After a three-week hiatus from the UFC, a very Brazil-centric card is on tap for MMA fans this Saturday night as a women’s bantamweight title fight headlines UFC 224 in Rio de Janeiro.
Challenging Amanda Nunes, Raquel Pennington returns from a broken leg to try and dethrone the champion in her own backyard.
In the co-main event, a big middleweight title eliminator will see ‘Jacare’ Souza take on Kelvin Gastelum while the PPV card will open up with two Brazilian legends in Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida squaring off for the first time.
Amanda Nunes (15-4) vs Raquel Pennington (9-5)
This fight will surely be contested on the feet and unfortunately for the challenger, the champion is more technically and physically gifted in that department.
While Pennington has shown good boxing throughout her career, Nunes has beaten the very best on the feet with her speed and power.
For ‘Rocky’ to win this fight, she’ll have to push the pace against the Brazilian and get in close. By making it a ‘dirty’ fight and throwing in a few reactive takedown attempts, Pennington will remove Nunes’ clear advantages and try to exploit a perceived cardio problem.
Whether Pennington can accomplish those goals, however, is another question. Nunes has strong takedown defence and a large frame which is hard to bully. For those facts, I expect Nunes to dictate the tempo and where this fight takes place and show off her striking en route to victory.
Pick: Amanda Nunes
Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza (25-5, 1 NC) vs Kelvin Gastelum (15-3, 1 NC)
‘Jacare’ vs Gastelum promises to be a brilliant fight.
Striking-wise, both men pack a mighty wallop but Gastelum is certainly the cleaner and quicker of the two. With crisp combinations and incredible hand speed, Gastelum may have the best boxing in the division.
When matched up against the only top-five ranked opponent he has faced at 185 lbs, however, Gastelum came unstuck against the former champion in Chris Weidman. While he did drop Weidman, the size disparity ultimately played a big part in his loss.
With ‘Jacare’ being a big physical middleweight and being as dominant as he is on the mat, I think the Brazilian will find a way to ground Gastelum and search out a submission.
Pick: Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza
Mackenzie Dern (6-0) vs Amanda Cooper (3-3)
Fair play to Amanda Cooper for taking this fight after Mackenzie Dern missed weight by a staggering eight lbs over the strawweight limit. Mackenzie Dern has often been labelled as unprofessional and her conduct ahead of this fight is the confirmation to the fact.
With Cooper being so eager to fight though, that weight differential will make a huge difference to the grappler in Dern. Cooper’s losses have all came via submission and with Dern being as talented as she is on the mat, this fight and Dern’s own unprofessionalism all play to her strengths.
Pick: Mackenzie Dern
John Lineker (30-8) vs Brian Kelleher (19-8)
This fight has the makings of a fight of the year contender.
John Lineker is renowned for his aggressive fighting style and Kelleher isn’t that far behind in his desire to stand and trade.
Lineker is a nasty body puncher to supplement his headshots and that distinction has earned him a lot of his victories. with such a sturdy chin, Lineker can afford to get into firefights and his cage-cutting allows the Brazilian to keep the pressure up.
Kelleher is more fleet-footed than his opponent on Saturday but his distance management isn’t great. While he rocked Renan Barao continually in his last outing, he’d often be swinging wildly inches ahead of his target and he’s fortunate to have such a great gas tank to miss so consistently.
This should be a really fun fight for however long it lasts but Lineker has shown to be at a different level than Kelleher and I expect him to prove as much.
Pick: John Lineker
Lyoto Machida (23-8) vs Vitor Belfort (26-13, 1 NC)
Both fighters are on their last legs and this could be a sad fight to watch.
Belfort since having his TRT exemption taken away has looked every bit of his age while Machida hasn’t looked that much better.
To ‘The Dragon’s’ credit, he did fight five full rounds against Eryk Anders but Anders inexperience cost him that fight in a big way.
Fortunately for both fighters’ sake, Machida and Belfort are notorious for their low output and small bursts of activity and that will suit the pair. This could easily go either way with the condition they find themselves in but Belfort’s looked the worse out of the two recently.
Pick: Lyoto Machida
(Last Predictions: 5/6, Total: 35/58, 60% Success Rate)
(2017: 60% Success Rate)