, Hendricks took a lot more damage, but round by round many believe that "Bigg Rigg" deserved to keep his title. While it may not be as controversial as the "loss" to Georges St-Pierre, Hendricks will certainly be frustrated as he makes the long trek back home without UFC gold.
On the bright side, Hendricks can look forward to either rematching Lawler in an epic trilogy bout, or he may be forced to wait until Rory MacDonald gets a crack at the "Ruthless" one prior to fighting for the belt again.
Melendez said it best himself, Anthony Pettis made the former Strikeforce champion look a little old last night.
"El Nino" had a strong first round, but once Pettis got loose on his feet, it seemed only a matter of time before the UFC champion would catch him. Ultimately, "Showtime" landed a hard right hook that forced Melendez to drop in for a takedown, and before you could even blink, the lightweight champ latched on to the fight-ending guillotine.
Not only did Melendez lose his second shot at UFC gold, but he also was finished for the first time in his career. It will take quite some time before Melendez is back in title contention, and in the deep lightweight division nothing is a guarantee.
In the biggest fight of his career, Francisco Rivera was a victim of a terrible decision, but not in the way you would expect.
The record books will forever show Rivera losing to Urijah Faber via bulldog choke in the second round, but the reality is that Rivera was doing very well against the former WEC champ prior to an inadvertent eye poke that led to the finishing sequence for Faber.
The referee unfortunately missed the foul, which allowed Faber to sink in the fight-ending choke moments later. Even with the replay clearly showing the eye poke resulting in the finish, the submission victory was awarded to Faber leaving Rivera with an unfortunate loss.
The decision will definitely sting Rivera for quite some time, as he will need a big rebound victory in order to get another marquee chance like he had last night.
That's a wrap!
For more results and fallout from UFC 181 including play-by-play, videos, reactions, recaps, and more, check out our "Hendricks vs Lawler 2" live story stream right here.