As Matt Hughes strapped the welterweight belt around his old friend and training partner, Robbie Lawler, it seemed like the fairy tale ending that many wanted. Ten years after he left the UFC for the first time, Lawler had finally made good on his enormous potential.
We'll get to the details of that bout, but a ton of other great stuff happened on the UFC's last pay-per-view card of the year. Let's crack on with the moments that gave me pause for thought.
Sergio's Coming Out Party
Sergio Pettis has had a tough time coming up, being the younger brother of the UFC lightweight champion. Last night he gave perhaps his first truly impressive performance in the octagon over Matt Hobar. Dropped early as he circled into Hobar's left hand while slowly recovering his right, Pettis found his way back up by way of that most beautiful of basic techniques—the tripod sweep.
Pettis the Younger began to pick Hobar apart on the feet with sharp one-twos and kicks, and worked beautifully out of scrambles and off of his takedown defence. Stopping a single leg, Pettis came up from the quarter nelson to an overhook and stiff armed Hobar's head back to land a beautiful high kick—out of a clinching range. It demonstrated exactly what we talked about in Anthony Pettis last week, if you can high kick from places where it's unexpected; you have a huge advantage over basic power kickers.
Big Browne Smashes Big Brown
Meanwhile, Travis Browne easily dispatched the hard hitting Brendan Schaub. Schaub's lunges with his head low ultimately spelled the end for him, as Browne timed him with a huge uppercut. Archie Moore said it best, the uppercut is a counter punch—a counter to a crouching posture. After cracking him, Browne threw 'Abu Schaubi' to the mat, mounted him, and finished him with half power strikes from flattened back mount. Another stoppage for Browne, and a great rebound from his disheartening loss to Fabricio Werdum.
In the co-main event, Gilbert Melendez made his second crack at the UFC lightweight title, this time challenging Anthony Pettis. Melendez pinned Pettis to the fence for much of the first round, firing off ineffectual flurries against Pettis' guard in between. In one of Pettis' brief moments breaking off of the fence, he showed us another little touch of class—the counter back kick. It doesn't have as much power as a full, forward moving back kick, but it catches opponents coming in perfectly. Believe it or not, it was a favorite of Chuck Norris in his competitive days.
Melendez's boxing let him down throughout the exchanges on the feet. Melendez's boxing has typically consisted of either the jab to right straight or jab to right hook. Rinse and repeat. The problem was that as Melendez used the jab to step into range for his right hand, Pettis would counter him and be nowhere near for the right.
Pettis locked in a tight guillotine and jumped guard midway through the second and forced the tap from Melendez. It was a brilliant return for one of the most injury troubled fighters of 2014's plagued UFC schedule.
Lawler and Hendricks Did It Again, Brother
In the main event, Robbie Lawler took a tight decision over his old rival, Johny Hendricks, to take the welterweight crown. The fight was different in places, but in many ways a repeat of the original. Lawler still stood on the end of Hendricks' combinations, and failed to check the low kicks—having eaten twenty-five by the mid-point of round 2. But the fight differed in some key places.
Firstly, Lawler came out aggressively and looked to hurt Hendricks immediately. Secondly, much of Lawler's aggression was focused on Hendricks' body. In the first bout, 94% of Lawler's strikes landed were to Hendricks' head. Last night, 38% of Lawler's 116 strikes landed were to his opponent's midriff. By the end of the fight, Lawler was visibly the fresher man as a result.
It was great to see Lawler kicking so readily too. He even showed a technique we rarely see in MMA or kickboxing—the sankaku-geri or triangle kick. The midway point between a snapping round kick and a snapping front kick, this kick hinges up on a diagonal into the floating ribs and really ruins the recipient's day. This kick, as part of a triple threat with the front kick and the round kick, allowed Semmy Schilt to tear through the ranks of heavyweight kickboxing, and Hendricks didn't like it too much either.
Aside from the low kicks, the big question was how Lawler would deal with the wrestling of Johny Hendricks without a biceps tear. The answer was pretty darn well. Hendricks got Lawler down five times in seventeen attempts. And what did he do with the takedowns? Nothing. He couldn't. Hendricks landed just a single strike on the ground throughout the entire fight. Where Lawler, as the rounds progressed, had more and more success with short ground strikes.
The brutal elbows to the kidneys which Lawler landed while defending a single leg takedown in the final round were a game changer. Hendricks was forced to release Lawler's leg, and Lawler sprung up with a salvo which might well have won him the fight.
Was this a different Robbie Lawler? In many respects, yes. Working the body brutally throughout where he used to head hunt almost exclusively. But equally, Hendricks battered his legs with kicks. The fight was fantastic, just like their last throwdown, but again, could have gone either way. This rivalry has plenty left in it, as neither man can truly be said to have worked the other one out.
We've got a couple more UFC events left in the calendar year, but in terms of pay-per-views, 2014—the year of injuries and cancellations—couldn't have gone out on a better one.
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