The UFC makes its third trip to northern Virginia, this time with a top-flight featherweight clash in the headlining role. The card, however, is filled with important names, aging but loved veterans, rising contenders and interesting match-ups. Outside of the UFC's lone event inside the District of Columbia, this is arguably the best card they've brought to the region.
Will Chad Mendes stay the top divisional contender or will Ricardo Lamas take his place? I answer these questions and more with my prediction for Saturday's fights.
What: UFC Fight Night 63 (UFC Fight Night: Lamas vs. Mendes)
Where: Patriot Center, Fairfax, Virginia
When: Saturday, the four-fight Fox Sports 1 preliminary card starts at 11 a.m. ET and the six-fight main card kicks off on Fox Sports 1 at 1 p.m.
Chad Mendes vs. Ricardo Lamas
These two are very similar, but Mendes just seems to be a step ahead in technical development, generally, and specifically. That is, Lamas has already put together pieces of his game that are destructive and suit his strengths. Now he's using that base of skills to add in twists, signature movements or other unexpected elements that are all his own doing. My hunch is that Mendes isn't much different in this regard, but is slightly ahead in that process. Add in the speed differential and it's hard to pick against the Team Alpha Male male featherweight.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Al Iaquinta
I'm a huge believer in Masvidal, but I wonder if he's sleep walking here a bit. When Masvidal says he can do it all and do it all well, he's right. But there are a few problems. For starters, he begins slow. That could cost him against an opponent like Iaquinta who won't fade easy. Second, he does not appear to be up for this fight. In talking to him at yesterday's open workouts, this fight seemed more like a chore than an opportunity. I'm not saying I'm unsympathetic to his reasons, but that's a poisonous logic to say the least. I'm looking for Iaquinta to get beat by the third round after Masvidal makes adjustments, but this fight hinges on the second round. I'll take a gamble and say the guy with the better punching power and soaring confidence rises to the occasion.
Michael Chiesa vs. Mitch Clarke
Clarke's story is admirable. In some ways, he feels like an overachiever, which is something I'm glad to see. That said, I'm not sure how he gets past Chiesa. Chiesa can match him on the ground where overcoming bad positions or tiny gripping errors is just part of the experience. He has an easy ability to recover from mistake there unless someone truly physically dominates him, something I don't see Clarke doing. On the feet, it doesn't feel like much of a contest. Chiesa should get back to form with this fight.
Julianna Peña vs. Milana Dudieva
The layoff for Pena is concerning, but given the weakness of the division, I'm willing to overlook it somewhat. Dudieva is a physical powerhouse, but she lacks the polish of establishing position before going for high-risk submissions. That's not going to work on someone like Pena who has a high work rate and values the power that comes with dominant control. I expect Pena to find her way to some sort of control position where she'll pound out Dudieva from there.
Guida is certainly on the downswing of his career, but it's not entirely clear how precipitous the fall is. There may well be life left in him to compete. This fight will help tell us that. If the Tatsuya Kawajiri fight taught us anything, it's that Guida's control positioning is very strong. I expect that will work in his favor here. Peralta's calling card is that he can thump. I would never say Guida has an inability to take damage, although it's somewhat less than it used to be. But this is a test that even a diminished Guida should be able to pass.
Dustin Poirier vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira
I'm not in love with the idea of Poirier moving back to lightweight, but absent that context, this is a great fight to open the main card. Poirier starts slow and Ferreira has the ability not necessarily to start fast, but to pull opposition into quick sand in unassuming ways. He has a huge array of actionable submissions on different limbs in different contexts, including deeply underrated kneebars. What I expect is Poirier to perhaps struggle in the first with these and maybe even a positioning battle. Over time, though, Poirier will fend these off and launch offense from his striking to take a decision victory.
From the preliminary card:
Liz Carmouche def. Lauren Murphy
Alexander Yakovlev def. Gray Maynard
Shamil Abdurakhimov def. Timothy Johnson
Justin Jones def. Ron Stallings