Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) pulled out all the stops for their year-end pay-per-view (PPV), and boy did it pay off. After a sensational evening of fisticuffs, including two outstanding title fights, UFC 181 will ultimately be remembered as one of the year's very best events.
UFC 181 went down this past Saturday (Dec. 6, 2014) from inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. The PPV featured two title fights in the lightweight and welterweight divisions respectively, as well as a couple of heavyweight slobberknockers, and a bevy of enthralling battles that definitely satisfied those in attendance and the thousands watching around the globe.
In the main event, "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler earned the split decision nod over Johny "Bigg Rigg" Hendricks to win the UFC welterweight title in stunning fashion (highlights here). While the scorecards will undoubtedly be hotly debated, the good news is that we will more than likely see the duo throw down for a third time in 2015.
In the co-main event, Anthony "Showtime" Pettis proved why he is the UFC lightweight champion, becoming the first person to ever finish former Strikeforce champion Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez. Pettis defended his title in style, earning a guillotine choke victory in the second round (highlights here).
With that quick recap of the night's marquee bouts, it is now time to play matchmaker with our "Next Matches To Make."
Winner: Tony Ferguson
Who Should He Fight Next: Jorge Masvidal
"El Cucuy" is 7-1 in the Octagon, including his season 13 title of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), and yet Ferguson remains unranked in the stacked lightweight division.
Currently riding a four-fight winning streak, I fully expect to see Ferguson take a big step up in competition in order to prove himself as a legitimate contender in the 155-pound division.
With so many options available at lightweight to provide enthralling fights, my pick of the litter would be a scrap with Jorge Masvidal. Considering Ferguson asked for a top-10 opponent at the press conference (watch it), I wouldn't mind seeing him take on Edson Barboza next, either.
Winner: Todd Duffee
Who Should He Fight Next: Ben Rothwell
The heavyweight division is truly a crapshoot after the top three or so fighters, so it is quite difficult to predict who Todd Duffee could face off against next, but I have a few ideas that would certainly be entertaining.
Considering Duffee asked for a top-10 opponent at the post-fight press conference (replay), I expect UFC to grant the behemoth's request. If that is the case, a bangfest with Ben Rothwell could provide fans with another brutal finish.
If UFC wants to give Duffee a bigger test in order to fast track him up the ladder, a fight against No. 9 ranked Roy Nelson could potentially headline a UFC Fight Pass card or co-main event a FOX Sports 1 event in early 2015.
Winner: Travis Browne
Who Should He Fight Next: Mark Hunt or Andrei Arlovski
Again, predicting heavyweight fights is no easy task, but Travis Browne taking on either Mark Hunt or Andrei Arlovski sounds intriguing to me.
Considering Hunt is fresh off a brutal knockout loss to Fabricio Werdum at UFC 180, I doubt UFC gives "The Super Samoan" Browne as a rebound fight.
With Andrei Arlovski winning two straight inside the Octagon, including a vicious knockout over Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, a fight with Browne would be an excellent addition to a PPV in 2015.
Then again, I could easily see Browne facing off against the winner of Junior Dos Santos vs Stipe Miocic, who collide at UFC on FOX 13 later this month.
Winner: Anthony Pettis
Who Should He Fight Next: Khabib Nurmagomedov
"Showtime" will need to practice his wrestling, because Khabib Nurmagomedov is an entirely different animal.
With "The Eagle" set to return from knee surgery in early 2015, UFC should rightfully matchup Pettis and Nurmagomedov for the next lightweight title fight, but it is possible they go a different route. With Nurmagomedov still relatively unknown to the casual fan, UFC could opt to have Pettis fight the winner of Myles Jury vs Donald Cerrone even though Pettis ran through "Cowboy" just two years ago.
When it comes down to it, however, Khabib is 22-0, including six dominant Octagon victories, and has been campaigning for a title shot for months on end. The Russian deserves his crack at UFC gold, and he could potentially be the only true threat to Pettis right now in the entire division.
Winner: Robbie Lawler
Who Should He Fight Next: Rory MacDonald or Johny Hendricks
One thing is for sure, Robbie Lawler will be in a rematch once again the next time he steps into the Octagon.
The newly-minted UFC champion wants to take some time off after a hectic 2014, but don't expect to see Lawler on the sidelines for too long as two contenders wait in the wings. With Hendricks and Lawler splitting their series at one victory apiece, it would be hard for UFC to throw away the opportunity of an epic trilogy fight.
Then again, Rory MacDonald has earned his No. 1 contender spot by winning three straight over very tough opposition since losing to Lawler via decision back in late 2013. Considering Dana White himself has noted that MacDonald earned his title shot, it would be hard to go back on his word (but that has not stopped him before).
Either way, Hendricks or MacDonald will be the next man to face off against the "Ruthless" one.
That's a wrap!