Chad Mendes (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC Fight Night 63 Preview and Predictions

There is a poem by Robert Frost, Nothing Gold Can Stay, which accurately describes some of the fighters on UFC Fight Night 63 perfectly. Once at the top of their divisions, many have fallen by the wayside. Staying at the top of the division is hard, and these fighters can’t stay forever.

This card features numerous veterans from top to bottom. Fighters like Clay Guida and Gray Maynard will look to keep long careers going.

Looking at the top of the card, the main event is a battle of former title challengers, as Chad Mendes faces off with Ricardo Lamas. Lamas is looking for a second title shot against either current featherweight champion, Jose Aldo or the challenger to Aldo’s belt at UFC 189, Conor McGregor. Mendes has been a tough out in non-title bouts, much like his Team Alpha Male training partner, Urijah Faber. Mendes himself is looking to get a third fight with Aldo after falling short in his last fight against the champion.


The co-main event of the night will be two guys looking to make a claim to the top 10 as veteran Jorge Masvidal takes on The Ultimate Fighter: Live finalist, Al Iaquinta. Iaquinta is coming off an impressive victory over Joe Lauzon at UFC 183 and is looking to start his ascension to becoming the next lightweight contender. Masvidal himself is riding a three-fight winning streak and took home a decision victory from James Krause at UFC 178 in September.

Rounding out the main card will be four additional fights. Dustin Poirier returns to lightweight against Carlos Diego Ferreira. Also at lightweight, The Ultimate Fighter: Live champion, Michael Chiesa takes on Mitch Clarke. Another TUF winner, Julianna Pena, returns to the Octagon after a year-long hiatus due to injury against Milana Dudieva. Also on the main card is a featherweight tilt between veteran Clay Guida and Robbie Peralta.

UFC Fight Night 63 will air live from at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va. The preliminary card begins at a different time than most fight fans will be used to at 11 a.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. The main card will also air on Fox Sports 1 at 1 p.m. ET. Writers Vince Carey and Sal DeRose try their best to stay golden for this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

We have two former featherweight challengers in the main event. Chad Mendes has suffered his only professional losses to the reigning champ, Jose Aldo. He is coming off the second of those losses, however. Ricardo Lamas, meanwhile, is 6-1 in the UFC. Lamas has only a loss to Aldo inside the Octagon, and he has notched two wins since his failed title bid. It’s safe to say that the winner is probably destined for another title scrap, but can Mendes land the opportunity with just one win? Furthermore, should these guys hope for an Aldo loss in his upcoming title fight with Conor McGregor, or can one of them finally solve the riddle of Aldo on their own?

Carey: First of all, I’m actually not convinced that either one of these guys will get a title shot with a win here. Frankie Edgar and Urijah Faber are fighting next month with a lot more fanfare behind them, and I have a strong feeling the winner of that bout will either fight the winner this weekend or end up directly in at title bout. But regardless, the winner on Saturday night should stay in the mix.

This should end up being the toughest non-title fight of Mendes’ career thus far, since Lamas is good in a lot of the same areas as “Money.” Mendes isn’t going to have the huge wrestling advantage he has over virtually every opponent, and Lamas’ striking is good enough that the improvements Mendes has made over the past few years won’t overwhelm the former title challenger. I still think Mendes is a little better in all areas and he should sneak away with a decision here, but I expect both guys to get put in some difficult situations before all is said and done.

This should be a fantastic fight, and even though Mendes has had multiple title opportunities and Lamas didn’t provide Aldo too many problems when they went toe-to-toe, the winner should prove himself worthy for a No. 1 contender’s fight at the worst. Featherweight is a relatively deep division, but there hasn’t been a ton of parity at the top lately. These two, along with Edgar, have dominated the division almost since its inception in the UFC and they’re going to continue to stay in those top spots until someone in the bottom half of the top 10 can get a win and jump up the ladder like Conor McGregor.

As far as either of these guys hoping McGregor wins, while they probably should, I doubt they will, especially in the case of Mendes. Money felt like he got caught slipping in his first fight with Aldo, and he proved he wasn’t that easy an out when he pushed Aldo to the limit last fall. Lamas is in the same boat, as there’s little doubt he feels he underperformed against Aldo the first time and would like a second shot. Stylistically, both guys match up far better with McGregor than Aldo due to of McGregor’s largely unknown takedown defense. They should probably be pushing for an upset this summer, but if you asked them, I’m sure they’d either tell you they wanted Aldo or they didn’t care. Fighters are competitive like that.

DeRose: Vince pretty much answered the question as far as I’m concerned. I don’t have much to add, but I’ll try to provide a little something.

Vince touched on it a little, but I’ll go a little more in depth on just how these two guys will see their hand being raised at the end of the night. Mendes has gone under vast improvements in his striking since Duane Ludwig has come around. The things Ludwig has done with the Team Alpha Male camp is amazing. T.J. Dillashaw went from a heavy underdog and middle-tier fighter to the UFC bantamweight champion. Mendes himself has undergone a vast evolution in his striking and has become two-dimensional in his fight style. Mendes took it to champion Jose Aldo in his last fight. That fight with Aldo showed a lot about Mendes and just how good the No. 2 guy in the division is. I don’t care who the opponent is for Aldo, unless they beat Mendes, Mendes is the No. 2 guy.

Lamas needs to put Mendes on his back. Mendes has excellent wrestling, but Lamas isn’t bad himself. Mendes has very little experience in fending off a guy from the top. That is a very hard game plan to employ as Mendes will almost definitely stuff the shot and get a guillotine, something Mendes’ teammate, Urijah Faber is well versed in. Lamas has a three-inch reach advantage here. That is his opportunity to win this fight. Keep Mendes on the outside, don’t let him pop in and out with quick combos and keep a stiff jab or leg kicks to control that distance.

Mendes should win this fight. Much like Faber, Mendes is undefeated in non-title fights. All areas of this fight are pretty even, but I do give an edge to Mendes in all areas. This won’t be a domination on the part of Mendes, but it gives him a great test to try and bring himself back into a possible trilogy fight with Aldo.

Al Iaquinta and Jorge Masvidal could quite possibly stand as two of the most overlooked lightweights in the UFC today. Iaquinta is 6-2 in his UFC run, and Masvidal is 5-1. Someone is going to win this fight and emerge with another win, but will the victory finally put the winning fighter in the title picture?

DeRose: Man, this is really cool. Jorge Masvidal doesn’t disappoint when he steps inside the Octagon. You can say whatever you want about his body of work, but the man comes to fight. Period.

It’s sad that someone has to lose in this fight. Al Iaquinta is still young at only 27 years old. The lightweight division isn’t short of contenders, either. Iaquinta is still a little green and needs some work before eventually facing the newly crowned champion, Rafael dos Anjos — unless Khabib Nurmagomedov has anything to say about that.

Anyway, Iaquinta has had the prospect label for quite sometime since coming out of The Ultimate Fighter what seems like forever ago. Iaquinta definitely shedded that tag when he dominated veteran Joe Lauzon in his last fight. I didn’t pick Iaquinta in that fight mainly because of that prospect tag, but Iaquinta certainly proved me wrong.

I don’t know who is going to win this fight. I see it as a toss up. Masvidal has good boxing, but Iaquinta is no slouch either. Especially considering Iaquinta has Ray Longo as a coach. It’s moot to actually argue who is better as a striker. It’s just too close

This won’t hit the floor and if it does, it won’t be too often. Iaquinta has some questions around his submission defense, but Masvidal isn’t a submission guy as you can tell by his one submission victory.

I’m going with Iaquinta in this fight, but I wouldn’t suggest betting on it. It could genuinely go either way. Unfortunately with a new champion, the winner of this fight finds themselves at the back of the pack as far as the contenders go.

Carey: Like Sal, I’m extremely excited for this fight. Both guys are fun to watch and both love to try and knock people out. But, I could also see it going either way.

I’m actually not as confident in this fight remaining on the feet as my colleague however, mostly due to Masvidal’s willingness to mix things up and shoot for takedowns even if he’s doing well in the standup department. Masvidal has scored at least one takedown in all but one of his UFC bouts and even took down Tim Means a ridiculous six times in his UFC debut. I know we all consider Masvidal a striker first, and with good reason, but his wrestling and control have improved by leaps and bounds over the years and he’s the more complete fighter than Iaquinta at this point.

On the feet this fight is pretty much a toss up. Iaquinta throws a little more often and tends to add more volume to his combinations, but Masvidal is one of the more accurate strikers in the division and might hit a little harder. If it remains upright for the entire fight as Sal predicts, then I’m in complete agreement with him that this fight is almost too close to call. But I think Masvidal is smart enough to mix it up just enough, even if it comes down to sneaking in a late takedown or two at the end of a round to secure a decision. That’ll push Masvidal to 6-1 in his UFC career and should at least get him a fight against another ranked opponent going forward.

There are a lot of former title contenders on this card. Chad Mendes, Dustin Poirier, Gray Maynard, Liz Carmouche and Clay Guida are all coming off of losses as well. Out of those five fighters, who has the best shot at finding themselves right back into the mix and getting a shot at a title in their respective divisions?

Carey: My official answer for this one is Mendes, mostly for the same reasons I said he could get back into the mix earlier. If this weekend, there’s probably only one more guy standing in front of him before he gets a title fight. For the rest of these guys (and girl), we’re looking at at least two to three wins before they’re even mentioned in a title discussion again. But since I already talked about Mendes earlier, I’ll pick a second choice, Dustin Poirier.

Why Poirier? For one, Poirier’s career is about to get interesting this weekend, as he makes his UFC lightweight debut after spending four years as a top featherweight contender. Poirier was extremely successful at 145 pounds, going 8-3 and beating plenty of quality fighters along the way, but he’s back at 155 after a devastating loss to Conor McGregor last fall and is going to try and conquer the shark tank that is the lightweight division. But in all honesty, I just don’t see anyone else on the list remaining ranked very much longer, let alone ending up in title contention. Guida is as up and down as any fighter in UFC history, and he’s been struggling more and more as of late. Maynard’s chin is so suspect that he may be out of a job if he suffers his fifth knockout loss in six fights this weekend. And Carmouche is in the women’s bantamweight division that seems to have a new contender climb out of the woodwork every six months due to the weight class being so new. Also, she’s been far from impressive in her last two bouts, both losses.

So while I don’t love Poirier’s chances against guys like Benson Henderson or Khabib Nurmagomedov at 155 pounds, I do believe he has a chance to beat some of the lower-ranked guys in the weight class and maybe get a favorable match-up or two in the top 10. It’s hard to predict he’ll end up with a title opportunity, especially since he’s at 155, I think he’s got a better shot than most of the list.

DeRose: I think Vince nailed it on the head. From the above list, the two fighter most likely to get title shots are Poirier and Mendes. Mendes certainly has the higher percentage shot, especially if McGregor takes the belt from Aldo, but Poirier could probably be a high-ranked lightweight considering his run at featherweight.

That being said, Liz Carmouche might be the darkhorse candidate here. The 135-pound division for the women is extremely thin. Ronda Rousey has made this division look relatively weak by comparison. Carmouche is coming off of two straight losses, but they’re against Miesha Tate and Alexis Davis. So it isn’t like Carmouche isn’t fighting the top of the division. Tate is always hanging around the top and Carmouche was a win that got Davis closer to her title shot against Rousey.

Getting a second fight with Rousey is easier said than done. In this division it might only take two or three wins to get back into contention considering how shallow it is. The division needs more challengers to line up for Rousey. Carmouche has time to do this as well. Rousey already has her fight with Bethe Correira in the summer, and might have a fight with Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino in 2016 if the jump from featherweight to bantamweight goes well and Justino is able to defend her featherweight belt in July.

I’m not counting out Carmouche just yet. She hasn’t been great in her last couple of fights, but again, it was against some stiff competition. The wins necessary to get another shot is relatively little and there is a decent amount of time to achieve it. We’ll see.

Julianna Pena has had a rollercoaster ride of a career the past two years. Pena bucked the odds by becoming the first female winner of The Ultimate Fighter in 2013, but before she could capitalize on her momentum she suffered a training injury that essentially destroyed her right knee, and she was forced to miss all of 2014. She makes her return this weekend, but will she be the same fighter? And if she is, how far can you see Pena going in the 135-pound division?

DeRose: From what I’ve read, Julianna Pena really did a number on her knee. An injury to the ACL is extremely hard to overcome by itself. Pena not only tore her ACL, but also her MCL, LCL and meniscus. That is extremely daunting.

I always say this, but it depends on the fighter and their mindset whether they overcome this. Someone like Dominick Cruz, I knew would be able to come back strong based on just his mindset having watched him over the years. I’m not as familiar with Pena, so I honestly do not know how this will turn out. Minnesota Vikings running back, Adrian Peterson is a freak of nature and was able to not only come back from the injury, but continue his claim as the top rusher in the NFL.

Pena had a ton of potential to be just like Peterson and be the top of this division. Her time on TUF clearly showed that. But knee injuries are no joke and can completely change the make-up of a fighter. Movement might be harder, takedowns might get more difficult and having someone hang on you could be detrimental.

I like Pena in this fight, but the knee injury makes me worried. In order to judge her future I want to see this fight first. Based on her past, I think she can certainly live up to her potential. But knee injuries are scary and can completely derail any athletes career, let alone somebody in combat sports.

Carey: Wow, that was depressing.

Sadly, I share the same fears as Sal. Pena’s injury is one of those where you have to be concerned about both the mental and physical state of the fighter as they attempt to come back. It’s tough to make any assumptions about the former TUF champion before seeing her in the cage first. This injury is so unpredictable that I even feel sketchy about picking her to win over Dudieva this weekend, which would definitely not be the case if this was pre-injury Pena fighting.

I usually try to assume that fighters are coming back as close to 100 percent as possible, and if I’m doing that, I have no doubts about Pena’s chances at winning on Saturday. Dudieva put on a decent showing in her UFC debut against Elizabeth Phillips, but even with twice as many fights as Pena, her level of competition struggles in comparison with the talent “The Venezuelan Vixen” had to deal with on TUF. Pena was the first fighter picked on a season of TUF stuffed with longtime WMMA vets, and she proved she was worth her hype when she took out a few of them while winning the tournament.

If Pena is able to return to form, I could definitely see big fights for her in the near future. Sal touched on the lack of depth in the female’s 135-pound division earlier, and Pena has the ability to climb that ladder if she can stay healthy. I’m not going to come out and call her a potential opponent for Ronda Rousey quite yet, but she’s young, talented and was improving with every fight before her injury and it’s easy to see that trend continuing without any further problems.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Carey: This card is full of really interesting matchups, but one I’m definitely looking forward to is the featherweight scrap between Clay Guida and Robbie Peralta. Guida is usually one of the more entertaining fighters on the UFC roster, especially when he gets to fight a brawler in the mold of Peralta, so this should be good if it remains standing. Guida can tuck his head and go for broke with the best of them, and Peralta isn’t likely to shy away if that’s the route this fight takes.

Admittedly, if Peralta’s takedown defense is subpar this one could be a bit of a snoozer. Guida is really good at getting in top control and staying there, and if Peralta ends up like a turtle on his back this could be a 15-minute domination from Guida. I don’t think it’s going to be that easy though, and I expect at least a couple of fast and furious exchanges between these two before the fight is over.

DeRose: I’m actually hyped for a few of these fights, but Dustin Poirier always captures my attention. Poirier makes the jump up to 155 pound from his featherweight home. This is the fight that could make or break Poirier’s career. It will be interesting to see how he overcomes that devastating loss to Conor McGregor. Will the jump in weight be a factor in things like his cardio and strength? Poirier always has interesting fights and Carlos Diego Ferreira is a guy who will play ball with him. Ferreira’s last win came against Ramsey Nijem in a “Fight of the Night” winning performance. This fight has the potential to steal the show if both fighters go at it like they normally do.

Pair this card with…

DeRose: Some nostalgia. Some of the fighters on this card are starting to hit the tail end of their careers. Maybe fire up UFC Fight Pass and watch Gray Maynard take on Frankie Edgar. How about some Clay Guida versus Diego Sanchez action? Heck, you don’t even have to watch one of the guys leaving the prime of their career. Maybe watch somebody currently in their prime, like say Chad Mendes against Cody McKenzie in a one-sided shellacking. All in all, the past few weeks have seen numerous staples in MMA starting slowly get phased out. Josh Koscheck, Mark Munoz is closing in on his retirement, heck, we even found Jason Thacker. Let’s relive the old memories.

Carey: The Final Four! Most of the country has spent the last couple of weeks obsessing over their brackets anyway, so you might as well continue the madness and watch the national semifinals. Even if your bracket has been busted from the start, (I still don’t forgive you, Iowa State) these are the games where the intensity hits a new level and stars are born. There’s a pretty good day of fights taking place on Fox Sports 1 and when it’s over, you can flip over to the hoops. This is a really quality main event, and between the return of Pena, Maynard and Guida looking to revive their career’s or the guaranteed scrap between Iaquinta and Masvidal, there’s a lot to like about this card.

Fight Picks

Fight Carey’s Pick DeRose’s Pick
Main Card (Fox Sports 1, 1 p.m. ET)
FW: Ricardo Lamas vs. Chad Mendes Mendes Mendes
LW: Al Iaquinta vs. Jorge Masvidal Masvidal Iaquinta
LW: Michael Chiesa vs. Mitch Clarke Chiesa Chiesa
Women’s BW: Milana Dudieva vs. Julianna Pena Pena Pena
FW: Clay Guida vs. Robbie Peralta Guida Guida
LW: Diego Ferreira vs. Dustin Poirier Poirier Poirier
Preliminary Card (Fox Sports 1, 11 a.m. ET)
Women’s BW: Liz Carmouche vs. Lauren Murphy Murphy Murphy
LW: Gray Maynard vs. Alexander Yakovlev Maynard Yakovlev
HW: Shamil Abdurahimov vs. Timothy Johnson Abdurahimov Abdurahimov
MW: Justin Jones vs. Ron Stallings Jones Stallings