Last Saturday night (Dec. 6, 2014) was a historic one at UFC 181, which was filled with so many big moments: a new welterweight champion with roots from Bettendorf, Iowa, and the Pat Milietich-led fight camp, a Lighweight champion that continues to annihilate his competition in the toughest division in the sport, and the signing of CM Punk to the UFC roster (read more about that here).
I thought about a lot of these moments and let them marinate a bit on Sunday while at Home Depot searching for the perfect Christmas Tree. Hey, you have to appease the girlfriend after a whole night of fights. It's a nine footer if you are wondering and it had to be strapped to the roof. And yes, I felt like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Even had the "there it is" moment when we found the chosen Fraser fur that would set up shop in our humble Detroit abode.
Sidebar: I also went with the girlfriend to see Christmas Vacation in an old school gem of a place out here called the Redford Theatre on Friday. Great place, $5 a ticket, organ player during intermission, fun crowd and people dressed as Aunt Bethany and Cousin Eddie. If that isn't a Friday-night win, I don't know what is. I can cross that one off the ole' bucket list now.
What can I say? I'm officially in the Christmas spirit. That combined with what took place at UFC 181 has put me in great mood. So now I will share with you some thoughts on all the action that went down in the Octagon in Las Vegas, Nevada, over the weekend and on some of the big performances, as well as some other musings.
"Hallelujah and holy sh*t! Where's the Tylenol?"
Pennington had a whole in the middle of her forehead (see it here) that with a few more punches landed, you may have been able to peek in and see what she was thinking. In one of the most exciting moments on the "Prelims" under card, Pennington locked up Ashlee Evans-Smith in an old-school head lock and proceeded to get the finish with a bulldog choke right at the horn. Unfortunately, if you were watching at home on FOX Sports 1, the producers cut to commercial thinking the round was over and missed the Pennington's celebratory moment. I believe the last choke of that kind was when Carlos Newton subbed Pat Militech back at UFC 31 in 2001. By the way, Miletich was in the building in support of Robbie Lawler. I thought that was kind of cool since it became an old school kind of night.
"The California Kid" was back as the headliner on the FOX Sports 1 "Prelims" against Francisco Rivera. The fight was pretty much dead even when Faber hit Rivera with an eye poke that referee Mario Yamasaki failed to see. Faber pounced on the hurt Rivera and finished him with the second bulldog choke of the evening (watch it here). Was it gamesmanship by Faber or terrible accident? We will never know. Rivera plans to appeal, but it will likely not be overturned. Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) doesn't overturn fights often if at all. Meanwhile, Faber continues to win outside of title fights and will be back in the title-fight conversation soon enough.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 13 winner's rear-naked choke victory over Abel Trujillo (watch highlights here) makes it four wins in a row for "El Cucuy" since a unanimous decision loss to Michael Johnson at UFC on FOX 3. Ferguson continues to improve and is 7-1 in UFC with five finishes. One has to think a higher-ranked opponent is going to be next for him.
Staying with the "old school" feel, Duffee was back in action in his second fight since returning to UFC. Duffee flatlined Anthony Hamilton with a huge overhand right that was worthy of a "Bah Gawd" from Jim Ross. Hamilton crumpled awkwardly to the canvas and Duffee has back-to-back knockouts. The seven-year veteran isn't going to sniff a title, but he will continue to be fun to watch in fights like that one.
Browne is back in the win column with a technical knockout win over Brendan Schaub (watch highlights here). It's a nice rebound after losing by unanimous decision to Fabricio Werdum in a Heavyweight title-fight eliminator back in April. The fight went played out exactly how I thought it would. Browne is the superior fighter and it showed. His next match up will be an interesting one. Junior dos Santos vs. Stipe Miocic happens in just five days (Dec. 13, 2014), so perhaps he will face the winner of that match up.
Pettis is just a straight-up killer and is the great white of UFC's shark tank of a division known as Lightweight. Melendez has never been finished in 25 career fights and Pettis saw the opening and snatched a guillotine to close the show. Pettis now has back-to-back finishes in title fights (Benson Henderson and Melendez) and four finishes in a row. He is talented, nasty and finishing opponents at an alarming rate. Khabib Numagomedov could be the next match up for the Roufusport fighter.
Melendez, meanwhile, appears to be the bridesmaid and not the bride in UFC. Regardless, he is still one of the greatest 155-pound fighters that sport has ever seen. He was a champion in Strikeforce and can still hang with anyone in the division. Very similar to Faber, who was champ in World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), but hasn't won in UFC either, yet he is still one of the very best in the sport. A third crack at the title that has eluded Melendez may be out of reach, but this sport is always full of surprises, so perhaps "El Nino" gets one more shot before all is said and done.
Robbie Lawler wins split decision over Jonny Hendricks to win UFC welterweight title
As we have all learned and witnessed from following this sport, close fights are really up for grabs, especially when it comes to five-round decisions. Lawler won with 48-47 (Marcos Rosales) and 49-46 (Glen Trowbridge) score cards over the 48-47 (Sal D'amato) card Hendricks received (see scorecard pic here). I scratched my head, as did most, with Trowbridge's 49-46 card for Lawler, but I did not think the decision for Lawler was a robbery.
For the record, upon initial viewing, I thought it would be 48-47 across the board for Hendricks. The first round was close, but I favored Lawler. Second and third looked like Hendricks all the way and then "Big Rig" began to run out of gas in the last two. He was clearly stalling and trying to run out the clock, while Lawler was looking to do whatever it took to get the "W."
Lawler clearly won the last round and was pouring it on at the end until the horn sounded, Hendricks dropped to a knee sapped of energy. Not exactly the way you want to finish as a champ. The judges favored Lawler and that's that.
Seeing Matt Hughes put the belt around Lawler's waist with Miletich standing next to them smiling like a proud father was easily one of the most warm and memorable moments in UFC history. By becoming the Welterweight champ, Lawler, who was one of the members of the Miletich Fighting Systems camp along with Hughes, Tim Sylvia, Jens Pulver and many others, has put the stamp on one of the greatest redemption stories in the sport.
Now a member of American Top Team, he became the first UFC champion from that camp, too. Let go after a loss to Evan Tanner at UFC 50 in 2004, Lawler fought in Elite XC and Strikeforce and returned to the Octagon in 2013. The 32-year-old known as "Ruthless" has won seven of eight fights upon his return and many felt he defeated Hendricks in their first title-fight match up. Just an amazing story, fantastic fight and visceral moment. The Bettendorf, Iowa, lineage of Miletich, Huges and now Lawler.
As for Hendricks, he is still one of the best and as tough as they come, but the obvious thing to take away from this is the former champion's gas tank. He simply ran out of gas and energy when it mattered most. He does cut a large amount of weight for each fight and he may have to prepare differently going forward. As far as a trilogy fight, I'd prefer to see Rory MacDonald take on Lawler next. Those two have a history and Lawler upset the Canadian to get his first UFC Welterweight title shot.
Now he has the belt. That is a solid narrative. Let Hendricks take on one of the top contenders in the division next.
UFC signing CM Punk
Looks like Dana White and Co. are willing to have a little fun with this one. Having a guy that has never fought professionally before jump into the fray in the highest level of the sport is just absurd. But, since he is a former WWE champion and superstar and pay-per-view (PPV) draw, they are willing to let him attempt his dream and see if they can cash in on it. I don't see how he wins whoever they put him up against. You would think they would put him up against a low-tier fighter or maybe a fighter making his pro debut, too.
Chael Sonnen told me yesterday that he thinks it makes no sense to do that with the attention Punk (real name Phil Brooks) will get and what they will pay him. After hearing that, I tend to agree with him. I didn't prior to speaking with him, but he made a good point. He is 36-years-old and has already skipped the line as far as fighting in the regional scene and paying his dues goes. So, why not just put him up against a recognizable name? Again, I don't think he is beating anybody, whether they are 0-0, 1-1 or 0-2.
Screw it. Throw him in there and see if he can swim.
WWE fans, casual fans and others with morbid curiosity will tune in for it the first time. May as well make it a name opponent other people know. I can't see him fighting more than once before this chapter comes to a close. As Sonnen said, it's a bucket list for Punk. It looks like the UFC is in a charitable mood with this one, but will gladly take the PPV numbers that Punk will likely draw from the fan base outside of MMA.
See you next time, Maniacs!
By the way, our Christmas tree that I mentioned earlier -- literally just toppled over. Ahhh ... Mondays.