Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) closed the book on its 2014 pay-per-view (PPV) line up with its final offering of the year in UFC 181, and it turned out to be arguably the year's best card both on paper and after the fact.
In the main event, "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler won a hotly contested split decision over Johny "Bigg Rigg" Hendricks to earn the UFC welterweight title (highlights here). The rematch was just as epic as the duos first bout back in March, and fans can expect to see them throw down again in 2015.
In the co-main event, Anthony "Showtime" Pettis proved that a 15-month layoff did not cool off his hot streak, as he became the first man to finish the former Strikeforce champion Gilbert "El Nino" Melendez. After a tough first stanza, Pettis rebounded with a picturesque guillotine choke in the second round to defend his title for the first time (highlights here).
Before the action unfolded in Las Vegas, there were a ton of promotional appearances and interviews to generate awareness for the highly anticipated PPV. Fighters said this and that, hyping the fight and event in hopes of garnering massive buys for UFC's final PPV of 2014.
MMAmania.com does a pretty good job of passing along all the noteworthy pre- and post-fight comments for each event. So, as we've done before, let us look at some of the most glaring remarks said not long before they stepped into the cage on Saturday night.
This is probably my last shot at gold. If not, it's probably going to be a couple of years before I earn that shot again. I recognize the opportunity and it could be my last shot at it. There is a little bit of pressure about it, but now I feel at ease. The pressure was getting to me a little bit, but now I've let it all go.
-- This is going to be a tough quote to look back upon for the former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez. After getting finished for the first time in his professional MMA career, Melendez will fall to the bottom of the pecking order. At age 32, Melendez is not getting any younger as the youthful, hungry contenders continue to ascend up the 155-pound division rankings.
The loss was Melendez's second in a UFC title bout, so it is likely that his assessment is correct; "El Nino" will not be fighting for UFC gold anytime soon, and UFC 181 may have been his final opportunity.
I feel like he's on his way out of the peak of his career, and I'm just entering it. I think his peak of his career, I wouldn't say it's passed, but he's not starting it anymore. I'm just starting to tap into my grown-man strength, my full potential, my knowledge of fighting. I'm very confident in this fight.
-- Anthony "Showtime" Pettis sure hit the nail on the head with this quote.
While some saw the lightweight champion's comments as too abrasive and offensive for such a talented fighter as Gilbert Melendez, "El Nino" himself said after the fight that Pettis made him feel a bit old. The facts are that Melendez is likely on his way out of his prime, and considering he was just finished for the first time, it corroborates the champ's theory.
Now let's not forget that Gilbert Melendez is still a top-five lightweight, but there is no doubt his time at the top is dwindling.
As for the champion, if Pettis is just tapping into his full potential now, he is going to be a scary sight for fellow 155-pound fighters for a long time to come.
I want it to be one-sided. I don't want to take any bumps or bruises, I want to go out and dictate all aspects and go out the way I came in. I'm looking to dominate and dictate.
-- Well Robbie Lawler, your game plan may not have come to fruition, but the desired outcome worked out nonetheless.
Anyone who watched Lawler and Johny Hendricks throw down in their rematch at UFC 181 will tell you that is was a very close fight. In fact, Lawler was the one being dominated and dictated many a times throughout the 25-minute affair.
In the end, Lawler earned the split decision victory and UFC title belt by pouring it on Hendricks in the final two rounds, dominating and dictating from bell to bell. Even though he left the cage with bumps and bruises, we are sure Lawler is one happy camper this Sunday.
My last three fights, I haven't been able to get a knockout and that's what I want. I know Robbie is thinking about a knockout too. We're that type of fighter. We can both take and give punches and that's what is exciting about this.- Via Sherdog
-- Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler sure pulled out all the pre-fight hyperbole you would expect, but ultimately neither man was able to make the other quit after 50 minutes of fighting over 10 rounds in their two bouts this year.
After earning five (technical) knockouts in his first 10 UFC bouts, Hendricks has been unable to take out his last four opponents. Whether it is a change in style in order to be a more disciplined and active striker, or just a matter of fighting stiffer competition, Hendricks has struggled to find the knockout power he was once so feared for.
Will Hendricks be able to get the finish next time out, or will he have to deal with yet another controversial decision? Only time will tell.
That's a wrap!