The Five Count: Top Storylines from UFC 181 Fallout

CM_Punk_-_Best_In_The_World_PosterJay Primetown takes a look at the five biggest storylines to develop from UFC 181 in Las Vegas, Nevada #5 Not Saved by the Bell– In the lone women’s matchup at UFC 181, Raquel Pennington took on newcomer Ashlee Evans-Smith. In a bloody, physical contest, Evans-Smith was getting the better of the fight including creating a gash on Pennington’s forehead until Pennington pursued a bulldog choke submission late in the opening round. Pennington locked in the submission tight dragging Evans-Smith to the mat. As the bell sounded, it appeared to that Evans-Smith was unconscious as the television feed cut to commercial. As the television feed came back, the screen showed Pennington high fiving her corner as Mike Goldberg explained that Pennington had won by submission. As the UFC evolves with its partnership with Fox, there needs to be an understanding that cutting away to a commercial is not always the correct thing to do. Sometimes there are circumstances such as the one in this bout which should skip the commercial and proceed with showing the live feed. #4 Pettis Looked Great, But… – Anthony Pettis returned to the octagon after an absence over a year to defeat title challenger Gilbert Melendez via submission in the second round. It was a great win over one of the top fighters in the division. It was the first time Melendez had ever been finished in his professional career. Pettis deserves all of the accolades he has received from media and pundits in his victory, but there are still a couple of major holes in his game. Pressure and takedown defense are two things that still continue to plague. Only a couple years ago, Clay Guida pressed Pettis and was able to defeat him with this game plan (albeit in a three round fight). Melendez did in an excellent job in the first round doing this forcing the fight against the cage and taking top position winning the first round against Pettis. Yes, Pettis did score the submission in the next round, but even in this shortened fight, the game plan remains the same for a grinding type fighter to get a win over the exciting striker. Undefeated Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov was in attendance at UFC 181 and called out the Milwaukee, Wisconsin raised fighter. Nurmagomedov is a world sambo champion and employs the pressure grappling style that has frustrated Pettis over his career. While Pettis has beaten excellent fighters in his lead up and defending the UFC Lightweight Championship, he will need to defeat the talented Russian to prove himself to any remaining naysayers. Nurmagomedov is expected to return to action in Spring 2015 and the timing would coincide with a return for Pettis for a very compelling title fight. #3 A Case for Instant Replay – Francisco “Cisco” Rivera was given the biggest challenge of his career on Saturday matched up to face former WEC Champion Urijah Faber in a bantamweight clash. Few gave Rivera a chance in this matchup as he closed a +725 underdog at Several Bookmakers. As the opening bell sounded, it was apparent from the onset that Rivera was prepared for the challenge as he went toe to toe with Faber. The California Kid struggled with his offensive wrestling and was forced into a stand up exchange with Cisco. Midway through the contest, Faber grazed the eye of Rivera with his finger causing him to clutch his face. Faber quickly pounced securing a choke on his stunned opponent. Typically, a referee pauses the contest when a fighter is poked in the eye giving the fighter time to recover and continue. In this case, referee Mario Yamasaki missed the eye poke and thus it cost Rivera a chance at victory. Referees do have the option to utilize replay to change fights from a winner to a no contest / disqualification. Nearly five years to the day, referee Steve Mazzagatti utilized replay to confirm illegal elbow strikes by Jon Jones against Matt Hamill resulting in the current light heavyweight champion’s only career loss. Why Yamasaki decided not to use replay is a question that remains unanswered. Ideally, I’d like to see the Nevada State Athletic Commission use a replay setup similar to what is used in the NHL. In Toronto, the NHL has a studio where they review all goals and can decide if the puck crossed the line. There’s no reason NSAC would be unable to do the same for finishes. If there was a system like this for MMA, Cisco’s fortunes would have been different on Saturday night. #2 The Most Surprising of Champions – Perhaps the most remarkable career turnaround in the history of the UFC came to a reality at UFC 181. Welterweight Robbie Lawler began his UFC career all the way back at UFC 37 in 2002. The American Top Team product has went to compete in several different promotions; most notably Elite XC and Strikeforce. Lawler had moved up to middleweight and had lost three of four bouts prior to the organization being bought out by the UFC. Lawler appeared to be a floundering fighter who had reached his peak. With the move to the UFC, Lawler dropped back to welterweight and had immediate results. In February 2013, Lawler fought in the UFC for the first time in over 8 years knocking out former welterweight contender Josh Koscheck inside the first round. A close split decision win later in 2013 over Rory Macdonald put Lawler in title contention. When Georges St. Pierre took a leave of absence, Lawler was put into an interim title fight with Johny Hendricks. In what many consider the best fight in 2014, the two fighters entered the fifth round at two rounds a piece. Hendricks secured a takedown and was able to control the fifth round to take the belt. It was a devastating loss for Lawler, but the San Diego born fighter was determined to get the prize. He took a fight with Jake Ellenberger only two months after his five round war with Hendricks. He knocked out Ellenberger in the third round. He would go on to headline a Fox card against Matt Brown once again going five rounds in a slugfest decision win. This set Lawler up with a championship rematch with Hendricks. The champion entered this bout rested having not fought since his win over Lawler and injury free. It seemed going into the title fight that Lawler’s chances to win were less than the original bout due to Hendricks coming in with fewer question marks. Once again, the fight came down to the final round. However, this time Lawler put in his strongest round at the end battering the exhausted Hendricks. When the scorecards were announced, there was a buzz in the arena as no one knew how the judges would score it. It was a split decision, but this time there was a new champion and it was Robbie Lawler. His rise from middleweight after thought to welterweight champion is truly one of the top stories in a long time in MMA. #1 Back to the Pro Wrestling Well – Robbie Lawler’s rise to champion would almost always be the top story from a PPV. This time it takes a back seat to the most shocking signing this decade. After the completion of the first fight on the PPV card, it was announced that former WWE Superstar Phil “CM Punk” Brooks had inked a contract with Zuffa to fight in the UFC. The 36 year old Brooks is a multi-time WWE Champion and was arguably their biggest star when he left the company. Unlike Brock Lesnar who also made the jump from WWE Champion to the UFC, Brooks doesn’t an All-American wrestling pedigree to rely on. While nobody is touting Brooks as a future champion, what Brooks does have is a large, dedicated following and an engaging personality that makes people interested in him. In a time when the UFC has lost some of its biggest stars and has struggled to sell PPVs, Brooks provides a much needed shot in the arm. Already many fighters want a piece of him. Fighters are upset that Brooks has never fought professionally and gets a shot in the world’s biggest MMA promotion. While many feel this is a bit of a side show, it does create some intrigue to see if Brooks can compete in the UFC and if he can, just how good he can be. Many have clamored for the days of a “big event feel.” When Brooks does make his debut, it will bring back many of the fans who left with Brock Lesnar’s departure as well as mainstream media exposure. At 36 years old, Brooks window to compete at an elite level is minimal, but it will be fun while it lasts.

Written by Jay Primetown

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