One of the most stacked cards of the year, UFC 181, takes place tomorrow tonight, December 6th, live at the Mandalay Bay Event Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s going to be an epic night of fights as two UFC belts are on the line as UFC welterweight champion, Johny Hendricks, battles a known foe in Robbie Lawler for a second time while UFC lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis, defends his belt against Gilbert Melendez. Before we can jump into that exciting action, we need to get through the prelims. UFC 181’s prelims are split between Fight Pass and Fox Sports 1, but feature many intriguing bouts to help warm up of the Octagon for the momentous main card. Let’s start!
Alex White vs. Clay Collard
Starting off the night’s action is a featherweight showdown between two featherweights who are quickly making names for themselves as being true entertainers in the Octagon. Alex White brings a 1-1 record into his third Octagon bout as he is coming off a KO loss to Lucas Martins after he scored an impressive debut by knocking out Estevan Payan back in April. On the other side, “Cassius” Collard has yet to taste victory in the UFC as he succumbed to Max Holloway in the third round in their action-packed affair.
Collard is known for his extreme amount of volume that he likes to put out in his fights, and it’ll be interesting to see how Alex White handles it. Interestingly, both fighters favor banging it out on the feet, but are known for their long and rangy striking styles. White has shown us a plethora of kicking techniques while Collard brings a high volume of punches, but then can also work his Muay Thai game in the clinch. However, White is by far the more athletic and stronger of the two, and he also has 5 wins by submission; if White finds himself getting hit too much by Collard’s high-output boxing then he could just take the fight to the ground and use his physical advantage to dominate the fight from there.
In conclusion I’m going to favor “The Spartan” by decision. I think Collard’s high volume striking will be entertaining, and prove effective when he can get White to brawl with him, but White’s kicking game combined with his ability to take the fight to the ground will sway the judge’s decision. Expect an entertaining fight here though folks as both featherweights are known to be barn burners.
Sergio Pettis vs. Matt Hobar
The younger brother of the lightweight champion gets his fourth Octagon task as he meets Matt Hobar who holds a 1-1 UFC record. A lot of people hyped up the young bantamweight prospect as he started his UFC career off well when he took a decision over Will Campuzano back in November of 2013. But it was clear that Pettis would have to get used to the steep learning curve when he was out-matched against Alex Caceres earlier this year. Now that Pettis is back to his winning ways I fully expect Pettis to bring a more calculated approach this time around. While everyone seems to be writing off Matt Hobar as a threat to Pettis, he definitely does have some tools that can threaten “The Phenom”. For one, Hobar loves his rear-naked choke, and coincidentally enough Pettis’s only loss in MMA is by rear-naked. Hobar is a grinder and has the style that could make a sometimes-too-wild Sergio Pettis regret his approach.
Even though I think Pettis still has a long ways to go before he reaches the likes of his brother, I do believe he’ll get the win here. Hobar is a grinder for sure and can pose a real threat if he can lock Pettis up against the cage and take him down, but the Pettis brothers are known for there slick ability to avoid that very thing. Pettis isn’t known to have very much power, but I’d definitely expect to see Pettis tag Hobar up on the feet. I think it’ll be a decision win for Pettis as he puts a striking clinic on Hobar all while defending takedowns.
Raquel Pennington vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith
To kick the action off on Fox Sports 1 we have the only female bout of the night between “Rocky” Pennington and UFC newcomer Ashlee Evans-Smith in what should be a violent bantamweight bout. While Pennington’s career as had its fair share of ups and downs, she still has what it takes to make a big impression on the division. She has experienced losses to Leslie Smith and title-challenger Cat Zingano, so it’s safe to say that she’ll have the experience edge coming into this fight; even though she only has eight fights, that’s still more than Ashlee’s three (which includes a 3rd round TKO over Fallon Fox).
On the feet I definitely consider Pennington to be the better striker. Her experience edge means that she won’t be having Octagon jitters like Evans-Smith will no doubt be experiencing. Pennington has shown that she can throw good combinations and is dangerous anywhere on the feet. With that said, she is susceptible to being overpowered, and Evans-Smith is one powerful woman. Takedowns are Ashlee’s game and while she may not show the best technique in the world, she is relentless and a hard-worker in the cage. Once Evans-Smith is on top she looks to inflict damage which could put Pennington in some real trouble.
Stylistically I favor Ashlee Evans-Smith in this fight, but a huge x factor is going to be those Octagon jitters. Not only is it Ashlee’s debut, but it’s only her 4th professional bout. Expect Pennington to get off to a good start with her solid stand up skills as Ashlee gets off to a slow and hesitant start, but once she settles in I’d look for Evans-Smith to take the fight to the ground and dominate top control. It’ll be a close fight by the end, but I think Pennington will edge it while Ashlee Evans-Smith puts up an admirable performance.
Corey Anderson vs. Justin Jones
TUF 19 winner Corey Anderson gets his first real test against Justin Jones who is making his UFC debut who is stepping in on short notice to replace Gian Villante. Anderson became known in The Ultimate Fighter house for his exceptional athleticism and takedown skills. He then showed another asset of his game when he knocked out Matt VanBuren in the finale – power. Anderson is a strong, mean, and powerful fighter who is quickly adding technique to his arsenal. On the opposite side is Justin Jones, a UFC newcomer who is only 3-0 in MMA. While neither fighter really has much in terms of experience and mileage, Jones has the odds stacked against him as he did not have the luxury of being on the Ultimate Fighter, is making his UFC debut, and is also stepping in on short notice.
Another big x factor in this fight is the size. Like I said, Anderson is a big and strong athlete while Jones is going to be definitely be under-sized for this fight as he usually fights at middleweight. With that said, Jones has the skills to prompt the upset for sure. He favors the guillotine choke (which he could catch Anderson with coming in for a takedown), but also isn’t afraid to throw his hands. It’ll be interesting to see if Jones shows any hesitation in his debut – if he does, it could be a rough night for Jones.
In conclusion, Anderson’s athletic talents is hard to overlook. Expect Anderson to be the one pushing the pace in the early going and try to take advantage of Jones’s potential hesitation. Anderson should be able to keep Jones bottled up with the threat of his overhand right en route to successful takedown attempts. I’m not sure if Anderson will get the finish or not, but definitely expect Jones to try for that guillotine off his back. In the end, Anderson will prove too big, too strong, and overwhelm Jones from top control. I’m going to with Anderson on a late-fight TKO.
Eddie Gordon vs. Josh Samman
Perhaps one of the most over-looked fights on the card right here as the other TUF 19 winner Eddie Gordon takes on a fellow TUF competitor in Josh Samman (who competed on season 17). Gordon, like his TUF 19 housemate Corey Anderson, is an exceptional athlete with power in his hands. Gordon received a lot of criticism for how much he relied on his wrestling and smothering top game throughout the TUF season, but he quickly made up for all of that by knocking Dhiego Lima out cold in the finale. Gordon can close the distance very quickly, and now that he has found confidence in his power on the feet he could be a real threat in the middle weight division.
On the flip side, Josh Samman returns to action after not competing since April 2013 when he TKO’d Kevin Casey. Samman has been dealing with personal tragedy on top of a hamstring injury, so I think an x factor is going to be how that has affected him. We’ve seen fighters perform terribly after personal tragedies (ala Jake Shields against Jake Ellenberger), but then we’ve also seen fighters bounce back and use their emotions to trigger the best in them. We’ll have to wait and see.
Based on what we’ve seen from Josh Samman, I’ve been very impressed. He was over-shadowed on TUF by Uriah Hall and Kelvin Gastelum’s talent, but Samman was the real deal and he showed that by making it all the way to the semi-finals. Samman is a crafty striker on the feet, but even craftier on the ground as he looks for submissions but also knows how to inflict lots of damage from the top.
This fight is a real toss-up to me because I believe Samman to be the more technically sound fighter while Gordon has the extreme athleticism and raw power to end the fight at any time. I’m going to with Josh Samman however, but it’s not going to come easy. Expect Gordon to land a big shot or two on the feet and even completely control the wrestling department, but as the fight drags on I think Samman’s technical superiority will shine through, he’ll work his way onto Gordon’s back, and he’ll catch him in a late fight submission.
Urijah Faber vs. Francisco Rivera
To cap off the prelims we get the Urijah Faber special as he takes on Francisco Rivera. Faber is continuing to solidify himself as a top bantamweight right behind TJ Dillashaw and Renan Barao. Of course his teammate, Dillashaw, holds the belt which puts Faber in a weird position as it has been his job now to knock off contenders, and that’s what he has been doing with wins over Alex Caceres, Michael McDonald, and Yuri Alcantara. He meets another worthy contender in Francisco Rivera who, despite coming off a loss to Takeya Mizugaki, has the skills to install himself as a front-runner in the 135lb division should he defeat Faber tomorrow night.
When it comes down to it, this fight is pretty easy to break down. Rivera is known to be a heavy-handed power puncher, but nothing more. He is going to have a puncher’s chance in this fight, and even though Faber has been known to get caught before, I don’t see this happening. Faber is too smart, too athletic, too explosive, and too good to let a non-champion beat him. Expect some fast-paced footwork from Faber to throw Rivera off. It should make Rivera hesitant which will allow Faber to time one of his explosive takedowns. From there, Faber should have a field day as he transitions onto the back and chokes Rivera out in the first round. The only way Rivera catches Faber is if he doesn’t let the movement make him hesitant. Rivera has to go out there and control the pace of the fight, but that’s way easier said than done against one of the most experienced fighters in MMA.