UFC 224 is headlined by what should be an entertaining duel between Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington. As it stands, Nunes is one of the very best females in the sport right now. She’s the kingpin of the women’s bantamweight division and there is seemingly no way to stop her reign. She terrifying stormed past Miesha Tate at UFC 200 to claim the title before then destroying Ronda Rousey in her comeback fight. She backed up these two wins with a victory over arguably the best complete striker in the division, Valentina Shevchenko. Amanda Nunes is for real.
The champion will be defending her title against Pennington, who has been on a winning streak of her own lately. In her last fight, she practically retired Tate at UFC 205. Pennington outhustled Tate for three rounds before Tate decided to hang the gloves up for good. Pennington’s last two defeats were a while back but they came against the very talented Holly Holm and Jessica Andrade – not concerning.
Prediction: Amanda Nunes is powerful, accurate, and ferocious. Pennington doesn’t offer anything too complex and is relatively flat-footed in her striking approach. It’s hard to see her getting the better of Nunes while standing, but her toughness might see her hang in there longer than many expect.
Amanda Nunes by unanimous decision
Bet: Total Rounds – Over 2.5
Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum
This is the type of fight that would make for a really good main event. However, it’s in the co-main spot and that’s fine. Jacare Souza will face Kelvin Gastelum in what should be a very entertaining middleweight affair. Both of these talented fighters bounced back from defeat with a win in their last contest.
For Souza, he marched past Derek Brunson with ease. In fact, it was kind of terrifying the way that Souza walked down Brunson and finished him inside the first four minutes of the contest. Souza is well and truly back in the mix in this division.
As for Gastelum, he ruined the former champion Michael Bisping in Shanghai, China, inside the first round as well. Gastelum had been growing in confidence and quickly rising the rankings until he met Chris Weidman in July last year. No matter, though, because he’s already back in the win column.
Prediction: Kelvin Gastelum’s hands are no joke. He’s lightning fast in this division and extremely accurate, as well. He can work the body and come up high with extreme power. It’s the same way that Souza lost to Whittaker, really. But it’s just hard to see Souza losing here. When he’s switched ‘on,’ he controls the distance and always has the ability to shoot in there and take someone down to the mat and submit them.
Jacare Souza by submission – Round 2
Bet: Total Rounds – Under 2.5
Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Cooper
Mackenzie Dern returns to action here against Amanda Cooper in what should be a highly-anticipated female clash.
Dern, who competed at the highest level in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu previously, has now swapped to mixed martial arts and made her UFC debut in March against Ashley Yoder. Dern showcased her elite grappling when she took Yoder down to the mat and controlled her in the final round to score a narrow split decision victory. Now, she jumps right back in the cage just two months later to face Cooper.
Cooper might even be a step down from Ashley Yoder in some ways. She’s certainly quite a capable fighter, but she isn’t one of the best in the division. She’s won two of her last three, but those two wins came against Anna Elmose and Angela Magana. This is arguably her toughest test to date against the rising Mackenzie Dern who has waves of support behind her.
Prediction: Mackenzie Dern flourished when the fight went to the ground last time – it just took her too long to get it there. Her takedown attempts aren’t perfect yet and Cooper might be able to shrug away most of the threat. However, just one takedown might be enough for Dern to do her work and score a submission victory.
Mackenzie Dern via Submission – Round 3
Bet: Mackenzie Dern to win
John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher
While this matchup won’t garner the same attention that the main and co-main event at UFC 224 will, it’s still going to be a fascinating battle.
John Lineker will return to action against the rising Brian Kelleher. Starting with Lineker, it’s important to note that this guy is one of the most heavy-handed punchers in the bantamweight division. There’s a reason that he is named “Hands of Stone.” He knows this, of course, and essentially just walks down his opponent before trapping them against the cage and unloading series of devastating punches. It’s worked to great effect and he defeated six fighters consecutively before he met TJ Dillashaw at UFC 207. Lineker bounced back in a big way when he met Marlon Vera at UFC Fight Night 119 and is now looking to make it two in a row.
Brian Kelleher is the definition of ‘sneaky good.’ By that, we mean that he doesn’t look to be all that technical or capable as a fighter, but he keeps getting victories against high quality opposition. Take his UFC debut, for example. He debuted against Iuri Alcantara and finished him in just 1:48. Yes, he lost to Marlon Vera in his next fight, but he has since defeated Damian Stasiak and Renan Barao. This guy is equally impressive and underrated.
Prediction: The thing about John Lineker is that he is brilliant at enforcing his own strategy. Everyone knows what he is going to do, and then he does it anyway. He’ll walk down Kelleher here for three rounds, unless he gets an early stoppage.
John Lineker by unanimous decision
Bet: Total Rounds – Under 2.5
Vitor Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida
Two aging fighters who are likely well past their prime will meet in the cage at UFC 224 to get the main card started this weekend.
Both Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida used to be some of the very best to have ever done it. Machida is a former champion, having defeated Rashad Evans in spectacular fashion at UFC 98 back in 2009. It hasn’t been quite the same for Machida recently, however. He lost three of his four fights before being pinned by USADA for a drug policy violation. He returned and was then demolished by Derek Brunson in under three minutes in late 2017. Most recently, though, he picked up a big win over the rising Eryk Anders.
Belfort’s path has been remarkably similar. Also a former champion, Belfort has recently struggled with form. He lost two contests in a row to Ronaldo Souza and Gegard Mousasi before he was then finished by Kelvin Gastelum, as well. However, he recently got back to winning ways with a win over Nate Marquardt in June 2016.
Who’s going to make it two in a row?
Prediction: Vitor Belfort looked to have improved against Nate Marquardt recently. Machida was what we have come to expect, he controlled the distance and managed Anders from a distance. Will he do the same to Belfort? We think so.
Lyoto Machida by unanimous decision
UFC 224 fight card
UFC 224 begins on UFC Fight Pass from 6:15 pm ET (10:15 pm GMT) on Saturday, May 12.
Pay-per-view (10:00 pm ET / 2:00 am GMT)
- Amanda Nunes [-588] vs. Raquel Pennington [+702]
- Jacare Souza [-140] vs. Kelvin Gastelum [+133]
- Mackenzie Dern [-217] vs. Amanda Cooper [+205]
- John Lineker [-234] vs. Brian Kelleher [+212]
- Vitor Belfort [+236] vs. Lyoto Machida [-255]
FX (8:00 pm ET / 12:00 am GMT)
- Cezar Ferreira vs. Karl Roberson
- Aleksei Oleinik vs. Junior Albini
- Davi Ramos vs. Nick Hein
- Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Sean Strickland
UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims (6:15 pm ET / 10:15 pm GMT)
- Warlley Alves vs. Sultan Aliev
- Thales Leites vs. Jack Hermansson
- Alberto Mina vs. Ramazan Emeev
- Markus Perez vs. James Bochnovic