Crash Course to UFC 181: Anthony Pettis vs. Gilbert Melendez

By Jeff Wagenheim
December 05, 2014

Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight.


Picture him sitting in front of a screen, watching training video, taking mental notes. Spud Webb dunking. (Breathtaking!) A brisé by Misha Baryshnikov. (Sublime!) A flop by Dick Fosbury.(Inventive!) Bob Beamon soaring into eternity. (Unprecedented!)

Anthony Pettis is challenged every day to live up to his own spectacular standards. He is a rare fighter in that his nickname evokes not merely some tough-guy image he wishes to project but rather his very essence as an athlete. “Showtime” is the name bestowed upon the UFC lightweight champion and also upon the gravity-defying kick that made the Milwaukeean famous.

So what does the champ have in store for us on Saturday night? Can’t wait to see.

When Pettis steps in the octagon with Gilbert Melendez for the co-main event of UFC 181 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas (10 p.m. ET, PPV), it will be the first defense of the belt he won from Benson Henderson in August 2013. The 27-year-old has been out since then with a knee injury, although his return could have come a bit sooner if he and Melendez hadn’t been enlisted to coach on The Ultimate Fighter. Pettis (13-2, 4-1 in the UFC) is No. 6 in the pound-for-pound fighter rankings.

For Melendez (22-3, 1-1 UFC), this is a second crack at the belt in just his third bout with the promotion. The former Strikeforce champion challenged Henderson in his UFC debut in April 2013, losing an uber-tight split decision. He rebounded six months later with a heart-poundingly brutal decision win over Diego Sanchez. Melendez, 32, who ranks second in the lightweight tally.

In addition to the pay-per-view telecast of the five-fight main card, four prelims will be shown on Fox Sports 1, starting at 8 p.m. ET, and the event’s other two fights will be on UFC Fight Pass at 7. The main card also will be screened by Fathom Events at 400 movie theaters nationwide.


When Anthony Pettis captured the lightweight belt last fall with a first-round armbar of   Benson Henderson, there are some who considered it Henderson’s second loss in a row. Four months earlier, he had defended the belt against Gilbert Melendez, and after five tightly contested rounds, the champ had his arm raised but the challenger was seen by the masses as a winner, too.

So while it’s unusual for a fighter to get two title shots in his first three bouts in the UFC, here we are. The lightweight division has a couple of quietly rising stars in Khabib Nurmagomedov and Rafael dos Anjos, and their time will come. For now, though, Melendez is the man sharing the spotlight with the champ. Gilbert rebounded from the title fight disappointment with an exhilarating victory over Diego Sanchez, and that earned him a co-starring role on The Ultimate Fighter and in this championship fight.

Last Five Fights

8/31/13 Benson Henderson W Sub 1
1/26/13 Donald Cerrone W TKO 1
2/26/12 Joe Lauzon W KO 1
10/8/11 Jeremy Stephens W SD 3
6/4/11 Clay Guida L UD 3

10/19/13 Diego Sanchez W UD 3
4/20/13 Benson Henderson L SD 5
5/19/12 Josh Thomson W SD 5
12/17/11 Jorge Masvidal W UD 5
4/9/11 Tatsuya Kawajiri W TKO 1

Tale of the Tape


Jan. 27, 1987​​


April 12, 1982​

Milwaukee, Wis.


Santa Ana, Calif.

Milwaukee, Wis. 


San Francisco, Calif.













 ​* Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 2) 

Other Numbers to Count On

8:27: Total time, in minutes and seconds, that Anthony Pettis has fought in the cage in his last three bouts, all first-round victories, dating

to February 2012.

463: Days since Pettis last fought (first-round submission of Benson Henderson on Aug. 31, 2013). Gilbert Melendez has not been much more active, having last competed on Oct. 19, 2013, which on fight night will be 414 days ago.

1.32: Number of strikes absorbed per minute by Pettis, which according to FightMetric is tied for fourth-best all time in the UFC.    

Greatest Hits

UFC’s countdown to Pettis vs. Melendez:

Yes, of course you want to see the Showtime Kick:


Gilbert Melendez fights with perpetual forward motion, and in a dance with Anthony Pettis, that is the recipe for one of two things: You get the champ out of his rhythm, on his heels, perhaps even on his back, where those poetic kicks of his no longer rhyme; or you get caught with something devastating on your way in.

One of those results seems inevitable, because Gilbert is who he is and is smart and experienced enough to know better than hanging out at jabbing distance with a guy who can hurt you from a different area code.

Melendez is not reckless. He’ll set up his attacks. But Pettis is a lightning strike of a counter-attacker. So unless Gilbert finds his way on top and transforms himself into a lead blanket, which would edit down the highlight reel considerably, this fight is bursting with entertainment potential.

The Odds

Pettis is the betting favorite, with the money line ranging from -242 (bet $100 to win $41.32) to -270 (bet $100 to win $37.04) at various sportsbooks. The line on Melendez ranges from +180 (bet $100 to win $180) to +216 (bet $100 to win $216).


Crash Course to UFC 181: Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler

​Pettis is almost Rousey-like in his hourly wage, making short work of opponents with his viciously creative attack. But Melendez is as durable as they come, never having been finished in his 25 professional fights. So I do envision one of the octagon girls having to lug a “2” card around the perimeter of the cage, maybe even another number or two. But if you engage the champ for long enough, he’s eventually going to lay you out. Pettis by KO.

Fighting Words

“I feel like he’s on his way out of the peak of his career, and I’m just entering it. I think his peak of his career, I wouldn’t say it’s passed, but he’s not starting it anymore. I’m just starting to tap into my grown-man strength, my full potential, my knowledge of fighting. I’m very confident in this fight.”

-- Anthony Pettis, speaking to MMA Fighting about Gilbert Melendez​​.

“No one’s ever finished me, ever. … I can’t wait to see his face at the end of the first round, when he knows he’s down one round to zero and realizes he’s in for a long night.”

-- Gilbert Melendez, speaking to USA Today about Anthony Pettis​.

The Rest of the Card

Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler, for UFC welterweight championship; Travis Browne vs. Brendan Schaub, heavyweight; Todd Duffee vs. Anthony Hamilton, heavyweight; Tony Ferguson vs. Abel Trujillo, lightweight.

Preliminary card (8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1): Urijah Faber vs. Francisco Rivera, bantamweight; Eddie Gordon vs. Josh Samman, middleweight; Corey Anderson vs. Justin Jones, light heavyweight; Raquel Pennington vs. Ashlee Evans-Smith, women’s bantamweight.

Online prelims (7 p.m., UFC Fight Pass): Sergio Pettis vs. Matt Hobar, bantamweight; Alex White vs. Clay Collard, featherweight.

Programming Notes

Mike Goldberg will handle blow-by-blow and Joe Rogan analysis for the main-card telecast on pay-per-view as well as prelims on Fox Sports 1 and the UFC Fight Pass. An hour-long postfight show begins at 1:30 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)