UFC 224 - Rio Breakdown & Predictions

Amanda Nunes vs Raquel Pennington

Amanda ‘The Lioness’ Nunes makes her third defence of her bantamweight title against Raquel ‘Rocky’ Pennington who is making her comeback after 18 months on the sidelines.

Pennington made her UFC debut back in 2013 and has improved exponentially, going from a decent contestant on The Ultimate Fighter to dominating and retiring her coach and one of the best female fighters of all time in Miesha Tate. That win earned her a title shot, but unfortunatley she suffered a horrific leg injury while out hunting on an ATV. The crash nearly shattered her leg but thankfully she is now healthy and ready to cash in on that title shot.

Nunes is in the form of her life with wins over some of the very best including Ronda Rousey, Valentina Shevchenko and Tate, proving she is the rightful queen of the division and confidently welcomes her next challenger.

Prediction

Pennington will be the heavy underdog but she has a habit of causing an upset and she is also a bad style match-up for Nunes. Rocky is a powerhouse in the division and deceptively strong. She is most comfortable in a gritty and attritional scrap and will look to grind out a win by closing all the distance and nullifying the striking on Nunes.

The Lioness is comfortable grappling and very dangerous on the ground but she will look to keep the fight standing where she has developed her own habit of lighting her opponents up by combining sublime technique and power.

So, Nunes has an advantage in the striking department especially with a reach advantage but has to respect the power of Pennington. Although it has been a year and a half since her last fight, she dominated Tate in every area and overwhelmed the former champion in the grappling exchanges. We don’t know if Pennington will suffer any ring rust but after such a long lay-off against a well-rounded champion in her prime, it may be too much of an ask.

Winner: Nunes via Decision

Striking and grappling stats sourced via FightMetric.

Nunes v Pennington.JPG

Jacare Souza vs Kelvin Gastelum

The co-main event features another beast of a Brazilian hosting a young contender for a war in Rio de Janeiro, as Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza takes on Kelvin Gastelum in a fascinating match-up.

Jacare is a multiple time world Jiu-Jitsu champion has been on the cusp of a title shot for three years after regularly disposing some of the very best fighters in the division. However, injuries and losses to Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker has denied him the opportunity but a win over Gastelum will put him right back in contention.

Gastelum has experienced a turbulent UFC career and has shown glimpses of championship calibre performances. The only time we have seen him outclassed was against Chris Weidman which was a terrible match-up for him. The elite wrestler man-handled Gastelum but it looked like a light heavyweight taking on a welterweight. However, Gastelum bounced back spectacularly by knocking out the former champion Michael Bisping.

Prediction

Their skillsets should provide an absolute spectacle especially as they are both carrying the confidence of electrifying knockouts in their last fights.

Gastelum is a phenomenal wrestler but grappling with a much larger man and one of the most dangerous submission artists in the game will be too dangerous so he must rely on his striking. Gastelum’s boxing is devastating and he will look to utilize his incredible hand speed and combinations to seek the chin and the finish.

Jacare’s strengths are obvious but he has knockout ability proven against legitimate strikers such as Vitor Belfort and Derek Brunson. So, it will be fascinating to see a stand-up battle which Gastelum will pray for but just one mistake is all Jacare needs to take the fight to the ground and cinch the finish. 

As long as Jacare can avoid the quick barrage of strikes, his power advantage should enable him to drag the fight into his murky waters.

Winner: Souza via Submission

Striking and grappling stats sourced via FightMetric.

Jacare v Gastelum.JPG

MacKenzie Dern vs Amanda Cooper

Mackenzie Dern is a tremendous talent and is fighting in familiar territory after building a very successful Jiu-Jitsu career out of Brazil. A world Jiu-Jitsu champion and at just 25 years old, she has already amassed an unbeaten MMA record of 6-0.

However, now she is in the UFC, the competition will get tougher and tougher and after scraping a decision over Ashley Yoder in her UFC debut, she now has another difficult challenge in Amanda Cooper. Cooper is also a youngster but she has had four UFC fights and competed in The Ultimate Fighter which is priceless experience.

She is also coming off the best performance of her career by taking down, over-powering and finishing Angela Magana off with a TKO which will fuel her confidence. 

Prediction

Cooper will look to build on that win but if she takes Dern down, it will be a completely different fight. Dern will welcome being taken down as she has the ability to finish the fight from anywhere on the ground. Her skills on the mat are unrivalled in the division but there are weaknesses on the feet that Cooper has to expose.

Cooper has the power advantage and has to keep the fight on the feet. So, she will hope to inflict all the damage in the clinch or from a distance to dent Dern’s perfect record. However, Dern’s submission threat is impossible to ignore.

Winner: Dern via Submission

Striking and grappling stats sourced via FightMetric.

Dern v Cooper.JPG

John Lineker vs Brian Kelleher

Two bantamweights are next up on the card and looking to stake a claim for a title shot. John Lineker hosts Brian Kelleher who has only lost once in his last ten fights and is also coming off the biggest win of his career after a well-earned decision over the former champion, Renan Barao.

Lineker on the other hand has only lost once in his last eight and that was to the current champion TJ Dillashaw where he took him to a decision. So, the fact that Lineker is ranked #6 and Kelleher is not ranked in the top 15 illustrates just how stacked the bantamweight division is at the moment so nothing but an impressive win will do to be in reach of a shot at gold.

Prediction

Lineker has an incredible amount of experience for his age and has wins over some of the best bantamweights and flyweights in the world which will be crucial in taming the skills of Kelleher.

Lineker’s stand-out skill is his striking but in particular the power in his hands. His power is confusing as for such a small man, he hits like a truck and Kelleher has to plan for this. Kelleher also has more than enough ability to sleep his opponent and also has the skills to finish on the ground.

Their skills are at such a high level and with the natural finishing ability they possess, the fight can end at any time but their skills may cancel each other out and force a decision. With home advantage – Lineker gets the nod.

Winner: Lineker via Decision

Striking and grappling stats sourced via FightMetric.

Lineker v Kelleher.JPG

Vitor Belfort vs Lyoto Machida

The perfect way to kick off the main card in Rio de Janeiro, two Brazilian legends square off in an appropriate match-up. They have both seen and done it all but father time is catching up on them so it is good to see them matched up together as opposed to fighting a young gun looking to bag a big name on their record.

They both scraped a win in their last outing after a string of devastating losses. Vitor Belfort surprisingly went to a decision for once against Nate Marquardt and Lyoto Machida managed to squeak a decision of his own over Eryk Anders.

Prediction

If we see just glimpses of the performances that made them champions then we will be in for a great fight, especially as their styles create fireworks on paper as elite yet contrasting strikers. Belfort is ultra-aggressive and violently hunts the knockout whereas Machida is a karate expert and calmly waits to counter-attack with destructive accuracy.

As they are both at the end of their careers and this could be Belfort’s retirement fight, the Phenom may be intent on putting on a vintage show to please the Brazilian faithful. This will fall into the hands of the Dragon who will look to assassinate the rush attacks.

Winner: Machida via KO/TKO

Striking and grappling stats sourced via FightMetric.

Belfort v Machida.JPG