Missed Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)?
Well fight fans, the promotion returns to the spotlight this weekend for a special afternoon fight card from Virginia, featuring a barnburner of a main event that pits former 145-pound title challengers against one another.
No. 1 ranked featherweight Chad Mendes looks to rebound from his title loss to Jose Aldo by taking on No. 4 ranked Ricardo Lamas, who also lost to "Junior" in 2014. With both men hoping to secure another title shot this Saturday afternoon (April 4, 2015), the UFC Fight Night 63 event -- airing live on FOX Sports 1 from inside the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia -- holds a lot of weight in the grand scheme of the mixed martial arts (MMA) landscape.
The co-main event is yet another important bout, this time featuring two surging lightweight contenders looking to break into the division's top 10. Al Iaquinta steps back into the Octagon for the third time in a span of six months to take on savvy veteran Jorge Masvidal, and you can expect fireworks when the cage door closes.
With a fight card stacked with intriguing fights and a handful of high-profile names, MMAmania.com pondered "Five Burning Questions" heading into Saturday night.
5. Afternoon event: Smashing success or major flop by UFC officials?
Let me kick this off with my thoughts on an afternoon event: YES PLEASE!
When Dana White announced UFC Fight Night 63 would be an afternoon event, I wondered what country Chad Mendes and Ricardo Lamas would be throwing leather in. Of course, moments later it was revealed that the afternoon event -- which has been almost solely used for UFC events in Asia or halfway around the world -- was right here in the good ole' United States!
Twitter was definitely excited about the news, but was that only because MMA journalists wouldn't have to be writing into the wee hours of the morning? Maybe, but it certainly seemed like fans enjoyed the notion of watching fisticuffs while the sun shines bright outside.
With the "Prelims" set to kick off at 11 a.m ET, and the main card set for a 1 p.m. ET start time, fight fans on the east coast will have an entire night to do as they please when the event ends late afternoon.
If this is a test to see whether or not the UFC brass wants to continue putting on afternoon events, I implore you to tune in and help get those viewership numbers up.
The question is, do you want more afternoon events, or are you a stickler for fights in the evening?
4. Gray Maynard and Clay Guida return, but does either veteran have anything left?
Short answer: Probably not
Anyhow, former No. 1 lightweight contender Gray Maynard makes the trek to the Octagon for the 16th time this Saturday and "The Bully" desperately needs a win. After getting knocked out by then UFC champ Frankie Edgar in their second meeting back in 2011, Maynard has won only one fight in his last four -- a horrendously bad decision win over Clay Guida.
After the Guida win, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran was knocked out by TJ Grant, Nate Diaz, and Ross Pearson in consecutive outings.
While most would retire after the repeated head trauma, "The Bully" is looking for one more victory against Alexander Yakovlev on the "Prelims" this weekend. If he can't get a victory over the Russian, I'd expect Maynard to retire.
As for Guida, the Illinois native has fallen on some hard times as well, going 2-4 in his last six outings. In his two victories, "The Carpenter" didn't exactly look impressive, eeking out decisions over Hatsu Hioki and Tatsuya Kawajiri.
UFC officials definitely gave Guida a winnable fight this weekend against dangerous striker Robbie Peralta, but you can bet his gameplan won't be fun to watch on fight night. Expect a whole lot of takedown attempts, grinding on the fence, and maybe even some running!
Point blank, both Guida and Maynard need a win to stay in UFC, but either way their heydays are long behind them.
3. Julianna Pena is finally healed. Will she get a fast track to a UFC title shot?
Julianna Pena stormed through the competition on TUF 18, winning the show with a vicious beatdown over Jessica Rakoczy back in November 2013.
"The Venezuelan Vixen" looked to be an immediate threat in the women's bantamweight division, and while no one was calling for Pena to fight Ronda Rousey right away, many wondered how many fights it would take for Pena to reach the apex.
Unfortunately for her, a controversial accident in training that led to "the worst injury ever" had Pena on the sidelines for well over a year.
The 135-pound contender can now finally put that incident in the past this weekend, and place herself firmly in the women's bantamweight rankings with a big time victory over Milana Dudieva.
If Pena can finish Dudieva impressively, I would expect UFC to fast track her to a shot at "Rowdy." In my estimation, a win this Saturday, followed by a win over a ranked opponent, could have Pena facing off against Rousey next year.
Regardless of what happens, it is great for the division to have the TUF champ back, and hopefully she can make her mark and make some noise.
2. Dustin Poirier moves up to 155 pounds. Can he become a legitimate contender against the lightweight elite?
Dustin Poirier was a legit contender at 145 pounds, but "The Diamond" struggled to defeat the cream of the crop in the featherweight division.
Losses to Chan Sung Jung, Cub Swanson, and Conor McGregor all halted Poirier's run up the division ladder, and the American Top Team (ATT) product has opted to stop cutting so much weight and take a swing at the lightweight division.
UFC matchmakers did Poirier no favors by matching him up with Carlos Diego Ferreira this weekend, but if he can accrue a victory in any fashion, it would be an electric start to his lightweight career.
Ultimately, the lightweight division is just as stacked -- if not more so -- than the featherweight division, so I don't anticipate "The Diamond's" standing to be much different than it was at 145 pounds.
The important thing to note is whether or not Poirier has increased power at 155 or if his speed has decreased at all. If not much changes, I don't see how Poirier can compete with the division's top five.
1. Is Ricardo Lamas being underestimated, or is Chad Mendes truly above the rest of the contender pack?
I may not be a betting man, but a quick gander at the lines for UFC Fight Night 63 shows Ricardo Lamas as a pretty hefty underdog at +350. In fact, one outlet has "The Bully" listed at +375!
In a simple pick 'em format, I certainly would not pick against Chad Mendes, but in the betting world it seems to me the oddsmakers are way off.
Ricardo Lamas has been proving fans and pundits wrong his entire career. Barring his very banal performance against UFC champ Jose Aldo, the Chicago native has been exceptional in his Octagon career.
"The Bully" has quite the list of victories under the UFC banner, including Cub Swanson, Hacran Dias, and Dennis Bermudez among others.
Not only is Lamas a very game opponent, he has improved in nearly every fight we have seen him in.
Lamas has the ability to hold most of his opponents down and dictate the pace, but that doesn't mean he can't finish a fight. In fact, in his six UFC victories four have come via finish.
Look, I fully believe Chad Mendes is by far the second best featherweight in the world (yes, I believe he would mop the floor with Conor McGregor), but let's not pretend his resume is all that better than his opponent's.
In fact, I'd say "The Bully's" UFC victories have been far more impressive than "Money's" victories over Yaotzin Meza, Cody McKenzie, Darren Elkins, and Nik Lentz, just to name a few.
I'm picking Mendes to win this fight via decision with pressure and he could even knock Lamas out, but to say the Chicago native has no chance is absolutely ludicrous.
So, who are you picking in Fairfax this weekend?
For more information on UFC Fight Night 63, including the full fight card, results, news, and more, click here.