Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Saturday’s UFC 224: Nunes vs. Pennington card in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The Bloody Elbow staff has made its predictions for UFC 224, which goes down Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It’s a unanimous choice for Amanda Nunes to beat Raquel Pennington and defend her women’s bantamweight title in the main event. As for the co-main event, the majority of us are picking Jacare Souza over Kelvin Gastelum in this key middleweight matchup. Mackenzie Dern’s massive weight miss also led to a couple of staff members going with Amanda Cooper for the upset.
Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.
Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington
Mookie Alexander: Pennington is tough, gritty, physical, and can make fights ugly to her benefit. Unfortunately, she’s neither quick nor a good athlete, and that’s not really the type of fighter that gives Nunes problems. I can see Nunes just picking her apart on the feet, and wouldn’t rule out her taking Pennington down and unleashing her vicious top game. There are still cardio concerns for Nunes — yeah she went five rounds with Valentina Shevchenko, but in a brutally slow-paced fight — so if Pennington can rough her up in the clinch and keep a good pace, then there’s a path to victory for “Rocky.” Apart from those factors, it’s hard to see Nunes losing here. Amanda Nunes by TKO, round 3.
Dayne Fox: When I actually began putting serious thought into this contest, I started to waffle a little bit on my pick. Yes, Nunes is the superior athlete with a track record of finishing opponents. But she also tends to gas quickly when drawn into a firefight, something Pennington is more than capable of doing. While no one wants to engage in that type of contest with Nunes, Pennington may be on the short list of fighters with the durability to make that a viable option. I’m sticking with Nunes as she has shown continued development even after becoming champion whereas Pennington has had to deal with multiple injuries. So… Nunes via submission of RD2
Zane Simon: The dynamics of this fight are entirely in Nunes’ court. Pennington has never been any kind of knockout striker, and while she can be a surprising submission threat, isn’t a consistent one and isn’t a good enough wrestler to regularly get strong sub positions. Nunes is faster, stronger, a cleaner striker with a more diverse arsenal, and likely a more dangerous grappler as well. Unless she just totally melts down again, it’s hard to see Pennington taking control of any large part of this bout. Even if Nunes slows down some, I have trouble seeing Pennington really beating her up. Given all that, I’m willing to bank more on Nunes having solved her cardio issues than I am on Pennington being able to force a really bad performance out of her. Amanda Nunes via decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Problem here is that I’ve made the mistake of counting out Pennington in the past. I don’t want to do that again, because she’s a very good fighter despite her unorthodox approach. Nunes has finally put it all together with her grappling and striking, and has sharpened her physical tools to challenge anyone. Pennington’s going to have to charge in and make it a phone booth fight to have any real success. And yet, I think she will. She’s going to make this fight as ugly as it has to be and nail Nunes with some big shots down the line. I just doubt it’ll be enough. I’m also iffish on her recovery from that nasty leg injury she had that kept her out of action. Besides, how do you pick against someone that’s looked this unstoppable that has closed so many gaps in her game? Raquel’s gonna do waaaaay better than a lot of people think, but she’ll come up short. Amanda Nunes by late TKO.
Staff picking Nunes: Harry, Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Phil, Stephie, Fraser, Tim, Zane, Victor
Staff picking Pennington:
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Ronaldo Souza
Mookie Alexander: Gastelum has got the faster hands, more powerful striking, better chin, better cardio, but boy am I nervous about his takedown defense. This could be the Weidman fight all over again, or it could be the end of round 1 of the Weidman fight, except Gastelum gets the job done. If Jacare gets immediate control of the fight then it’s over. I’m gambling on Gastelum to get the minor upset. Kelvin Gastelum by TKO, round 2.
Dayne Fox: I can’t help but think about how poorly Gastelum matched up with Chris Weidman and not draw comparisons to this contest. I also remember how Gastelum hurt Weidman too, but Jacare doesn’t take the same type of silly risks Weidman is prone to making. Given Gastelum still relies on outmuscling opponents and Jacare is one of the bigger and stronger 185ers around, picking Jacare to wrest Gastelum to the ground and find a submission… much like Weidman did. Jacare via submission of RD1
Zane Simon: There’s a very very good chance that Gastelum survives two rounds and then sparks Jacare late. Or that he just catches him early. But… Jacare isn’t THAT far gone yet. His TKO loss to Bobby was his first since 2008, and even that wasn’t an easy one-punch KO. Jacare can still survive momentary bad spots. And as long as he can do that, I trust his process so much more than Gastelum’s. Kelvin just seems lackadaisical in the cage. He wants to wait for the perfect left hand, and in the meantime, he’s willing to get hit, get taken down, give up advantageous grappling positions, and just get stalled out. Jacare isn’t the kind of fighter you can let “do his thing” especially if that means giving up takedowns and control early like Gastelum did to Weidman and Kennedy. Jacare Souza by Submission, Round 1.
Victor Rodriguez: As much as I love Jacare, Kelvin’s got great wrestling and cleaner striking. Besides, he’s got better setups to keep opponents guessing and hits pretty damn hard. If Bobby Knuckles can find success with shots down the middle and figuring out Jacare’s timing, so can Gastelum. Kelvin Gastelum by TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Gastelum: Mookie, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking Jacare: Harry, Bissell, Nick, Dayne, Phil, Fraser, Tim, Zane
Amanda Cooper vs. Mackenzie Dern
Mookie Alexander: Yeah, screw it. If Dern isn’t serious about her career, I’m going to just flip this to a Cooper pick. Stylistically, Dern should dominate, but between this and the whole MMA Lab departure, her being a high-level fighter down the line isn’t looking promising. Amanda Cooper by unanimous decision.
Phil Mackenzie: There is a real chance that Cooper just beats the crap out of Dern in this fight. She is a decent talent who has just been thrown in there too early, with a decently effective high-volume striking and takedown game. The issue is that it’s very much the game of an itinerant phase-shifter, who has to constantly keep blending their offense. Dern is definitely in that “more enthusiasm than skill” stage of her striking, and if she gets stranded and is losing at range, I can see her tiring badly. However, I’m not sure that Cooper can keep herself out of scramble situations. Edit: oh, Dern missed weight, by over a Lineker. On the other hand, she doesn’t seem to care much and weight-missers have done pretty well recently. Her lackadaisical training situation is frankly more of a concern than the actual weight miss, if that makes sense, but Mackenzie Dern by submission, round 2.
Zane SImon: I like where Cooper’s head is at, she seems like she knows what Dern’s game is and how it works and what to watch for. I’m just not convinced that Cooper is actually experienced enough to turn knowledge into action. If Dern just goes out and blitzes her, like she does, and gets the clinch, will Cooper get tied up? Can she stop takedown attempts or stop herself from getting into scrambling grappling exchanges? Until I see her prove that she can against someone better than Angela Magana, I can’t bet on that. In the meantime, I know Dern will come out and push her fight aggressively. Mackenzie Dern via Submission, Round 1.
Tim Bissell: Full disclosure – switched my pick to Cooper after Dern missed weight. Have to question her condition and focus going into this fight now. Cooper via unanimous decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Hold up, seven pounds? And Crouch asked her to leave The Lab? Running uphill on this one. No thanks. Cooper gotta slip on a banana peel and shut her fight IQ off to fail here. Amanda Bobby Cooper all day by late TKO.
Staff picking Cooper: Bissell, Victor, Mookie
Staff picking Dern: Harry, Nick, Dayne, Stephie, Fraser, Tim, Zane, Phil
John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher
Phil Mackenzie: Something isn’t right with John Lineker. I think the Dillashaw and Dodson beatings changed something in him. He was always fine with hitting and getting hit back but both of those bouts had long, protracted sections when he was just swinging at air and getting his ass beat by Dodson, or being held down and battered by Dillashaw. If your style feeds off your own invincibility, getting your jaw busted has to put a dent in that. Subsequently, getting out-willed by Chito Vera in the third was not a good look. That said, Kelleher is primed to be a fun, winnable style matchup. He throws with aggression and power, but not as hard and doesn’t go to the body as much, and he shoots sloppy takedowns which often get him into trouble. I actually think he might shoot into Lineker’s rather underrated guillotine. Keep an eye on Lineker, because something still feels off, but John Lineker by submission, round 2.
Mookie Alexander: When Phil says “Something isn’t right with John Lineker” he clearly means that it’s not normal for a human being as tiny as him to have such powerful hands, to go along with a hatred for ribs and organs, and a lack of f–ks to give. Opposite him is a fighter who similarly is down for the cause of full-on entertainment for the fans. If Kelleher wants to wrestle, then he can definitely win this. If he wants to stand and trade with Lineker… that’s not gonna end well. Hope he enjoys his $50,000 check, though! John Lineker by TKO, round 2 in the main event of the evening.
Zane Simon: The way Kelleher comes in, throwing power, with little regard to defense early (he moves a lot better late) and the way he’s willing to meet opponents on their terms and just scrap it out, should set him up to get absolutely melted by Lineker. However, if Lineker is feeling tentative after getting his jaw busted, or if Kelleher is just the only decent wrestler he’s faced in years who can once again put him down and grind on him, then Kelleher has clear avenues to win. But, I’m more willing to bet on Lineker being able to get up, or stay up, and getting exaclty the firefight he wants out of the gate, than I am on Kelleher being able to put together a perfect aggressive bout against Lineker for 15 minutes. John Lineker via KO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: Kelleher’s such a boss, dude. Legit badass. Running into a wall here, though. 135lb Lineker remains the violence god until further notice. John Lineker by TKO, round 2.
Staff picking Lineker: Harry, Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Phil, Stephie, Fraser, Zane, Victor
Staff picking Kelleher: Bissell, Tim
Vitor Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida
Mookie Alexander: There are genuinely interesting counterstriker matchups like Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort, or Lyoto Machida vs. Rashad Evans. Then you get Rashad Evans vs. Sam Alvey, and nobody likes that. 2018 Belfort vs. 2018 Machida is closer towards Evans vs. Alvey than anything else. Anyway, Belfort is gonna get caught rushing in and hopefully that will be the end of things. If not, we might be maxed out at around 30 significant strikes landed over 15 minutes. Lyoto Machida by TKO, round 2.
Phil Mackenzie: Two careful southpaw counterfighters who will stay away from their trademark sporadic blitzes due to the threat of the other guy’s cross… this fight is probably going to suck. On balance Machida is the more defensively aware and the less physically faded of the two. Vitor has been fighting as a pro for 22 years. 22! Conversely Lyoto had enough left in the tank to edge out a dangerous athlete like Eryk Anders over five rounds, and I don’t think current Vitor could do that, at all? Lyoto Machida by unanimous decision
Zane Simon: Get ready to watch Machida feint and move backward while Belfort feints and moves forward. Potentially for 15 minutes, where rounds are scored by who landed in the one flurry per 5 minutes. I’ll favor Machida, since I still think that Belfort will walk himself onto counters and pay for it with his historically bad chin, but Machida doesn’t have the speed or timing he used to, and Belfort seems like he kinda does, even if he pulls the trigger less than ever. Lyoto Machida via KO, round 2.
Victor Rodriguez: Oy vey. We’re gonna get a staring contest interrupted by occasional karate flurries, aren’t we? I guess I know who’s karate I trust more. Bet the kids’ college fund on the guy that drinks his own piss. My dad would be so proud to know that this last sentence is basically my job. Happy birthday, Dad! Lyoto Machida by karate, round 2.
Staff picking Belfort:
Staff picking Machida: Harry, Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Phil, Fraser, Tim, Zane, Victor
Cezar Ferreira vs. Karl Roberson
Phil Mackenzie: This is a major, major step up for Roberson, who goes from fighting the struggling Darren Stewart to a Cesar Ferreira who has been increasingly consistent over his last five fights. The exception being his ghastly bout with Elias Theodorou where, to his credit, he broke his fist with pretty much the first punch he threw and still almost managed to lay’n’pray his way to victory. In general I guess I’m just still not that convinced by Roberson’s grappling game- as impressive as he looked against Stewart, Ferreira is simply another level of shot takedown and top control player. Until I see Roberson beat someone as well-rounded and functional as Ferreira, I can’t pick him to. Against aggression and confidence, Ferreira’s chin is always a major liability, but Cezar Ferreira by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Somewhere along the way Ferreira figured out he can either be a fun fighter or a winning fighter, and he chose winning. He’s a great athlete with a bad chin, and he knows it. So he stays on the back foot these days, looking for moments to burst through space with big single punches or high octane takedowns. Roberson seems like he’s got a great penchant for violence using the mistakes and openings that opponents give him. But what if your opponent doesn’t give you any openings? I don’t see nearly enough depth in Roberson’s game to pick him to out-work Ferreira or keep from getting out wrestled/grappled if that’s the way the fight goes. He could be the latest fighter to crack the Brazilian’s chin, but he’d also be far and away the most inexperienced to do it. Cezar Ferreira by decision.
Staff picking Ferreira: Harry, Bissell, Dayne, Tim, Zane, Victor, Phil
Staff picking Roberson: Nick, Mookie, Stephie, Fraser
Junior Albini vs. Alexey Oleynik
Phil Mackenzie: Albini is a tremendously weird fighter. How much is there to take away from that win over Tim Johnson? It didn’t seem out of line with how Johnson fights (absorbing punishment until he can flob and grind the other guy into tired acquiescence) with the difference that Albini polished him off early with the offense he landed. Then Albini looked lost and outclassed against the best technical version of Andrei Arlovski to step into the cage in… well, ever…? If we did learn anything, it’s that he’s fairly hard to take down, and very physically tough. That should give him some insulation from Oleynik’s punching power and submissions, and at approximately 138 years old, Oleynik simply cannot win decisions against relatively young and even moderately athletic fighters. Junior Albini by TKO, round 3.
Zane Simon: As long as Albini doesn’t fall asleep at the wheel he should have this. Don’t take Oliynyk down, don’t underestimate the power in his hands, outside of those things, he’s an old heavyweight with a bum knee, who has never been a very technical striker. Albini is tough, and at least in the UFC he’s been happy to just box. If he keeps to that, he should be able to drain Oliynyk’s one-round gas tank and then take over with volume. Junior Albini via TKO round 3.
Victor Rodriguez: I don’t trust Albini’s cardio or submission defense, but it’ll be good enough to style on Oliynyk standing for a bit and brutalize him with body shots until the chin is exposed to be cracked. Hella toys for his little girl after this one. Junior Albini by KO, round 2
Staff picking Albini: Phil, Fraser, Tim, Zane, Victor
Staff picking Oleynik: Harry, Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie
Nick Hein vs. Davi Ramos
Zane Simon: The biggest thing in this bout is that Ramos has a jab. Both men are bricked up fireplugs that hit hard, but Ramos is the much more capable distance striker behind a consistent stiff jab. And if he can bait Hein into grappling with him, he’s the much much more dangerous submission threat. Hein is very good at slowing bouts down and controlling them, but I question how easily he can do that against someone who is every bit as physical as he is and has at least one decent range tool, and a dangerous ground game… that was all James Vick needed. Davi Ramos by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: I love watching Hein fight, because he’s just such a weird fighter that does a lot of things right. Ramos has better use of range and moves pretty fast. Hein seems like he hits harder and is smart about when to launch leg kicks, but he also slows fights to a tempo he’s comfortable with. Nick Hein by decision.
Phil Mackenzie: I think I like Hein here simply because he punches straighter? Ramos gets sucked into throwing repeated hooks up close, and Hein has mastered his art of simply landing 4 or 5 decent looking southpaw crosses a round and not much else. On that note, Ramos also seems somewhat reliant on mixing up his takedowns and strikes, and I’m just not sure that works against Hein who has that rock-solid Judo base. As fun and personable as the dude is, he tends to shepherd his fights into a same bland place, like a more effective Sam Alvey, and I don’t see this one changing that trend. Nick Hein by unanimous decision.
Staff picking Hein: Harry, Bissell, Dayne, Stephie, Fraser, Tim, Victor, Phil
Staff picking Ramos: Mookie, Nick, Zane
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Sean Strickland
Phil Mackenzie: An underrated, fascinating fight, where both men’s flaws are likely to be tested. Strickland is meat’n’potatoes, circling and working behind the jab, cross and counter takedown. ZdS is just an unstoppable tornado of slightly sloppy aggression who rides spin-kicks, barrages of hooks and unbreakable durability and endurance to wins over frankly more technical fighters- the closest thing we have to a prime Condit in the UFC at the moment. ZdS’ major issue is his similarly Condit-esque takedown defense, which matches up poorly with Strickland’s wrestling. Conversely, faced with pure aggression, Strickland often tends to back himself into the cage and get overwhelmed. Strickland is probably going to win the first round and ZdS is probably going to win the third. I’ll gamble on ZdS’ loopy fury getting to Strickland early enough to edge the second. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Sean Strickland has a serious case of the Masvidals. A clearly technical and capable fighter everywhere, who often seems to get stuck in sparring mode and rarely seems to let himself be as dangerous as he clearly could be. Most notably, Strickland lives off his jab and the threat that he could put something more behind it, but rarely does. Along with his huge size, and solid power, that’s enough to beat opponents who aren’t that confident in their own striking, but that doesn’t feel like Zaleski. Zaleski is much more in the Ponzinibbio mode. A willing, diverse volume threat with power, a great chin, and shocking cardio for as much heat as he puts into everything. If he is willing to come forward all fight and just put a pace on Strickland, he should be able to win just like Ponz did. The big question comes if Zaleski tries to take Strickland down and wrestle/grapple him. That might give the bigger man an advantage to tangle him up and wear him down, maybe even land some big GnP. But Strickland seems too happy to just stay up and throw more jabs for me to trust he really goes hard after a grappling battle. Elizeu Zaleski by decision.
Victor Rodriguez: I like Zaleski’s kicking game, but Strickland’s wrestling and overall game lends itself better to what wins rounds with judges. Going with the safe money on this. Sean Strickland by decision.
Staff picking Zaleski: Nick, Dayne, Phil, Tim, Zane
Staff picking Strickland: Harry, Bissell, Mookie, Stephie, Fraser, Victor
Warlley Alves vs. Sultan Aliev
Phil Mackenzie: These two aren’t actually all that dissimilar, being low pace hitters with power takedowns games. Alves is the weaker wrestler of the two and his cardio isn’t great, but he’s the slightly more accurate, diverse striker and generally the bigger offensive threat. I think this might be a fairly tepid fight as neither man is willing to risk the other’s power much, but in that case Alves has far more of the capacity to pick up the dynamic, round-winning moments. Warlley Alves by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Aliev has a clear avenue to win if Alves either goes out trying to kill him and gasses in the first round… again, or if Alves lets himself get backed up and jumps on guillotines that get him taken down and controlled. Otherwise, Alves should be very capable of scrambling with Aliev, and is the cleaner more technical striker by a mile, along with being the more durable fighter. Those should be enough tools to win, as long as Alves fights smart and stays focused. If not, this could be a really ugly loss. Warlley Alves via decision.
Staff picking Alves: Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Stephie, Fraser, Tim, Phil, Zane,
Staff picking Aliev: Victor
Jack Hermansson vs. Thales Leites
Phil Mackenzie: Hermansson is a high-movement range striker, with a long and active jab, a solid clinch game, and murderous ground and pound. His issues have been that his game (self-confessedly) struggles against southpaws, where like many jab-centric fighters he struggles to punch past the lead hand, and that his game can get blown apart by sheer power (reference: Santos, T). Leites seems likely to deliver neither of these and has himself struggled with range striking and active jabs. He sometimes resorts to pulling guard, which given how his flexibility and explosion have deteriorated seems like it might be a bad idea if Hermansson just decides to merk him from top position. However, Hermansson’s game on bottom seems like it has the typical gangly dude defensive issue of having a lot of real estate for attackers to latch onto for subs. If Mutante can arm triangle you, so can Leites. Still, Jack Hermansson by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Hermansson has a couple things going for him in what could be a very strange fight. The first is that he loves to fight behind his jab, as long as his opponent isn’t left handed (which Leites isn’t). And the second is that he’s a pretty good wrestler and grappler in the middleweight division. Leites seems to really struggle with opponents who can keep a jab in his face and he’s not a bad takedown artist, but most of his best wrestling work comes from getting the clinch and hitting trips and drags. The kind of thing that Hermansson’s own decent wrestling game should handle. If Hermansson can get his own takedowns, or can’t stop Leites’ then this fight could become a really interesting grappling battle that Leites could easily win. But Leites hasn’t been a quick sub threat for a while now and I can’t picture him controlling enough of this bout to win on points, or to wear Hermansson out for the late sub. At that point? Jack Hermansson by decision.
Staff picking Hermansson: Harry, Nick, Stephie, Phil, Tim, Zane, Victor
Staff picking Leites: Bissell, Mookie, Dayne, Fraser
Ramazan Emeev vs. Alberto Mina
Phil Mackenzie: Emeev’s win over Alvey was horrible to watch, even by the low standard of Sam Alvey fights. However, he was able to dump Alvey on the mat multiple times, which isn’t actually terribly easy to do, even to the torpid incarnation of the ginger grimacer which turned up on short notice. A bit like the Alves-Aliev fight, Mina holds a sizable dynamism advantage… but I don’t quite trust his wrestling to hold up in the same way I think Alves’ can, and Emeev has enough variety in his takedowns and good enough top control to ride his way to a win. Ramazan Emeev by unanimous decision.
Zane Simon: Mina seems like a much better fighter when he has the advantage of pressure. I don’t think Emeev will give him that. Emeev isn’t a great striker, but he seems to have a ton of confidence in his ability to move forward behind looping strikes to get to the clinch where he can work takedowns. If he pushes Mina back, or just doesn’t back off when Mina bursts forward, he’ll likely get every opportunity to tie this fight up and slow it down where his size and strength can take over. Mina has a slick grappling game, but I feel like that will get him in more trouble as he might be too willing to be on his back getting smothered. Ramazan Emeev by decision.
Staff picking Emeev: Dayne, Stephie, Fraser, Tim, Phil, Zane
Staff picking Mina: Harry, Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Victor
James Bochnovic vs. Markus Perez
Phil Mackenzie: Bochnovic is a formlessly aggressive, lanky striker who goes for ill-advised submissions, and Perez is a somewhat aimless grappler. Perez is at least extremely tough and seems to have some idea of where he can win the fight, which is on the mat. Markus Perez by TKO, round 3.
Zane Simon: Bochnovic seems like he’s just not a very good athlete. He’s got snap in his kicks, but gets caught off guard by aggressive offense coming back at him. And he’s not a great wrestler to back up getting caught off guard. His willingness to grapple in ways that expose him to opponents’ offense is also a concern. On Perez’s end, he depends way too much on a flashy kicking game and spinning backfists for standing offense, which means his takedowns are poorly set up. If he stays way outside, Bochnovic may pick him off in a kicking battle where his length wins out. But, as long as Perez is willing to march forward and muscle takedowns, I have to think he’ll get them, and he’s the far more technical, powerful grappler on the mat. Markus Perez by submission, round 1.
Staff picking Bochnovic:
Staff picking Perez: Harry, Bissell, Nick, Mookie, Dayne, Phil, Stephie, Fraser, Tim, Zane, Victor
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