UFC 224 tips: Best bets for Nunes v Pennington
We make our pick for the women's bantamweight title fight in Brazil, plus the rest of the action on the main card.
Amanda Nunes v Raquel Pennington
Saturday night’s main event sees Nunes back in the Octagon for the first time in eight months to make the third defence of her women’s bantamweight title.
The Brazilian edged past Valentina Shevchenko by split decision back in September, having taken out Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds in her previous bout.
Up against her this time around is Pennington, who shot to the top of the rankings with four successive wins, the last of which came on points against Miesha Tate in November 2016.
Pennington has improved as an all-round fighter very quickly and does everything well, but it’s hard to see any way she comes away with a win this weekend.
Nunes is a brutal striker, a fine wrestler and also dismissed any questions surrounding her stamina by going five hard rounds with Shevchenko last time out.
The champion has looked unstoppable during her own six-fight winning streak, and she should blitz Pennington early on and secure the 11th knockout win of her career to date.
Jacare Souza v Kelvin Gastelum
The winner of this co-main event is almost certainly guaranteed a middleweight title fight by the end of the year.
Souza was on course for a shot at the belt just over a year ago, but he was then knocked out by current champion Robert Whittaker in April 2017 and has only fought once since.
The Brazilian demolished Derek Brunson inside a round in January, but this weekend’s bout should be much tougher for the 38-year-old.
Gastelum stopped Michael Bisping inside a round back in November, and the 26-year-old’s speed and power on the feet suggests he can cause Souza the exact same problems that Whittaker did.
If this fight goes to the ground early on then Souza will have a major advantage. Very few fighters have been able to deal with the former Strikeforce champion on the mat, where he has 14 career submission victories.
Gastelum’s takedown defence is good, though, and he’s worth backing to keep the ageing Brazilian at bay and land a combination for the stoppage win.
Mackenzie Dern v Amanda Cooper
Dern will have a considerable weight advantage here, having somehow managed to miss the strawweight limit by seven pounds.
The much-hyped American has only fought once in the UFC to date, scraping past Ashley Yoder by decision in March, in a bout in which she barely used the elite jiu-jitsu that earned her world championships in the 2015 and 2016.
The 25-year-old is a powerful but ungainly striker, and she’s better off trying to take the fight to the ground against Cooper, who has a 3-3 career record but can punch and wrestle.
Dern’s close call against Yoder should lead her to stick to what she does best on Saturday night, and a submission win is the likeliest outcome here.
Brian Kelleher v John Lineker
These two bantamweights both love to brawl, and they’ll surely go toe-to-toe from the first bell.
Kelleher is a pressure fighter who uses his energy to overwhelm opponents, but he could easily walk into a bomb by pushing the pace against Lineker.
The Brazilian is among the hardest hitters in the division, with 13 career knockouts to his name, and he’s won seven of his last eight fights dating back to January 2015.
Lineker’s only real weakness is his takedown defence, but Kelleher isn’t much of a wrestler and will struggle to exploit that advantage.
Anything other than a win for the 27-year-old is unlikely, and it’ll probably come inside the distance.
Vitor Belfort v Lyoto Machida
This is a nostalgic treat for Brazilian fans, as two MMA legends meet for the first time ever in their home country.
Both Belfort and Machida are far past their prime, with the former now 41 and the latter 39, but they are each coming off a win following a three-fight losing streak.
Belfort used to be one of the fastest strikers in the UFC, but his speed has deserted him at this point and he’s now overly reliant on power to do damage.
Machida has always been great at fighting from range, but struggles when his opponents push the pace and get inside his kicks.
Fortunately for the slightly younger man, Belfort doesn’t have the gas tank at this age to cause him any real trouble.
Expect Machida to control the action in a slow-paced fight and win by decision.
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