UFC 224: Nunes vs. Pennington Preview
A preview of Saturday’s UFC 224 card in Rio de Janeiro.
Updated: May 10, 2018 • 5:30 PM ET
Raquel Pennington can pick up the biggest victory of her career this weekend.
The UFC will head back to Rio De Janeiro for UFC 224, which will feature a main card loaded with Brazilian fighters. One of those fighters will defend a title, as women’s bantamweight champion and Brazilian Amanda Nunes will put her belt on the line with the home crowd on her side against No. 2 Raquel Pennington.
Nunes is riding a six-fight winning streak that includes two successful title defenses. Her last fight in September was a close, split-decision victory over Valentina Shevchenko, and the 29-year-old from Salvador, Bahia, Brazil hasn’t lost since a third-round stoppage in 2014 to Cat Zingano. Since the loss to Zingano, Nunes (15-4) has defeated fighters including Sara McMann, Shevchenko (twice), Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey.
Since late last year, rumors have floated slating Nunes’ next fight against women’s featherweight champion and fellow Brazilian Cris Cyborg. However, the fight has yet to materialize, which leaves Pennington as Nunes’ next logical choice as a challenger. Pennington won’t have an easy time in the Octagon on Saturday, as Nunes is the only female bantamweight other than Rousey to successfully defend the title two times or more.
Pennington (9-6) is on a four-fight win streak, most recently defeating Tate. But the unanimous decision victory over Tate was at UFC 205 in November 2016, so it’ll be interesting to see how Pennington performs against one of the most feared strikers in the division after such a long layoff.
Pennington’s last loss was in 2015 to former champion Holly Holm, but she has also defeated notable fighters such as Tate, Bethe Correia and Jessica Andrade. The 29-year-old from Colorado Springs is a strong wrestler and will likely use her grappling skills to neutralize Nunes’ striking.
Saturday’s co-main will feature another Brazilian and has heavy middleweight title implications. No. 2 ranked middleweight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza will take on No. 5 Kelvin Gastelum, the winner of which could be the next to challenge for the middleweight title. Middleweight champion Robert Whittaker is scheduled for a rematch against No. 1 Yoel Romero at UFC 225 in June.
Souza is 3-1 in his last four fights, most recently defeating Derek Brunson by first round knockout in January. The 38-year-old Souza (25-5) needed the win to stay in the title picture after Whittaker TKO’d him in April 2017, and his only two losses in the UFC have come to Whittaker and Romero. Souza has defeated notable fighters such as Brunson (twice), Vitor Belfort, Gegard Mousasi and Tim Kennedy.
Gastelum is 3-1-1 in his last five fights, most recently defeating former champion Michael Bisping in spectacular fashion in November. Gastelum seems to be much more comfortable at middleweight than welterweight, where he had issues cutting weight. He has notable victories over Bisping, Kennedy, Johny Hendricks, Nate Marquardt, Uriah Hall and Belfort, the latter of which was ultimately ruled a no contest after he tested positive for marijuana.
The rest of the main card
The main card will also feature a strawweight fight between undefeated Mackenzie Dern and Amanda Cooper. The 25-year-old Dern (6-0) entered the UFC with much hype attached, but her debut was lukewarm — a split decision win over Ashley Yoder. Fighting out of Glendale, Ariz., Dern is considered a jiu jitsu specialist. However, with improved striking, she could become a prospect to watch in the future.
Cooper, 26 years old, has experienced mixed success in the UFC. She’s 2-2 in the promotion, excluding TUF, and won her last fight via second round TKO over Angela Magana. A win over a hyped prospect such as Dern is the kind of victory Cooper needs, but she has struggled when fights have gone to the ground, a place where Dern clearly thrives.
A bantamweight fight between sixth-ranked Brazilian John Lineker and Brian Kelleher will also be featured on the main card. Lineker, 11-3 in the UFC and 30-8 overall, most recently defeated Marlon Vera by unanimous decision in October. The 27-year-old has defeated fighters such as John Dodson, Michael McDonald, Rob Font and Ian McCall.
Kelleher is 3-1 in the UFC and most recently defeated former champion Renan Barao in February. The 31-year-old from Oceanside, N.Y. is 19-8 overall, and Lineker would represent the biggest victory of his career.
Rounding out the main card will be a middleweight fight between two Brazilian legends, No. 9 Vitor Belfort and No. 12 Lyoto Machida. Belfort is 2-2-1 since challenging for the middleweight title in 2015, and Saturday’s fight will be the last on the 41-year-old’s UFC contract. He’ll leave behind an impressive legacy with victories over Dan Henderson (twice), Luke Rockhold, Michael Bisping, Anthony Johnson, Rich Franklin, Randy Couture and Wanderlei Silva.
Machida is a former light heavyweight champion and at 39 years old, he still finds ways to show that his time isn’t up. He most recently defeated Eryk Anders by split decision in February, but looked to be on his way out with three straight losses to Rockhold, Romero and Brunson before the victory. A win over another Brazilian legend would send a jolt of confidence into a fighter still looking to prove he’s a contender. Machida has victories over Mousasi, Henderson, Couture, Ryan Bader, Mauricio Rua, Rashad Evans, Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin.
Middleweight fight - Cezar Ferreira vs. Karl Roberson
Heavyweight fight - No. 10 Aleksei Oleinik vs. No. 14 Junior Albini
Lightweight fight - Davi Ramos vs. Nick Hein
Welterweight fight - Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Sean Strickland
UFC Fight Pass Early Prelims
Welterweight fight - Warlley Alves vs. Sultan Aliev
Middleweight fight - Thales Leites vs. Jack Hermansson
Welterweight fight - Alberto Mina vs. Ramazan Emeev
Middleweight fight - Markus Perez vs. James Bochnovic
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