The UFC’s winter schedule looks phenomenal, and UFC 181 should get it off to quite the start. The event is headlined by the rematch of 2013 fight of the year candidate, as Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler meet for the welterweight title again. The event features a second title bout, as Anthony Pettis puts his lightweight title on the line against former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez. The rest of the card features some potential contenders as well, with heavyweights Travis Browne and Brendan Schaub squaring off. Perennial contender Urijah Faber finds himself on the Fox Sports 1 prelims once again, as he takes on hard-hiting Francisco Rivera in the bantamweight division. Former TUF winner Tony Ferguson looks to move his winning streak to four in the lightweight division against Abel Trujillo. Holly Holm was set to make her UFC debut on this card as well, but an injury forced her out of her bout with Raquel Pennington. In Holm’s place, Ashlee Evans-Smith makes her UFC debut. Odds have already been released for the top three bouts, and after some early movement Johny Hendricks (-210), Anthony Pettis (-195), and Travis Browne (-270) are all solid favorites. MMA oddsmaker Nick Kalikas opened the betting lines for the top six bouts at UFC 181 today at 5Dimes Sportsbook. Take a look: ——————– MAIN CARD (PPV, 10pm ET) UFC Welterweight Title Johny Hendricks -270 Robbie Lawler +210 UFC Lightweight Title Anthony Pettis -185 Gilbert Melendez +145 Travis Browne -270 Brendan Schaub +190 Todd Duffee -280 Anthony Hamilton +200 Tony Ferguson -245 Abel Trujillo +175 ——————– PRELIMINARY CARD (Fox Sports 1, 8pm ET) Urijah Faber -405 Francisco Rivera +285 ——————– Brad’s Analysis: Without Holly Holm, the UFC was smart to change around the order of the card, putting Todd Duffee on the PPV. As with nearly any Duffee fight, he’s got physical advantages, but it’s hard to be overly confident in him because of his chin. He’s still going to be the faster, more powerful striker, and has those same advantages in the wrestling game. Anthony Hamilton isn’t particularly durable, nor is he the type of fighter with great cardio who can take the last two rounds off of Duffee, so I see this one ending quickly in Duffee’s favor, even in spite of a two year layoff. Abel Trujillo picked up the win against Jamie Varner in one of the best early fights of 2014, but if he comes out and puts on the same type of performance against Tony Ferguson I think he loses badly. Varner was winning almost all of the exchanges in that bout, and Trujillo caught him with one big punch that ended the fight. Ferguson has already shown a good chin, and he has a much better technical boxing game than Varner (who isn’t poor in the boxing realm by any means). Ferguson can also mix in some takedowns in the bout to keep Trujillo off balance, but I expect it to be primarily a striking battle with the longer, more technical fighter getting the better of it. As far as dangerous opponents for Urijah Faber go, Francisco Rivera is near the top of the list. Unfortunately for Rivera, the only guys who can ever seem to beat Faber are those at the top. If Faber goes for a leaping back elbow or an ill-advised superman punch, Rivera has the power to pick him off like Mike Brown and Tyson Griffin did in his first two losses. Aside from that however, this fight is all Faber’s. Unless Faber’s age actually starts to show — and we’ve seen no signs of that — I don’t see this bout reaching the final bell, as Faber will take it to the ground and either sneak in his guillotine, or find Rivera’s back for the rear-naked choke. Not betting the fight to go the distance keeps you safe if Rivera does manage to pull off the upset as well.
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