As promised, I have stepped away from the data gathering process to provide some quick picks for this Saturday’s UFC 181. I feel like this particular fight card is too important not to cover it. I’m just going to warn you right now that I haven’t done the research I would normally do to make predictions. These picks are based mostly on the opinions I’ve already developed.
Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler
I’m done doubting Robbie Lawler. I’ve made it clear on numerous occasions that having such a dramatic career turnaround after over a decade of fighting is not normal in this sport. In nine out of ten cases, a fighter on Robbie Lawler’s career path would have faded into obscurity. Lawler has not only not faded, he’s found himself earning a second shot at the UFC welterweight title.
In a pure kickboxing match, I would have to favor Lawler over Hendricks. Lawler has better movement, timing, and power. Hendricks packs plenty of power himself but tends to be more flat-footed, exchanging blows more often than not. Of course, when a guy like Hendricks has great power AND an amazing chin, exchanging blows isn’t the worst thing. Hendricks’ wrestling is what makes him the favorite here, more for the threat of the takedown than the takedown itself. Lawler can’t kick or knee as freely as he would like to because he doesn’t want to give up takedowns like the fifth-round takedown that won Hendricks their first fight. I think Hendricks will have a little more success with takedowns this time and win by decision, although I anticipate another highly competitive match.
Pick: Johny Hendricks by decision
Gilbert Melendez vs. Anthony Pettis
This is a very interesting match to me. Pettis is a great, creative striker, and a knockout artist, but I don’t think he’s ever faced a volume striker with good defense like Melendez. (Donald Cerrone brings the volume but not the defense.) Pettis has mostly faced grapplers in the UFC like Benson Henderson, Clay Guida, and Joe Lauzon. This fight should mostly remain standing and I have to think that Melendez will land strikes at a higher pace than Pettis. Pettis will want to keep space, move and set up his kicks, while Melendez will want to close the distance and make it more of a brawl. It’s intimidating to pick a +240 underdog but Melendez opened at +145. I think he has what it takes to pull off the upset.
Pick: Gilbert Melendez by decision
Travis Browne vs. Brendan Schaub
Browne is a huge puncher and Schaub has a poor chin, so that’s a recipe for a knockout. Schaub has dealt with other KO artists by taking them down (Lavar Johnson) but Browne has proven very difficult to take down throughout his UFC career. Schaub can absolutely out-point Browne with strikes and win by decision, but that requires him to be able to absorb some of Browne’s strikes without going down, and I still lack faith that Schaub can do that.
Pick: Travis Browne by KO
Todd Duffee vs. Anthony Hamilton
If Dominick Cruz’s performance is any indication, there shouldn’t be much concern for fighters coming off a long layoff. Duffee is the far and away superior athlete to Anthony Hamilton, with fluid striking and excellent power. However, Duffee also doesn’t have the greatest cardio, and Hamilton has some good knockout power himself. Hamilton could potentially win by knockout, but I have to think the first round will be all Duffee, and I consider him a favorite to get that first-round KO victory.
Pick: Todd Duffee by KO
Tony Ferguson vs. Abel Trujillo
I’ve been generally negative about Abel Trujillo’s abilities and been mostly wrong. Trujillo is an aggressive and violent striker with knockout power and a good chin. He tends to get in wild brawls a lot but usually has the advantage in those situations. I don’t understand why Tony Ferguson is a -250 or better favorite here. Ferguson is not hard to hit and doesn’t usually go for takedowns often enough to win fights that way. I have to think this will be a very competitive striking match. I’ll give Ferguson the slight advantage due to being the taller and longer fighter, but Trujillo looks like a good degenerate gambling pick to me.
Pick: Tony Ferguson by decision
Bonus: Urijah Faber vs. Francisco Rivera
It’s not on the main card, but a Urijah Faber fight is a big enough deal for me to cover it. I’ve stated on numerous occasions that if Faber has a “weakness,” it’s his striking. Faber excels when he’s able to complete takedowns and grapple, but often struggles when he just kickboxes. I don’t think Rivera has what it takes to shut down Faber’s grappling. If Faber decides to stand and strike for some reason, Rivera should prove to be a game opponent with some chance of winning by knockout. If Faber grapples – and I anticipate he will – he should be able to out-class Rivera on the ground.
Pick: Urijah Faber by submission
$4.00 on Gilbert Melendez +240 (to win $9.60) and $2.00 on Abel Trujillo +225 (to win $4.50).
And with that, it’s back to the data gathering grind. My current hope is to have this model finished by the week of UFC 182: Jones vs. Cormier.