On Saturday, May 12th, the UFC returns to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for UFC 224: Nunes vs Pennington. This fight card features some of Brazil’s most talented fighters with a main event for the UFC women’s bantamweight title between champion Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington. If you haven’t seen a UFC fight from Brazil before, then you are in for a treat. This crowd knows how to make the fight night an exciting one. I’m expecting some serious action and fireworks from the Jeunesse Arena on Saturday night.
Time to climb into the octagon and see if we can crank out some UFC 224 winning bets. The following odds are courtesy of BetOnline:
The first set of preliminary fights will be shown on UFC Fight Pass beginning at 6:30 PM ET:
Warlley Alves (11-2) started off hot winning 10 straight fights. He then was reality checked with two losses via decisions. However, he shook of those two losses and won in his last fight which was at UFC Fight Night 118. Six of Alves’ eleven wins have come from the guillotine and you can bet he will look to put Aliev to sleep with this maneuver. Sultan Aliev (14-2) hasn’t fought in over a year and half. Unfortunately, he draws a tough opponent in his first fight back.
Aliev is measured striker who can knockout an opponent. He has 10 KO/TKO’s in his 14 career wins. However, he’s going up against a better striker and a better grappler. Not to mention, Alves will be fighting in his home country.
I expect Alves to finish this fight off early whether it’s via his patented guillotine or a KO.
Thales Leites (27-8) is the true definition of inconsistency. He had shown a great deal of promise in his first run with the UFC, but the middleweight ended up losing a few fights and getting the boot. Nearly 5 years elapsed before he returned to the UFC and went on a tear with 5 wins in a row. Since then, he’s lost 4 of his last 6 fights and is in for a battle against “The Joker” Jack Hermansson (16-4).
Hermansson will make this middleweight fight a tough one for Leites and most likely prove too much for Thales to handle. Since joining the UFC, Jack has gone 3-2. He’s coming off a loss to Thiago Silva at UFC Fight Night 119. Only one of his fights has gone the distance in the octagon. 10 of his career wins have come via KO/TKO. Ultimately, the majority of pundits expect “The Joker” to strike his way to victory as he defends well against take downs and Leites has shown signs of slowing down in his older age.
If Jack doesn’t catch Leites with a TKO early in the fight, then I expect him to outpoint Thales and take the decision.
Welcome back Alberto Mina (13-0), we haven’t seen you in nearly two years. The Brazilian fighter is undefeated, but his lack of fights might just catch up to him in this welterweight contest. Despite being a well-rounded fighter looking for a big win in his home country, Mina is running up against a rugged Russian who will grind out a victory by any means necessary.
Ramazan Emeev (16-3) is fighting for the second time in the UFC. He won his firth fight via unanimous decision, but looks to get back to winning via submission or TKO. I expect Emeev to weather the storm early on in the fight and eventually wear down Mina. Alberto appears to have questionable cardio late in the fight and this is where Emeev can exploit Mina for the win. Look for the Russian to maul his way to his 3rd straight victory and his 6th straight overall victory.
Middleweight prospects Markus Perez (9-1) and James Bochnovic (8-2) look to bounce back from their debut losses in the octagon. Perez is a big favorite in this fight and there’s plenty of reasons to agree with these odds. Perez is proficient in both BJJ and Muay Thai. If he can make it through the early attacks by Bochnovic, then I believe he will win the fight via submission or TKO from the mat.
Bochnovic’s training partner is Ben Rothwell, unfortunately he hasn’t the same success as Ben. Prior to his UFC debut, James had won 8 straight fights in the 1st round before getting obliterated via KO in his at UFC 213. He loves the rear-naked choke as 5 of his wins have come from this hold.
I think Perez is the more complete, or balanced, fighter in this bout. Bochnovic lacks in take down defense and has been vulnerable to big shots. I believe Markus will take this fight to the ground due to Bochnovic’s weak take down defense. Once here, Perez will out grapple and outmaneuver Bochnovic to take the victory.
The next set of preliminary fights is scheduled to air on FX beginning at 8 PM ET:
This middleweight matchup features undefeated Roberson (6-0) with a 12 fight UFC veteran in Cezar Ferreira (12-6). Roberson has burst on the scene and looks to be an exciting up-and-coming middleweight prospect. He has a more well-rounded game than some are will to give him credit for. However, that well-roundedness will be put to the test against the former TUF Brazil winner in Ferreira. Cezar was once thought to be a highly touted protégé of Belfort, but he’s suffered a few losses that have really set him back.
Ferreira is better on the mat than upright. He has some counter striking skills, but will need to stay out of range from Roberson’s power strikes. I expect Cezar to close the distance and try to force this fight to the mat. However, I feel he will get caught one time and that will turn the fight in Roberson’s favor. A wobbly Ferreira will be target practice for Roberson and I believe he will improve his record to 7-0.
This bout pits an up-‘n’-comer with a grizzled vet in a heavyweight contest that could end in a massive KO. More than likely, it will end in Aleksei Oleinik (55-11-1) turning this into an ugly contest and getting a submission victory on the mat. Nevertheless, Albini (14-3) is favored because of his knockout power and is a threat to end the fight with just one punch. Keep in mind, Oleinik can also throw hands, so he’s not as susceptible as Albini’s recent opponents. I like experience over youth in this one.
In this lightweight encounter, Nick Hein (14-2) makes his octagon return after nearly 2 years. He takes on a former BJJ champion in Davi Ramos (7-2) who will be a tough matchup for Hein. Ramos is faster, has more power, and has a better mix of strikes than Hein. Nick does have a nice blend of judo experience and striking capabilities. He will try to keep things at a distance before looking to land a few combos. But, I think Ramos will end up catching Hein when he comes in for those combos. Ramos will either grind it out on the ground or land some big shots standing up to stop the fight before it goes the distance.
This is another exciting matchup that makes the UFC 224 fight card feel stacked. Although it’s on the preliminary card, it still has all the potential for a great fight. In fact, don’t sleep on this battle as it could be fight of the night. Zaleski (18-5) will make this bout intense with his punching ability and his brawling tendencies. He’s coming in on a 4 fight win streak and 3 of those wins have been the fight of the night.
Strickland (19-2) can also throw hands and has the style that could help him capitalize on Zaleski’s aggressiveness. Additionally, he has the height and reach advantage, which could slow down Zaleski some. However, Strickland tends to fight as if he’s trying to outlast his opponent through surviving the bout instead of going out there and taking it. Five of his last six fights have gone the distance. As for Zaleski, 12 of his 18 wins have come via knockout in the first round. So, I expect him to push the action as soon as the fight starts and get the fans on their feet right away.
If Strickland can survive the furious flurries and go the distance, I think he’ll get the decision. But, I’m going to lean with Zaleski in this one as I think he’s going to connect with a hard shot and work toward the victory. Plus, I can’t help but think that most of the Brazilians will win in their home country tonight.
The main card for UFC 224 will be live on PPV beginning at 10 PM ET:
Despite this bout most likely opening up the PPV, these two men are legends inside of the octagon. However, that also means they’ve been around for a while and this fight does have a “farewell tour” feel to it. Vitor Belfort (26-13) is 41 years old and Machida (23-8) is turning 40 in a few weeks.
As they’ve aged, their fight skills have diminished from an elite level and their chins have also become softer. This will pose a problem for both fighters moving forward in the twilight of their careers. However, their weaknesses are perfect for a fight against each other.
Both men are very capable on the ground as thy each hold BJJ black belts. Their takedown skills will most likely cancel each other out, which leaves us with a striking battle. And, if that’s the case, you have to go with Machida as he still offers some top notch counter striking skills. You have to believe the Lyoto will do what he can to keep this fight upright because he still has an advantage. But, he has to be careful because Belfort will look for the KO shot any chance he gets.
With a slowed Belfort not pressuring as much as he did in his legendary career, I think this allows Machida to work his counter strikes more. However, I don’t see Machida knocking out Belfort. So, this one will most likely go to a decision and I believe Lyoto will take it.
In this bantamweight battle, John “hands of stone” Lineker (30-8) looks to follow his fellow Brazilians Nunes and Souza into victory in front of the home country faithful. Standing in his way will be Brian Kelleher (19-8) who’s won his last two fights and has gone 2-1 since joining the UFC. Lineker has won 7 of his last 8 fights. Ironically, his last loss came on another fight card that Nunes main evented – UFC 207 against Rousey.
What’s exciting about this fight is that there will be a lot of punches thrown. In fact, these two men will do more than enough to ensure that UFC 224 gets its fill of strikes. Lineker is a fist throwing machine while Kelleher likes to pressure his opponents by constantly moving forward and throwing punches.
It’s safe to say that Kelleher has a “puncher’s chance,” despite the odds being heavily in favor of Lineker. With that said, “Hands of Stone” will get the big victory at home in what could be a knockout of the night candidate.
Undefeated Mackenzie Dern (6-0) looks to keep her streak alive against Amanda Cooper (2-3) in a strawweight contest. Dern is a highly regarded BJJ fighter who’s won 2 of her last 3 fights by way of submission. Cooper is 2-2 in the UFC and has won 2 of her last 3 fights.
With aspirations of winning titles, Dern will look to take advantage of Cooper’s lack of submission defense. Mackenize holds a massive advantage in the ground game, but is highly susceptible to Cooper’s striking ability if the fight stays upright. This is not due to Dern’s inability to bombs away. Dern does have some serious power, she just lacks fluidity in her technique. Amanda knows she has an advantage on her feet and will do everything possible to avoid takedowns. Unfortunately, I don’t think she will be successful.
I believe Dern will get this fight to the ground and then make short work of Cooper. Look for a 1st round submission victory from Dern. The only way this fight goes to the 2nd round is if Cooper can run the entire opening round of the fight.
In the semi-main event of the night, Ronaldo Souza (25-5) takes on Kelvin Gastelum (14-3) in a middleweight bout that’s expected to be a close fight. Souza has won his last 9 fights in his home country of Brazil and comes into this bout 11-2 in his last 13 fights. Souza KO’d Brunson in his last fight and looks to get another crack at Whittaker who KO’d him last year.
Gastelum is 2-1 since returning to middleweight. His recent fight was an impressive outing where he knocked out Michael Bisping at UFC Fight Night 122 last November.
The winner of this fight will be in the running for a middleweight title shot, which only adds to the excitement of this bout. Souza still has one of the sport’s scariest ground games and he will do his best to take this fight to the mat. I don’t see him out-striking Gastelum standing up. Kelvin can overwhelm his opponent with a high volume of strikes, just ask Bisping.
I have to go with Souza in this one. He’s riding a 9 fight win streak in his home country and I believe he can win one more. Jacare will withstand the striking fury of Gastelum, take the fight to the mat, and eventually grind away until he forces a tap out.
The main event of the night features UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes (15-4) defend her belt against challenger Raquel Pennington (9-5). Nunes comes into this bout on a 6 fight winning streak and the heavy favorite. She won the belt nearly two years ago at UFC when she submitted Miesha Tate with a rear-naked choke. Oh, and along the way, Nunes knocked out Ronda Rousey in the first round of their fight at UFC 207. Her last bout was against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 215 and Nunes won via split-decision.
Pennington comes into this main event fight with four wins in a row, including retiring the previously mentioned Miesha Tate. However, Pennington has not been in the octagon since that Tate fight at UFC 205, which was in 2016.
It will take Pennington fighting a perfect fight and Nunes fighting a terrible fight for the upset to happen here. I don’t see that happening. Nunes is just too dominant and explosive for Pennington. I expect Nunes to finish this fight early. Although Pennington has taken her last three fights to the judges, it won’t happen here. The only question is whether Nunes will knock out Pennington or force her to tap out.
I don’t see Pennington weathering the Nunes storm and I would be surprised if the fight makes it out of the first round. I’m going with Nunes winning via 1st round stoppage.
Here’s a quick recap of my UFC 224 picks:
On paper, there doesn’t appear to be many potential upsets. I did actually pick one upset and it’s on the preliminary card. In the heavyweight fight between Alexey Oleynik and Junio Albini, I think the grizzled vet (Oleynik) will defeat the 27 yr old Albinie who is a modest favorite.
Despite not going with any other upset, I do think there’s potential for a few more:
I love when UFC holds events in Brazil. The fans make it an exciting environment and the Brazilian fighters seem to bring their A-games. Although this PPV is headlined by Nunes, I believe the excitement will come from the undercard and several of the preliminary card bouts. With several great matchups, legends of the octagon on the card, and a wide range of fighting talent, UFC 224 is shaping up to be a fantastic PPV.
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