It must be said, for as much as the UFC has dealt with injuries derailing so many events this year, UFC 181 was a fantastic show and a great way to cap of their PPV offerings for 2014. This was a strong card on paper and it delivered in a big way, and hopefully this is a sign of things to come for 2015. The night's main event had some controversy with the judges' decision to award Robbie Lawler the victory over Johny Hendricks, but ... Robbie Lawler is a UFC champion in 2014. How crazy is that?
With all of that in mind, it's time now to see what's in store for the main card fighters from last night's scintillating show. Lawler is the new champion at welterweight, while Anthony Pettis is still the UFC's best at lightweight. Who will they get next?
Robbie Lawler. To quote Jim Lampley when a geriatric George Foreman KO'd Michael Moorer in 1994, "It happened! IT HAPPENED!". Whether you agree with the decision or not (and if you agree with 49-46 Lawler then we need to talk), Robbie Lawler is entering 2015 as the #1 welterweight in the world. Rory MacDonald should be next for him, and while I favor Lawler to win again versus "Red King" (or whatever the hell Rory's nickname is today), I think it will be another terrific fight. There's no need for an immediate rubber match with Hendricks, by the way.
Johny Hendricks. In the span of 14 months, Hendricks has gone from a heartbreaking controversial loss to Georges St-Pierre, to beating Robbie Lawler in dramatic fashion to win the UFC welterweight title, to losing his belt in controversial fashion to Lawler. Win or lose against Kelvin Gastelum next month, I see Tyron Woodley as Hendricks' next opponent.
Anthony Pettis. Wow. What else can you say? Even after a 15 month layoff, he finished Gilbert Melendez. No one before him had ever been able to do that, and now he's successfully defended his lightweight belt for the first time. Khabib Nurmagomedov has been relentlessly calling him out, and he continued to do so post-event. From a stylistic viewpoint plus rankings perspective, it's time to give Khabib his title shot.
Gilbert Melendez. It's likely Gil's last shot at a title and it's a rough way to lose. He looked just fine in the 1st round but the superior talent won out, and Melendez was forced to tap out for the first time in his career. I don't have a great feel for what the UFC does with him for his next fight, but pending the outcome of his fight with Myles Jury, I think he gets Donald Cerrone. If they want to keep Melendez away from contenders, then set him up with Bobby Green.
Travis Browne. It's no shock that he beat Brendan Schaub. He's a vastly superior fighter just about everywhere and he won with a knockdown and then ground-and-pound over a visibly hurt opponent. This was a way to get back into the winning groove and stay afloat as a contender. Andrei Arlovski would be a great opponent for "Hapa".
Brendan Schaub. This shouldn't change anyone's opinion of Brendan Schaub. He is not anywhere near the upper echelon of heavyweight, but he's not so hopeless that he should be spending his time in other promotions. I say he gets Jared Rosholt next.
Todd Duffee. *ahem* TODDDUFFEE! Another starching by Duffee in the Octagon puts him at 3-1 in the UFC, and I believe the next logical step up in competition after his triumphant return should be vs. Soa Palelei.
Anthony Hamilton. Oof. Another first round loss drops him to 1-2 in his last 3, and he was destroyed in a half-minute. His only win is vs. Ruan Potts, who might be one of the worst fighters presently on the roster. A loser-leaves-town match with Josh Copeland seems appropriate.
Tony Ferguson. Overcame a rough 1st round and once again showed his slick submission skills and top-notch cardio to get another victory. Depending on the severity of his injury, I'd love to see him fight Jorge Masvidal next. I know, I always get Masvidal in "Fights to Make", but he's the perfect gatekeeper/borderline contender to test Ferguson.
Abel Trujillo. This loss more or less defines Trujillo's ceiling as an action fighter who doesn't have the tols to become a contender. He badly gassed out and doesn't offer a diverse enough skillset to carry him towards the top of the division. I'd like to see him against Ross Pearson.