Two men who could arguably call themselves the second-best featherweights in the world will tangle Saturday afternoon in Fairfax, Virginia, at UFC Fight Night 63. Chad "Money" Mendes (16-2) faces Ricardo "The Bully" Lamas, headlining an intriguing afternoon card.
Mendes' only two professional losses came to current featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Money has plowed through everyone else he's faced.
Lamas has been just as dominant in his UFC career. He's suffered just one loss compared to six wins since joining the promotion in 2011. That defeat came to Aldo. The excellent record that both fighters have compiled is what makes Saturday's main event so important.
The winner would have to be considered one of the top contenders for another shot at the 145-pound title. Aldo will defend the belt against Conor McGregor at UFC 189 on July 11. Before that, Frankie Edgar will battle new addition to the featherweight division, Urijah Faber on May 16 at UFC Fight Night in the Philippines.
The next few months will be telling. The winner of Saturday's bout might be lined up to face the winner of Edgar vs. Faber, with the victorious fighter in that scrap put in position to face whomever emerges as champion from Aldo vs. McGregor.
Let's take a look at the card on tap for Saturday, along with viewing information and predictions for each bout.
Just below the table is a closer look at Mendes vs. Lamas and the co-main event featuring a legitimate Fight of the Night candidate in Jorge "Gamebred" Masvidal vs. Al Iaquinta.
|UFC Fight Night 63: Viewing Information, Card and Predictions|
|Fox Sports 1 Prelims at 11 a.m. ET|
|Ron Stallings vs. Justin Jones||Middleweight||Stallings by decision|
|Shamil Abdurakhimov vs. Timothy Johnson||Heavyweight||Abdurakhimov by KO|
|Gray Maynard vs. Alexander Yakovlev||Lightweight||Yakovlev by TKO|
|Liz Carmouche vs. Lauren Murphy||Women's Bantamweight||Carmouche by submission|
|Fox Sports 1 Main Card at 1 p.m. ET|
|Dustin Poirier vs. Diego Ferreira||Lightweight||Poirier by TKO|
|Clay Guida vs. Robbie Peralta||Featherweight||Peralta by TKO|
|Julianna Pena vs. Milana Dudieva||Women's Bantamweight||Pena by TKO|
|Michael Chiesa vs. Mitch Clarke||Lightweight||Chiesa by submission|
|Jorge Masvidal vs. Al Iaquinta||Lightweight||Masvidal by submission|
|Chad Mendes vs. Ricardo Lamas||Featherweight||Mendes by KO|
|Card per UFC.com, picks by Mazique|
Mendes vs. Lamas
This Is a Big Fight
Mendes knows how big this fight will be on the featherweight landscape. Per Elias Cepeda of Fox Sports, he has treated the preparation for this bout with the utmost importance and urgency.
"I'm definitely not looking past him," Mendes said. "It's a tough fight. We prepared like we were fighting for a world title, again. It's like we're fighting Aldo, again. We trained just as hard."
That's a huge compliment to Lamas, as Mendes has proved to be markedly better than every opponent he's faced—except Aldo. Mendes scored stoppage victories in four of his last five fights before his second defeat to Aldo in Oct. 2014. At just 29 years old, Mendes still has serious plans to dominate the featherweight division in the coming years.
Ultimately, he must find a way to get past Aldo or McGregor to get to that point. However, before he can regain another shot at the gold, he has to handle The Bully.
While both of Mendes' bouts with Aldo were thrilling affairs, Lamas' shot at the champion rendered a bit of a snoozefest. Lamas blames himself for the result. He told Damon Martin of Fox Sports back in Nov. 2014, "I was my biggest enemy. I wasn't letting go, I was being too tentative, and waiting too much. I wasn't pulling the trigger. Ultimately, you're not going to beat a guy like Aldo like that."
Another tentative approach on Saturday won't just bring him a defeat—it'll also likely result in a knockout loss at the hands of Mendes.
While Lamas acknowledges he was "too tentative" against Aldo, I don't believe that's something he can help. By nature, he's a thinker in the Octagon. He's a calculated fighter who displays these traits to a fault in big fights. When facing dangerous strikers like Aldo and Mendes, he will probably never be as aggressive as he needs to be.
That could go back to the way he's lost in the past.
Prior to losing to Aldo by decision, Lamas had been stopped by Iuri Alcantara and Danny Castillo in the WEC. KO losses can alter a fighter's approach—especially those as cerebral as Lamas. That will come back to bite him again on Saturday. Mendes will overwhelm him with pressure, aggressiveness, power and a huge right hand that produces an impressive KO win for Money.
Masvidal vs. Iaquinta
Gamesmanship from Gamebred
Jorge Masvidal is doing a lot of talking ahead of his bout with Al Iaquinta. It's understandable. Masvidal might be trying to sell himself a bit. Up to this point, he's one of the more underrated fighters in the UFC.
Despite a 5-1 record with the promotion and a solid record in Strikeforce prior to coming to the UFC, Masvidal doesn't get much respect. His lack of notoriety is likely tied to his inability to secure stoppage wins.
Gamebred has had just one win by stoppage in nearly six years. In the UFC, stoppages are the biggest seller for any fighter's reputation.
Perhaps in an effort to compensate for what's lacking on his resume, Masvidal told Hunter Homistek of Bleacher Report that he hopes Iaquinta "fights like a man" on Saturday. It's a peculiar taunt considering the 27-year-old Iaquinta has scored stoppage wins in each of his last three fights.
It could be an example of Masvidal's guile. While solid in all areas, he is an especially dangerous grappler and submissions artist. Iaquinta is known for his striking prowess, but submission defense has been his Achilles' heel. All three of his losses have come by tapout.
If Masvidal can lure Iaquinta into wild exchanges, it might make it easier for him to grab an advantageous position on the ground. Iaquinta is apparently prepared for that approach—or at least it sounds that way.
He told Martin: "He wants me to get a little crazy, and he's going to try to wrestle me like he's done his last couple of fights. I feel like I should be the one saying it to him. I know what I'm going to do. I think I'm already in his head."
Whether it's because of his pre-fight psychology, toughness or grappling prowess, Masvidal will solve Iaquinta. What we've seen from Masvidal on several occasions is his ability to take a hard shot, adjust and control fighters on the ground.
It wouldn't shock me to see Iaquinta land something significant against Masvidal early. The same thing happened to Gamebred against Daron Cruickshank in July 2014. Cruickshank rocked Masvidal with a head kick, and Gamebred looked momentarily out, but he showed rapid-recovery skills and ultimately dismantled the Detroit Superstar with his ground game.
I'm expecting a similar result against Iaquinta. While he's solidified himself as a formidable striker, we haven't seen anything yet that would suggest he's gotten much better at defending submissions.
Some might point to his recent win over submission guru Joe Lauzon as a means to dispel that notion. However, as good as J-Lau is on the ground, he's not great at securing takedowns. In his career, he has just a 42 percent takedown accuracy rate, per FightMetric. Compare that to the 65 percent clip Masvidal has accrued and there's a big difference.
Masvidal will take Iaquinta down and ultimately work his way to a submission victory.
Other Notable Bouts
Pena vs. Dudieva
The Ultimate Fighter Season 18 winner Julianna Pena makes her return from injury when she faces Milana Dudieva on the main card. Pena is considered a potential contender for the women's bantamweight title down the road.
With Ronda Rousey having all but cleaned out the division, it's always interesting to see any fighter who may have the ability to ascend the rankings and earn a shot at the queen.
Pena is the more athletic striker, and she'll enjoy an eight-inch reach advantage over Dudieva. Expect an impressive win for the Venezuelan Vixen on Saturday.
Guida vs. Peralta
Few fighters are as popular and revered by fans as Clay Guida. However, he has lost four of his last six fights. The last two have come by stoppage: a KO loss to Mendes and a submission defeat to Dennis Bermudez. Guida needs a win Saturday night to re-establish himself.
Robbie Peralta is primarily a striker who will be looking to keep the fight standing to take advantage of his edge in quickness. Guida might be close to spent because of a relatively low athletic ceiling and countless wars in the sport.
Guida will give Peralta the stand-up battle he wants and be sorry for it in the end. Peralta wins by TKO.
Follow Brian Mazique on Twitter.