I don't know about you, but I'm picking the tough-as-hell wrestler who went the distance with Featherweight champion Jose Aldo. No ... the other one.
Fresh off of his "Fight of the Year" candidate against the reigning champ, Chad Mendes will enter the cage for the first time in 2015, taking on Ricardo Lamas, who has won his last six non-Aldo bouts. The two make up the main event of UFC Fight Night 63, which will take place at Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va., this Saturday night (April 4, 2015).
Ten pounds north, two surging Lightweight standouts collide as Al Iaquinta puts his three-fight knockout streak on the line against American Top Team (ATT)-trained standout Jorge Masvidal, while Iaquinta-slayers Mitch Clarke and Michael Chiesa duke it out one fight prior.
We've got just four "Prelims" to preview and predict this time, all of which can be found on Fox Sports 1. Here's the low-down.
135 lbs.: Liz Carmouche vs. Lauren Murphy
Liz Carmouche (9-5) impressed in defeat against Ronda Rousey, taking the champion’s back before eventually tapping to her signature armbar. "Girl-Rilla" rebounded with a stoppage of Jessica Andrade, but has dropped two straight to Alexis Davis and Miesha Tate.
Eight of her professional victories are by stoppage ... six by form of knockout.
After two straight victories under the Invicta banner, Lauren Murphy (8-1) fought for the promotion’s Bantamweight title, taking the belt after incumbent Miriam Nakamoto suffered a brutal knee injury. She joined UFC in Aug. 2014, losing a close split decision to Olympian Sara McMann in Bangor.
She will enjoy a two-inch height advantage on fight night.
As much as I support Carmouche, her weakness has become clear: If she can’t physically overpower her opponent, she’s in for a rough night. Unfortunately for her, Murphy is going to be a tough one to out-muscle.
Carmouche’s striking is rudimentary, so she needs to be able to get on top of her opponent if she wants to win. Murphy has the physical ability to not only deny her takedowns, but also put Carmouche on her back, where "Girl-Rilla" is no real threat.
Expect the Invicta import to impose her will, grinding down Carmouche for a wide decision win.
Prediction: Murphy via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Gray Maynard vs. Alexander Yakovlev
After the conclusion of his epic trilogy with Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard (11-4-1) re-entered the win column in an infamous bout with Clay Guida, who did everything possible to avoid a fight en route to losing the decision. It’s been all downhill since for "The Bully," though, as he’s suffered three consecutive knockout losses.
He will give up five inches of height to Alexander Yakovlev (21-6-1).
Yakovlev entered UFC with an 8-1-1 record in his previous 10 fights, the sole loss to Rashid Magomedov and the last victory over Paul Daley. He’s since struggled to maintain that form, dropping decisions to Demian Maia and Nico Musoke.
This will be his 155-pound debut.
I really want Maynard to retire. All four of his knockout losses have been brutal and hard to watch. And not only is he getting easier and easier to wobble, his defense all but disintegrates when it happens, leaving him wide open to a protracted beating.
Luckily, if he does have to fight again, Yakovlev is a relatively safe option.
The Russian is a very capable grappler, but has shown himself vulnerable to being controlled on the cage. In addition, his striking seems rather ineffectual -- he’s there to wrestle, which just happens to be Maynard’s area of expertise. If Maynard can just focus on defense and grappling pressure, he ought to be more than capable of earning the decision.
It’s a big "if" and even Yakovlev is a knockout threat, but my gut still says Maynard.
Prediction: Maynard via unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Shamil Abdurahimov vs. Timothy Johnson
Back in 2011, Shamil Abdurahimov's (15-2) win streak ended at six courtesy of an upset submission loss to journeyman Tony Lopez. Since then, he’s picked up three straight victories, most recently defeating former M-1 champion Kenny Garner in June 2014.
He has stopped 11 opponents, including seven by form of knockout.
Timothy Johnson (8-1) suffered a submission loss in his second professional match, only to stop all of his subsequent opponents inside two rounds. His last two bouts have seen him defeat a pair of veterans in Kevin Asplund and Travis Wiuff.
His wins are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
This fight brings to mind the clash between Ruslan Magomedov and Josh Copeland that went down in May 2014 -- an experienced veteran versus a physically-imposing, but still-raw, prospect. I expect it to end the same way, as well.
Johnson’s strategy is pretty straightforward: Barrel into the clinch behind some haymakers, tie up and drag them to the ground. Unfortunately for him, Abdurahimov already beat someone cut from the same mold in Kenny Garner and has more experience against higher-level opposition in general. He should be able to hold his own in the clinch and is the cleaner striker at range.
Expect the Russian to wear down Johnson, shrugging off his takedown attempts and eventually putting him away when they hit the uncharted territory of the fourth round.
Prediction: Abdurahimov via third-round technical knockout
185 lbs.: Ronald Stallings vs. Justin Jones
Team Lloyd Irvin’s Ronald Stallings (12-7) joined UFC as the third scheduled opponent for Uriah Hall in Boston, fighting on less than one week’s notice. Despite his bravery, Stallings dropped his second straight bout courtesy of a blistering right hand that opened a fight-ending cut in the first round.
His victories are split evenly between knockouts and submissions.
Like Stallings, Justin Jones (3-1) first appeared in UFC as a late replacement, moving up in weight to face The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 19 winner Corey Anderson at UFC 181. Jones -- who has less than one year of professional experience --could not handle his opponent’s wrestling prowess and wound up losing a wide decision.
He was unbeaten as an amateur and finished his first three professional opponents.
Not gonna lie, looking at this from a neutral perspective is not easy, considering Stallings’ team. Plus, it’s just a tough fight to pick -- Stallings has some quality striking offense, but porous defense, while Jones is inexperienced, but seems to pack power. It’s evenly-matched and should be quite entertaining while it lasts.
Though I recognize that my thought process may be tainted, I’m still leaning toward Jones.
Stallings’ problems are twofold: He’s not hard to wrap up and he’s not hard to hit. He’s got a fun, high-volume striking style anchored by a nice right hook to the body, but he doesn’t move his head. It got his block knocked off against Hall and, with Jones’ penchant for planting his feet and winging bombs, I can definitely see it costing him here.
It should be a quality scrap while it lasts and it’ll favor Stallings more and more as time goes by. Still, I say Jones manages to land a head-rattling bomb sometime in the first round.
Prediction: Jones via first-round technical knockout
UFC Fight Night 63's main- and co-main events are both excellent. And we finally get to see Julianna Pena in action -- no complaints here.
See you Saturday, Maniacs!
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will provide LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 63 fight card, starting with the FOX Sports 1 "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. ET, right on through the FOX Sports 1-televised main card, which is slated to begin at 1 p.m. ET.