So the UFC returns to Las Vegas for the biggest card of the year so far. In another year beset by injuries that have impacted on title shots we get a rare double header as two belts are on the line.

Returning after a year out of the Octagon is Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez and let’s not forget the eagerly awaited rematch between Robbie Lawler and Johny Hendricks. There are so many positives about this card that I couldn’t wait to get my research underway. Let’s analyse the main card with odds provided by 5Dimes and see if you agree with my picks. My apologies for no picks last week by my PC broke and I was unable to get anything written up and posted online. Its been a very tough year and my picks have been poorer than expected but I hope to finish with a flourish.

Ferguson v Trujillo:

Tony Ferguson makes his third appearance of the year in the Octagon this weekend. As the winner of TUF 13 big things were expected but he remains one of the most inactive winners to date. A laborious win over Danny Castillo via split decision was a missed opportunity to truly showcase his talents and he finds himself slipping back on the card as a result.

But for an unfortunate match up with Dagestani sensation, Khabib Nurmagomedov, we may be talking about Abel Trujillo in slightly different terms. That loss marks the only black spot on his UFC record as his other wins all resulted in violent finishes. Due to a No Contest he had to rematch Roger Bowling but that ended in the same way the first started.

Both fighters reside just outside the top 15 in the rankings with each knowing that a win over the other could be enough to propel them into the big time for real. Whether either are capable of fighting at the top remains to be seen. The edge goes to Ferguson by virtue of better wrestling but punching power goes to Trujillo. If Ferguson can keep it on the ground then he takes a decision, if Trujillo can keep it upright then he could punch Ferguson out.

Recommendation: Ferguson wins by 3 round decision +232 (23/10) @ 5Dimes

Duffee v Hamilton:

After a two year absence with injury Todd Duffee makes his UFC return on arguably the biggest stage of the year. Despite his lengthy absence it is testament to his standing with the top brass that he is placed on such a card given that for most fighters it would be a place on the prelims. At just 28 years of age he has a lot of time on his side and the UFC will be keen to keep him fit and healthy in a division devoid of legitimate challengers.

Anthony Hamilton makes his third appearance in the UFC and is looking to build upon a win over Ruan Potts in August. Potts found himself overmatched and outclassed late on as Hamilton looked to impress after a lacklustre defeat in his debut. All three appearances have come in this year and presents him with a chance to end the year on a high.

If all men are created equal then this is anybody’s fight. However, this is not true as Anthony Hamilton is no Todd Duffee. Duffee should have the ability to plough through Hamilton as long as he is over the injuries that sidelined him. Two years is a long time to be away especially when taking on an active fighter and it is this that makes me favour the second round over his normal first round duties.

Recommendation: Todd Duffee wins in Round 2 +450 (9/2) @ 5Dimes

Browne v Schaub:  

Making his return after defeat to, new Interim World Heavyweight Champion, Fabricio Werdum is Travis Browne. Browne showed during his fight with Werdum that although he is showing massive improvements in his game he isn’t quite ready to challenge at the very top level. Nonetheless he remains a top five fighter and surely he will only get better over the next two to three years. The defeat to Werdum marked only the second loss of his career and one he will want to rebound strongly from.

While his last fight officially shows as a loss it would be a brave man to attempt to deny Brendan Schaub a moral victory over Andrei Arlovski. The watching media, as well as the majority of fans gave the fight to Schaub but the judges disagreed putting the American on the losing side of the battle. That defeat halted a two fight streak and made him 6-4 in the UFC.

I was rubbing my hands with glee as soon as this fight was announced. In fact, if I bet in multiple units then I’d be recommending this at double stakes; sadly the odds will be very poor. Against the likes of Johnson, Mitrione and Arlovski Schaub managed to demonstrate an evolution in his ground game. Sadly, against the likes of Browne I don’t think the opportunities to take him down will be there. Better fighters than he have tried and fell foul to the same savage elbow. No, this won’t be a fight that I see Schaub winning; in fact as a fighter with a questionable chin I see this ending early, very early.

Recommendation: Travis Browne by TKO/KO -190 (1/2) @ 5Dimes

Pettis v Melendez:   

After what seems like an eternity since submitting Benson Henderson for the belt we get the Octagon return of Anthony Pettis in the first of a Championship double header. The TUF coach defends his belt for the first time since winning in August 2013. After such a long layoff it will be interesting to see how ‘Showtime’ responds both physically and mentally.

Taking his second shot at the Lightweight belt is Strikeforce import Gilbert ‘El Nino’ Melendez. Melendez failed where Pettis succeeded and succumbed to the Champion over 18 months ago as Henderson took a contentious split decision. In a potential Fight of the Year against Diego Sanchez Melendez bounced back with a comfortable win but, like Pettis, he has sat on the sidelines for over a year as contractual issues saw him almost leave as a free agent.

Although both have been coaching on TUF, to have Champion and Challenger both inactive for over a year is rare, and perhaps this is a primary reason why this bout never ended up as the headliner. Unless Pettis pulls of another ‘Showtime Kick’ or unexpected submission then it’s likely this goes the full five. Both are near unstoppable and while the head says Pettis, I can’t shake the niggling doubt that this decision could just go Melendez’s way and a new Champion is crowned.

Recommendation: To Win the Fight – Gilbert Melendez +225 (9/4) @ 5Dimes

Hendricks v Lawler:

Marking his first defence in a rematch of the fight where he won the vacant belt is the Bigg Rigg himself, Johny Hendricks. While many viewed him as the legitimate champion prior to this fight, mainly due to a contentious loss to GSP, he still needed to beat the most resurgent fighter in MMA today. Since collecting his title in the closest of decisions Hendricks has found himself recuperating from surgery and plotting his next move. As the Champion you are there to be shot at so there is no chance of a tune up fight to shake off the rust.

Since the loss in that title fight Robbie Lawler has somehow managed to impress on an exponential scale. The initial tear that took him to the title shot was impressive enough but to rebound with two wins inside eight weeks put him right at the head of the queue. Against Jake Ellenberger he steamrolled the ‘Juggernaut’, while he made ‘The Immortal’ look like the opposite of that moniker with a unanimous decision over the white hot Matt Brown. This is a new Robbie Lawler, a different animal to the one we have seen before and he seems ready to learn from his mistakes and fulfil his destiny.

I keep changing my mind on my leans in this fight because there are so many variables to consider. Will the layoff affect Hendricks? Various photos surfaced after winning the belt that suggested he was enjoying his downtime a little too much which could leave him struggling to make weight. Has Robbie Lawler been too active? Fighting at the highest level requires training and rest in equal proportions and two fights in close proximity may have affected the veteran. Similarly, will he have learned to leave a little in the tank for that potentially deciding final round? It’s another heart versus head moment I think and while I would love to see Hendricks embark on a long reign at the top, I have a sneaky feeling that this fight will be the middle of a trilogy as Lawler nicks this one. Just.

Recommendation: Robbie Lawler wins a 5 round decision +445 (9/2) @ 5Dimes