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The UFC will land in Virginia this weekend for a rare daytime show, with two of the best featherweights on the planet squaring off in the main event as Chad Mendes faces Ricardo Lamas in a five-round showdown that will see the winner taking a big step forward in the 145-pound title race.
Mendes is fresh off a Fight of the Year candidate against champion Jose Aldo, while Lamas bounced back from his own loss to the champion by trouncing Dennis Bermudez in quick fashion in his last fight.
Also on the card, two lightweights with similar three-fight win streaks square off as Jorge Masvidal takes on Al Iaquinta in a pivotal matchup between 155-pounders desperate to crack the top 10 rankings.
As we gear up for what should be an action-packed day of fights in Fairfax, today's fantasy preview will break down some of those key matchups, a couple sure things and maybe even an upset to keep an eye on during this weekend's card.
There aren't too many fights on this card that are going to be easier to pick, but a couple of the matchups do seem to favor one side a little heavier than the other. These are the knockout picks for UFC Fight Night: Mendes vs. Lamas
Chad Mendes (-440 favorite over Ricardo Lamas)
The main event features two fighters in the featherweight division with eerily similar skill sets. Chad Mendes is one of the most prolific wrestlers the weight class has ever seen, with the fourth most takedowns in featherweight history and 44.4-percent accuracy whenever he attempts to put an opponent on the mat. Meanwhile, Lamas has landed 16 career takedowns during his UFC and WEC career and when he puts opponents down he wins - he's 6-1 in his career when he's landed at least one takedown during a fight.
While Lamas is arguably the better grappler in terms of his overall submission game, Mendes has a vast advantage on the feet with superior boxing and tremendous power and that's where he should be able to take over in this fight.
Mendes packs a serious punch on the feet and he actually holds the record for the most knockouts in the featherweight division. Mendes is also incredible defensively, where he again holds the featherweight record by blocking over 71-percent of his opponent's strikes. Mendes is a compact powerhouse on the feet and if he connects flush, there's not a featherweight in the world who won't go down.
Because Mendes is a superior wrestler overall and has the better striking, he does exactly what Lamas does only better. Assuming he can ply his craft over the course of all five rounds, Mendes will either find an opening to put Lamas away with punches or he'll outpoint him with a blitz of big punches and takedowns. Either way, the result should favor Mendes
Prediction: Chad Mendes by TKO, round 3
Julianna Pena (-280 favorite over Milana Dudieva)
Former Ultimate Fighter winner Julianna Pena finally returns from more than a year away dealing with a knee injury as she resumes her career this weekend against Russian fighter Milana Dudieva.
When Pena stormed through her season of the reality show, many believed she would one day become a serious contender at 135 pounds, and if she's back healthy, there's little doubt that she can get there. Pena is a nasty wrestler with great takedown ability from anywhere in a fight. She's got a quick, blast double leg takedown and a good clinch game as well. Her ground-and-pound is vicious and Pena's best attribute may be her determined attitude inside the cage.
Dudieva won't go away without a fight and if Pena has any signs of ring rust, she could definitely try to take advantage early. Dudieva is no slouch on the ground and she's got an arsenal of submissions at her disposal, including a brutal heel hook, which could be disaster on Pena's surgically repaired knee if she catches it. Dudieva also has a devastating armbar, which she can hit from the top or bottom, so Pena has to be aware of it at all times if she's on the ground with the Russian.
The smart money still falls on Pena because she seems like a legitimate prospect to fight her way into the top five of this division. She may run into rough waters against some of the best fighters at 135 pounds such as Sara McMann and Alexis Davis, who can match her wrestling and grappling on the mat, but until then, Pena is going to run through a lot of good fighters in the bantamweight division.
Prediction: Julianna Pena by TKO, round 2
These are the fights on the card that are just too close to call, but a few advantages one way or another could make the difference in selecting to correct winners and losers for Saturday's card in Virginia
Jorge Masvidal (-125 favorite) vs. Al Iaquinta (+105 underdog)
The lightweight co-main event pits No. 14 ranked Jorge Masvidal against No. 15 ranked Al Iaquinta and just like the rankings predict - this is going to be one of the tightest matchups on the entire card.
Masvidal and Iaquinta are equally tough to deal with on the feet, with statistically even attributes in almost every category. Masvidal has the third highest striking accuracy in the division coupled with the second best striking defense. Masvidal's boxing and range have been tough for a great many lightweights to deal with and his ability to take an opponent to the mat with over 65-percent accuracy only makes him harder to predict on the feet.
Iaquinta is equally dangerous, although he may pack a harder punch with his recent streak thanks in large part to a trio of knockouts over some high-quality opponents, including perennial bonus baby Joe Lauzon. Iaquinta trains under striking coach Ray Longo, who is the same man responsible for the fast hands and knockout power possessed by middleweight champion Chris Weidman. On the feet, Iaquinta is very similar to his teammate, with hard combinations and inside power that can rarely be matched.
This fight comes down to a matter of just a few exchanges. Both Masvidal and Iaquinta are great at throwing combinations and avoiding just simply looking for the knockout blow. Masvidal has one slight advantage that could be the difference in this fight, and that's his defense. Masvidal avoids over 73-percent of his opponent's strikes and while that's only about seven-percent better than Iaquinta, it's the few punches or kicks he avoids that could be the difference in this one.
Prediction: Jorge Masvidal by split decision
Clay Guida (-250 favorite) vs. Robbie Peralta (+210 underdog)
Clay Guida and Robbie Peralta both look for wins following recent defeats inside the Octagon. For Guida this will be his first camp since leaving Greg Jackson and his coaching staff in New Mexico as he embarked on a journey to California where he began working with Team Alpha Male as well as coach Edmond Tarverdyan and his team in Glendale. Will the adjustments in training hurt or help Guida?
It would seem Team Alpha Male would be the perfect landing spot for Guida to get his groove back because the wrestling-heavy team is full of fighters around his weight and it could force the veteran UFC fighter to stick to his grappling roots and avoid a slugfest with a fighter like Peralta, who absolutely possesses knockout power. Then again, Guida training in southern California with Ronda Rousey's boxing coach could do the reverse and make the Chicago native more apt to stand and trade.
Peralta doesn't hide what he's going to do - he swings hard and heavy from the opening bell until the end of the fight. He lands 4.13 strikes per minute and averages less than one takedown per 15 minutes in the cage. Peralta likes to strike and he's not making that a secret going into this or any fight.
Guida has to know that his biggest advantage lies in the ground game, and if he uses his wrestling and relentless pace, he comes away with a win. Peralta isn't a bad ground fighter, but he's rarely dealt with the kind of grappling he'll face with someone like Guida. He may find himself planted on the mat in the opening moments and fending off Guida's wrestling for the next 15 minutes. If Guida sticks to that strategy, he should pull off the win. Don't sleep on Peralta if Guida abandons the takedown, but otherwise, this should be a victory for “The Carpenter.”
Prediction: Clay Guida by unanimous decision
Dustin Poirier (-170 favorite) vs. Diego Ferreira (+150 underdog)
Dustin Poirier leaves the featherweight division to return to 155 pounds, where he faces Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter Diego Ferreira this weekend.
Poirier had a rather unceremonious exit at 145 pounds after losing to Conor McGregor last September, but the Louisiana native picked himself off the ground, dusted himself off and realized that sucking his body dry to make featherweight was probably attributing to some of his worst performances. Poirier was always a massive fighter for the featherweight division, but he shouldn't give up much size fighting at 155 pounds.
Poirier is always a dangerous fighter to face, especially on the feet, where he packs a serious punch and has a good gas tank. His cardio should be even better now that he's not going to be forced to suck out an additional 10 pounds just 24 hours before competing. Poirier is extremely well rounded, landing over four significant strikes per minute as well as mixing in good takedowns and slick submissions.
Chances are Poirier will try to avoid the ground game with third-degree black belt Diego Ferreira, who looked like a potential force in this division until he fell short in his last fight to Beneil Dariush. Ferreira has a nasty ground game and underrated stand-up, but to win this fight he's going to want to get Poirier down because engaging in a firefight won't likely end well for him.
Poirier needs to stay focused and avoid big exchanges with Ferreira because while he does have an advantage on the feet, he can't eat hard shots for 15 straight minutes without one of them potentially putting him down. If Poirier stays relaxed and in control of his emotions - something that's backfired on him before - he should find a way to outpoint Ferreira over three rounds.
Prediction: Dustin Poirier by unanimous decision
Liz Carmouche (-115 favorite) vs. Lauren Murphy (-105 underdog)
The odds can't get much closer than this bantamweight matchup between Liz Carmouche and Lauren Murphy.
Carmouche is universally recognized as one of the toughest women in the sport and her only losses in the UFC have come to the absolute best of the best - Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Alexis Davis. In all three of those losses, Carmouche could have easily pulled off the victory - even against Rousey after she locked up a rear naked choke early and nearly finished the fight.
Pound-for-pound in the women's division, there may not be a tougher fighter alive than Murphy. She's incredibly durable and extremely versatile, with good wrestling and even better grappling. Murphy lost the first fight of her career in her UFC debut when she fell to Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann in a bout many believe she won.
Carmouche has to know that if she wants to tackle the top five in the women's division again, she has to win on Saturday against Murphy. Carmouche is a powerhouse at 135 pounds, with the ability to do serious damage on the feet or on the ground, but she has to get aggressive and try to hurt Murphy or she'll be fending off submission attempts all fight long.
If Carmouche finds a way to put Murphy down early, she has to trap her against the cage or in a dominant spot against the cage and rain down elbows and punches from the top. The last place Carmouche wants to be in this fight is in the center of the Octagon, where Murphy has room to work, or stuck on the bottom with a strong Jiu-Jitsu fighter on top.
Carmouche will have a strength and wrestling advantage, so she has to overpower Murphy and never give her room to breathe on the ground. If that's her recipe for success, Carmouche should edge out a victory.
Prediction: Liz Carmouche by split decision
Mitch Clarke (+290 underdog to Michael Chiesa)
This upset choice is far from a sure thing, but keep an eye on Canadian Mitch Clarke as he takes on former Ultimate Fighter winner Michael Chiesa this weekend.
Clarke started out slow in his UFC career, dropping his first two bouts. But since that time, Clarke has picked up two wins in a row, including a submission victory over highly-touted co-main event fighter Al Iaquinta. Clarke isn't going to wow anybody with his striking or grappling, but he seems to find a way to win with unconventional methods.
Chiesa is going to be a tough test without a doubt. The Washington native has vastly improved his striking over the last few years and his toughness is unquestioned. Chiesa is a tall, lanky fighter for 155 pounds, so keep an eye out on his long arms and long legs if he gets locked in a grappling battle with Clarke at any point in this fight. Chiesa has a good triangle choke and great attacks from the headlock position as well, whether it's a guillotine or a D'arce choke.
Still, Clarke is crafty and elusive and he has a great ability to lull an opponent into a false sense of security before striking back. He's got a deceptive submission game and strong hands. Clarke won't win awards for being the most technical fighter, but he knows how to win, and at the end of the day that's always what is most important.
Chiesa and Clarke could easily engage in a Fight of the Night candidate, so don't be shocked if either man wins, but if you're keeping an eye on an upset, this could be one to watch.
Prediction: Mitch Clarke by submission, round 3