Dan Hardy column: Two world titles on the line, including Robbie Lawler vs Johny Hendricks, should make UFC 181 a night to remember

British UFC welterweight and UFC commentator, Dan Hardy, looks ahead to the action at UFC 181 this weekend

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The Independent Online

My wait is finally over! This weekend, at UFC 181 in Las Vegas, two world titles will be on the line. Opposing coaches on the recent season of The Ultimate Fighter (the reality TV series produced by the UFC) will be battling it out for the lightweight world title in the co-main event. In the headliner we will see the long awaited rematch between the challenger, 'Ruthless' Robbie Lawler, and welterweight king, Johny 'Big Rig' Hendricks.

The current lightweight champion, Anthony 'Showtime' Pettis, will face Gilbert Melendez, the well-respected Strikeforce champion who has considered himself the best in the world for some time. Both guys know that this is the biggest fight of their career so far and will undoubtedly be their toughest test to date.

With only one common opponent it's hard to tell how these two will match up. Pettis has looked on point in his last few bouts. Stopping Donald Cerrone and Joe Lauzon with devastating kicks to get his shot at the belt, then catching Henderson in a beautiful arm bar from guard to become the champion. The bout between Melendez and Henderson was a much closer contest, with Gilbert losing a decision after five hard fought rounds.

Taking that into consideration, Pettis looks like a safe bet for another successful title defence. If experience has taught me anything though, it's that this kind of logic is not applicable inside the Octagon. Stylistically this is a very different match up. Melendez is a pressure fighter, heavily favouring a traditional boxing style with good combinations and chaotic flurries. He ability to catch kicks has been demonstrated well in his two UFC outings, and he is also able to hit his opponent cleanly and keep him off balance while on one leg.

Known by his nickname 'Showtime', Pettis is a dramatic finisher, staying relaxed up until the point he pulls the trigger. He has to keep Melendez at distance and work his kicking game without allowing a leg to get caught. If distance is closed and Pettis finds himself on the back foot, he has a confident ground game which may encourage Melendez to keep it standing.

One thing to remember though, both guys have been out of action since 2013 but have been active in the gym for most of that down time. We could see a new weapon or two in both fighters’ games, and with their natural creativity I wouldn't be surprised if we see something crazy. It's a fight to watch from bell to bell so we don't miss a thing.

The main event features two of the biggest punchers we've seen in the UFC's welterweight division. Hendricks tore through his fights leading up to his title shot, which turned out to be a razor thin decision loss to all-time great, Georges St Pierre. A frustrating loss for Hendricks, who then went on to fight Lawler for the vacant title after GSP relinquished his crown to step away from competition.

Their first fight was electric. Hendricks, successful in the first two rounds, used wrestling pressure and low kicks to keep Robbie in a defensive mode. The third and fourth rounds saw Lawler settle into his boxing and push 'Big Rig' around the Octagon, using excellent head movement to ride the brunt of the champions’ power and land his own punches. It looked like Robbie was edging towards an upset, as Hendricks backed up and ate jabs from his foe.

The fifth round was a different story though, and showed why Hendricks left as the champion. He came out and turned the fight around, landing two quality lefts, pressuring Lawler until he scored the definitive final take down. You could see the frustration on Robbie's face as he knew the decision was slipping away.

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Robbie Lawler in action (Josh Hedges / Zuffa)

 

Unfortunately an injury to the champion during that fight saw him sidelined as he recovered from surgery for a torn bicep. Robbie has since had two fights, stopping Jake Ellenberger and winning a dominant decision over Matt 'The Immortal' Brown. Both bouts showed a marked improvement in Lawler's footwork and work rate.

His frustration at the title slipping through his fingers is clear. This rematch with Hendricks will be his chance at redemption, and to finally realize his dream of holding the UFC title. A journey he started twelve years ago when he made his debut with the organization at only twenty years old.

If these guys fought ten times every fight would be extremely competitive and could be won by either guy. They both have fight ending power in their hands and are tenacious enough to turn a bad situation into a victory.

One night of fights, two world titles on the line. It's going to be a great card regardless of who wins. These four athletes represent the pinnacle of our beautiful sport. They are truly the best around in these weight classes. I will be sat watching on BT Sport from 1am with a big mug of green tea to keep me awake! Get on UFC.com to see where and how you can tune in to watch.

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