Ricardo Lamas vs. Chad Mendes
After losing to Jose Aldo for a second time last October, Chad Mendes now finds himself in the Rich Franklin position of being the clear #2 fighter in his division, with little chance of getting another title shot as long as Aldo remains champion. A conventional wisdom has been established with Mendes – that he’s clearly the best featherweight in the world besides Aldo, and that Mendes should beat any other featherweight decisively (including that Irish guy).
Mendes is now fighting Ricardo Lamas, a jack of all trades and master of none. Lamas can strike a bit, wrestle a bit, grapple a bit… but he’s not outstanding at any one thing. The most impressive thing about Lamas is his ability to showcase a diverse MMA game against a very high level of competition. If his opponent is weak in any one area, Lamas can exploit that weakness.
The problem with that type of skill set is that if an opponent is outstanding in one area, it’s tough for Lamas to deal with that. Lamas was never going to out-strike Aldo, and his ability to land takedowns simply wasn’t good enough to break through Aldo’s defense. Mendes is a much different test, but his combination of power wrestling, distance control, and knockout power is something that will likely keep Lamas off-balance throughout this main event.
With that said, Lamas is a tough out, and if Mendes comes out flat like he did against Nik Lentz, I could easily see Lamas earning a workmanlike decision. But as long as the takedown game is working for Mendes, the most likely outcome is a clear decision for the Team Alpha Male stalwart.
Pick: Chad Mendes by decision
Al Iaquinta vs. Jorge Masvidal
The fast-rising Al Iaquinta is back to take on his toughest opponent yet in Jorge Masvidal. Iaquinta has established himself as a fast-paced striker with some real power in his hands and three straight wins by TKO coming in. With Masvidal, Iaquinta will be facing a well-rounded opponent with good striking and wrestling. Iaquinta is tough to take down, so I expect this to be largely a boxing match at distance. I expect any decision to be very close and tough to call, but with Masvidal’s below-average chin and Iaquinta’s ability to finish, I have to call Iaquinta the overall favorite here.
Pick: Al Iaquinta by decision
Michael Chiesa vs. Mitch Clarke
After a dismal 0-2 start in the UFC, Clarke has improbably bounced back with a decision win over John Maguire and a submission victory against Iaquinta. It’s a feel-good underdog story, but if statistics are any indication, Clarke remains a below-average striker and wrestler by UFC standards. He clearly knows what he’s doing on the ground, but that also happens to be a strength of Chiesa’s. The skill gap between these guys isn’t so wide that Clarke can’t win a decision, but it seems clear that Chiesa has the more well-rounded skill set.
Pick: Michael Chiesa by decision
Milana Dudieva vs. Julianna Pena
The statistical analysis I’ve done likes Pena a lot, with her dominant victory over Jessica Rakoczy and relatively young age. Subjectively, I see reasons to be concerned. Rakoczy’s record is a dismal 1-4, so Pena’s performance should probably be taken with a grain of salt. Pena is also making her first appearance since suffering a devastating knee injury. With the betting lines and my statistical model in agreement, I have to pick Pena here, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she struggles against Dudieva.
Pick: Julianna Pena by decision
Clay Guida vs. Robbie Peralta
It was frustrating to watch Peralta lose to Thiago Tavares. I thought Peralta would win, but Tavares gave him no room to strike, and Peralta seemed clueless against Tavares’s suffocating grappling style. It would seem that Peralta should have trouble with Guida, who is a better wrestler and more accomplished fighter than Tavares. I have to pick Guida to grind out a decision here, but if Guida’s takedowns aren’t working for him, Peralta should prove to be the much more effective striker. This could be a surprisingly competitive match.
Pick: Clay Guida by decision
Carlos Diego Ferreira vs. Dustin Poirier
I’m always intrigued when a fighter decides to move up a weight class, as Poirier is doing here against Ferreira. If a fighter isn’t a wrestler (and Poirier certainly is not), it often seems that the benefits of not having to cut weight often out-weigh the drawbacks of being the slightly smaller fighter. While Poirier’s striking defense isn’t very tight, he does fight at a high pace. I expect that pace and aggression to be a little too much for Ferreira to handle.
Pick: Dustin Poirier by TKO
Liz Carmouche vs. Lauren Murphy
Like a lot of people, I was impressed that Murphy was able to nearly defeat Sara McMann despite fighting off her back for the entirety of the fight. But I also think Murphy having even odds to beat Carmouche is a little optimistic. I understand that Carmouche’s 9-5 record isn’t particularly impressive, but she should be the superior wrestler. Carmouche also should have a ground and pound game that’s at least a little more effective than McMann’s. Murphy’s ability to scramble and scrap makes her a dangerous underdog, but I don’t see her as anything more than that in this matchup.
Pick: Liz Carmouche by decision
Gray Maynard vs. Alexander Yakovlev
It’s astonishing how quickly Maynard has fallen from drawing Frankie Edgar in a championship fight. Now he’s fighting Alexander Yakovlev on the prelims of an event in Fairfax. Maynard’s career has largely fallen apart due to a bizarre desire to box, a boxing game that isn’t particularly impressive, and a badly compromised chin. In a sane world, Maynard should easily be able to wrestle his way to victory against Yakovlev, but there’s a very high chance that Yakovlev will knock Maynard unconscious again.
Pick: Gray Maynard by decision
Shamil Abdurahimov vs. Timothy Johnson
Two heavyweights are making their debut on the prelims. Shamil Abdurahimov enters with a 15-2 record and a few wins against noteworthy opponents. Wins over guys like Kenny Garner and Jeff Monson are enough to make him the favorite against the 8-1 Timothy Johnson, who has a win over Travis Wiuff to boast about. (Travis Wiuff is still fighting?) Without knowing anything else, I’m inclined to think that a knockout or submission could go either way, which is usually the case with unproven heavyweights in the UFC anyway.
Pick: Shamil Abdurahimov by TKO
Justin Jones vs. Ron Stallings
The curtain jurker is a fight between guys who each lost a short-notice UFC debut in their last outing. I’m surprised to see Justin Jones listed as the betting favorite since he has such a lack of professional experience; he’s 3-1 and made his professional MMA debut just 15 months ago. I understand that Stallings probably doesn’t belong in the UFC, but I like his chances to at least win against an inexperienced prospect like Jones.
Pick: Ron Stallings by TKO