UFC 224

Nunes x Pennington

Picks, Parlays, and Predictions

Jeunesse Quoi

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PICKS

Nunes x Pennington
Jacare x Gastelum
Dern x Cooper
Lineker x Kelleher
Machida x Belfort
Ferreira x Roberson
Albini x Oliynyk
Ramos x Hein
Strickland x Santos
Alves x Aliev
Leites x Hermansson

PARLAYS

“Young Money” EDITION
Gastelum (+130)
Dern (-215)
Lineker (-230)
Strickland (+110)
$2.24 to win $20.50

“Cara Cash” EDITION
Machida (-270)
Ferreira (EVEN)
Albini (-150)
Ramos (-145)
$2.24 to win $15.05

PREDICTIONS

Rio de Generalizing

Amanda Nunes x Raquel Pennington for the Women’s Bantamweight Championship

While this might be the least hyped PPV of the year, the main card is still home to a solid lineup of Brazilian stars. Well, at least what is left of them. For a country that once dominated the sport of MMA, things have been pretty quiet on the South American front. Brazil currently has only two champions, both female, in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions. The biggest fight for both of those women is against each other, but it looks like the UFC is going to make us wait for it. Instead, we get to see Amanda Nunes defend her belt against a competitor who hasn’t fought in the cage since 2016.

Despite the amount of hate she receives online, I’m a big Amanda Nunes fan. She’s rarely in a boring fight and has the ability to end the night on the feet or on the mat. What more could you ask of a champion? “The Lioness” is a breath of fresh air in this sport. With so many female fighters trying to play up the popstar-who-can-take-a-punch look, I love watching a ruthless lesbian with a mullet wrecking havoc. Nunes’ most memorable bout to date is obviously her 48 second dismantling of Ronda Rousey in December of 2016. Since then, the belt has only been on the line once due to a handful of medical reasons. Saturday will mark Amanda’s third title defense and, based on her track record, she should be looking to make a fourth defense before the end of the year.

After eighteen months away from competition, predicting the evolution of Raquel Pennington is not an easy task. “Rocky” was one of the grittier female fighters to join the UFC’s roster after the division was created in 2013. She was never afraid to tuck her chin and chase a win, which made her memorable and fun to watch. After amassing a four-fight win streak that was capped off with a victory over former champion Miesha Tate, Raquel was forced to take a hiatus after crushing her leg in an ATV accident. I would have preferred to see her regain footing against a top ten opponent first, but instead she returns to the sport right where she left off. That’s either a vouch for her talents or a play to the Brazilian crowd. Time will tell.

Pennington has always been more of a brawler than a polished striker and her ability to grind and grapple gave her a solid second option for offense. Three years ago, those were the skills necessary to make easy work of most of the women’s 135 division. The problem is, as we all know, this sport evolves at a breakneck pace. To be fair, we haven’t seen much more of Nunes during that same timeline, but the champ has had consistently better performances against tougher competition. Because the sport is still so new, most women don’t have a single area of expertise. Instead, there are a lot of well-rounded athletes that can carve out an advantage at any point during the fight.

This main event might not be the most competitive matchup possible on paper, but it should be entertaining while it lasts. The biggest weakness I can consistently see in Nunes is her gas tank, even if we’ve seen her survive a five-round fight. While we haven’t seen the same of Pennington, if she is able to drag the champ into deep water, she just might be able to drown Amanda like Cat Zingano did. The problem is Raquel probably doesn’t have the sharpest tools to work with. It’s been a while since we’ve seen her perform and she’ll have to be at her best in front of a hostile crowd. The positive to giving Pennington this fight is that there’s no way she comes out a loser. We will get to see how her skills stack up against the best in the division while she gets a chance at gold. Even with a quick defeat, I doubt she’ll be much worse for wear. This can either be a learning experience at the highest level or a massive upset. I think “The Lioness” will be able to finish the fight before the final bell after a round, or two, of jabs, hard leg kicks, and aggressive circling. I always enjoy watching Raquel fight, but I think she’ll get overwhelmed here – too much, too soon.

Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza x Kelvin Gastelum

Brazil certainly likes to stack cards in their favor, but they may have made a misstep with this matchup. Even though Kelvin Gastelum is clearly undersized as a top ten middleweight, he’s done a fair bit of damage at 185 and even knocked out the former champ in his last outing. With ease, no less. The aging Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is going to have to mind his technique while the fight stays standing and be prepared to weather an early storm that may turn into a three-round hurricane.

Why is someone who is 5’9” fighting at middleweight, you ask? Kelvin Gastelum’s backstory involves a lot of bad weight cuts. After failing three times to make the welterweight limit of 171 pounds, he was forever to banished to middleweight where he would fight dangerous, larger men in a steel cage for all eternity. A Greek-level punishment. Fortunately, it’s played out well for him. The 26-year-old contender has managed a stellar 5-2 run at 185 pounds. His fantastic boxing and powerful wrestling have carried him far, and so has his veteran experience. Despite being so young, this will be his fourteenth professional UFC appearance and nobody has ever had an easy fight against him. His talent has made up for the size disadvantage, but it will become more of an issue as he works his way into the top five. Gastelum will look to set a high pace and thwart the first few takedown attempts to frustrate Jacare, keep it standing, and put him away early.

Ronaldo Souza is no slouch in any department. Fighting since 2003, the multiple-time grappling gold medal winner has been considered one of the best middleweights in the world for the last eight years. He started to get his striking together during his run as the Strikeforce middleweight champ and has been swimming at the top of the UFC since he joined the roster. Obviously, getting into a Jiu-Jitsu match with Jacare was never an option, but when he started amass a long list of brutal knockouts, he appeared unstoppable. In his last thirteen fights, he’s only been out-wrestled by the best wrestler in the division and out-struck by the best striker in the division. The problem is everyone eventually ends up 0-1 against time. While he hasn’t shown any signs of slipping, Souza needs to be very careful while he’s standing. Kelvin hits hard, and so does Jacare, but there’s no need to roll the dice. Nobody can hang with Souza in the grappling department and he’ll want to clinch up and work his way to the mat as soon as possible.

Based almost solely on Gastelum’s fight against Chris Weidman, I’m going to have to give Jacare the edge on Saturday night. Weidman was able to hang with Gastelum on the feet, steal every round, take him down, and finish with a submission. Unless Jacare gets caught falling in love with his striking, the path to victory is clear. A younger Souza could do everything Weidman did, except better. Unfortunately, age, and possibly random drug testing, catches up to every athlete at some point. The Brazilian is going to have to be on the lookout for heavy counter punches and constantly keep a safe distance. Kelvin is too fast and too strong to take chances with and Jacare needs to get it to the ground where he can enjoy a sizable advantage. There’s no doubt Gastelum is probably the most attractive underdog based on the betting odds. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think he’s going to have an issue dealing with someone as seasoned as Souza.

Good luck trying to tangle with the alligator man.