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The Downes Side: UFC 181 Predictions

UFC / WEC veteran Dan Downes talks strategy and predictions for UFC 181: Hendricks vs. Lawler 2, taking place Saturday, December 6...

That’s right boys and girls, it’s time for another double gold certified edition of the Downes Side! Not only that, it’s Neil Diamond approved.

This weekend we have two title fights coming to you live from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada for UFC 181. He may not be as fashionable as a rhinestone cowboy, but Oklahoma’s Johny Hendricks defends his belt for the first time against the man he beat to earn it. Forever in blue jeans, Robbie Lawler can finally become UFC champion over 12 years after his first appearance in the Octagon. In the co-main event of the night, Anthony Pettis defends his lightweight title for the first time against former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez. Cracklin’ Rosie get on board. It’s fight time!


We open the main card in the lightweight division with Tony Ferguson and Abel Trujillo. Winner of The Ultimate Fighter Season 13, the well-rounded Ferguson currently rides a three-fight win streak. Nicknamed “Killa,” Trujillo has been living up that particular nom de guerre with two straight KO wins over Roger Bowling and Jamie Varner.

This fight hinges on how Ferguson will come out. He may not have the same level of explosiveness as Trujillo, but he does have KO power. He also has the better wrestling. As long as he doesn’t decide to stand and trade with his opponent (which he has been known to do), he can dictate where this fight goes. Trujillo’s takedown defense rate is 37.21%, which is technically referred to as “not that great.” Ferguson by decision.


Next we jump up to heavyweight for Todd Duffee and Anthony Hamilton. Despite making all that sweet Never Back Down 2 money, Todd Duffee gives up the silver screen to return to the Octagon for the first time since December 2012. Holding a 2-1 mark in the UFC, both his wins have been by first-round knockout. After an unsuccessful debut, “Freight Train” Hamilton bounced back with a second round TKO in August where he assaulted Ruan Potts’s body worse than Thanksgiving dinner last week.

It’s always hard to determine how a guy will respond to a long layoff. What we do know, though, is that Duffee has the physical tools. That natural power and athleticism should still be there. That’s why Hamilton has to make this ugly. He’ll get in tight, force the clinch and test Duffee’s conditioning. Only two of Duffee’s fights have gone out of the first round, and this one will be number three. Hamilton pulls off the upset by unanimous decision.


We stay at heavyweight for Travis Browne and Brendan Schaub. After losing his shot at the heavyweight title to Fabricio Werdum, Browne could really use a win here to start another title run. Coming off a split decision loss to Andrei Arlovski, a win here could instantly make Schaub relevant while allowing him to avoid “gatekeeper” status.

Those who accuse Schaub of having a “glass jaw” exaggerate the point, but you always have to be careful of Browne’s power whether you can take a punch or not. Schaub has added more wrestling and submission attacks to his game instead of relying solely on kickboxing, but he won’t get Browne to the ground. Browne defends at an 85.71% rate and he’ll use that to keep it standing. Schaub will close the distance early, but Browne will beat him up in the clinch with knees and elbows to take the first round TKO.


That takes us to the first title fight of the night between Anthony “Showtime” Pettis and Gilbert Melendez. After winning the belt from Benson Henderson with a first-round armbar, injury problems have sidelined Pettis for over a year. Known for his flashy striking, he has a dangerous guard and seven career submission finishes. Despite an unsuccessful first attempt for the UFC title against Benson Henderson, Melendez has another opportunity here.

Melendez may not have all the flash of Pettis, but he gets it done. The only losses of his career have been close decisions. While the Sanchez fight showed that he can fight down to his competition, he always seems to elevate his game when necessary. Having said that, I don’t see how he wins here. Melendez keeps a loose guard when he fights at distance and Pettis is one of the best in the world at exploiting that. He’ll beat Melendez’s body with kicks (the same way he did to Henderson) and then finish things off with a head kick. No one questions his toughness, but Melendez falls in the third. Pettis by TKO.


Time for the main event! Undeterred by a close decision loss to Georges St-Pierre, Hendricks found himself on the good side of a close decision over Lawler in March. Sidelined by a bicep injury, the former All-American wrestler is eager to retain his place at the top of the welterweight ladder. While Hendricks has been healing up, Lawler has continued his late career resurgence (even though he’s 32, Lawler has been fighting professionally for over 13 years) with wins over Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown.

It was interesting to see Hendricks be willing to stand toe-to-toe with Lawler, and we’ll see whether or not he’ll duplicate that strategy here. The two were even in the stand-up and Lawler seemed to negate Hendricks’s perceived wrestling advantage. Everything came down to that fifth round, and Lawler appeared to tire out. After getting that close victory, there’s no way Lawler makes the same mistake again. It’ll be another tight, back and forth fight, but Ruthless Robbie Lawler will be the new UFC champion via decision.

That wraps up another Downes Side that’ll make it feel like Christmas. Follow me on Twitter @dannyboydownes. Also, don’t forget to leave your own predictions, thoughts, holiday decorating ideas and favorite Neil Diamond cameos on the page here. Anybody else own Saving Silverman on DVD?