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UFC 224 predictions

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UFC 224 is not a bad pay-per-view by any means, but it’s not amazing, either. This event is being headlined by a solid women’s bantamweight title bout between Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington. This title fight is accompanied by other good bookings, as UFC 224 features a key middleweight contest between Ronaldo Souza and Kelvin Gastelum, jiu-jitsu star Mackenzie Dern’s second UFC fight (she faces Amanda Cooper), an intriguing 185-pound fight pitting together legends and former champs Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida, and a fan friendly scrap in John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher.

What: UFC 224

Where: Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

When: Saturday, May 12. The four-fight UFC Fight Pass preliminary card begins at 6:15 p.m. ET, the four-fight FX preliminary card begins at 8 p.m. ET, and the five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view.


Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington

I like this fight a lot. Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington is a competitive bout on paper that involves two of the toughest fighters in the women’s bantamweight division.

Nunes is a very technical striker who carries plenty of power. She has good movement and is great at putting combinations together. The Brazilian champion also has a dominant ground game with good takedowns, solid top control and strong submissions. Nunes is one of the most well-rounded fighters in her division.

Pennington might not be as well-rounded as Nunes, but she doesn’t need to be to win this fight. Pennington is a good striker with good power behind her strikes. She likes to pressure forward and keep up a solid pace. She’s not a decorated grappler, but she can hold her own, and more importantly, she’s tough to takedown and can defend submissions.

This is an interesting fight. I believe Nunes is the more skilled fighter here. Her striking and ground game are more polished than Pennington’s. I can see Nunes out-striking or out-grappling Pennington. However, I’m not sure Nunes can do that for 25 minutes. Pennington is durable, tough, well conditioned and can take a punch. I can definitely see a scenario were Pennington outlasts Nunes, who’s had questionable cardio in the past.

So, it’s somewhat of a tough call. I see a path to victory for both fighters, but I think Nunes has the better one. Nunes showed against Valentina Shevchenko she can go all five rounds and still have energy if she paces herself and stays composed. I think Nunes is pretty experienced at this point and I think she should be able to manage her energy well here.

Pick: Nunes

Ronaldo Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum

This has to be toughest fight to call on the main card.

Not so long ago I thought Ronaldo Souza’s days might have been over. The loss to Robert Whittaker didn’t make Souza look good, at all. But the Brazilian managed to erase that image with a knockout win over contender Derek Brunson. Souza has great takedowns and a fantastic ground game. He also has good boxing and plenty of power. And on top of that, Souza is a great athlete. He’s quick, explosive, strong and well-conditioned.

Kelvin Gastelum is a fantastic fighter. He’s been able to be a title contender at two different weight classes — middleweight and welterweight. Gastelum has slick boxing, good head movement and footwork, and a strong ground game that’s wrestling based.

If all physical attributes were equal, I’d lean toward Gastelum. I think Gastelum has better boxing than Souza, not by a huge amount, but definitely a significant one. On the ground, Souza is the better fighter. Souza is far more dangerous and knowledgeable. However, Gastelum has a strong takedown defense and a good awareness on the ground, which can keep Souza from getting him to the canvas or submitting him.

Yet, this is middleweight. I still think Gastelum might better suited for welterweight. Maybe I’d think differently if Gastelum bulked up a bit and felt more like a middleweight. Ilir Latifi is short for light heavyweight, but he doesn’t feel like a weight class smaller. I can’t say the same thing for Gastelum at middleweight. I think Gastelum is undersized here, and that matters a lot in the grappling department. I think Souza is one of the Gastelum’s toughest matchups at 185 pounds. I’m split on this one, but I think Souza’s size, power and grappling skills will get him the win.

Pick: Souza

Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Cooper

Given Amanda Cooper’s record and Mackenzie Dern’s popularity, it may seem that this is just a a stepping stone on Dern’s path to stardom. However, if you look closely, this is not an easy booking for Dern.

Cooper is very well-rounded. She fights very smoothly, composed and doesn’t make any big mistakes. Despite only having seven pro bouts under her belt, Cooper fights like a veteran. She has a tight, high-volume striking game and solid ground fundamentals. Cooper is also quite strong and has a reliable gas tank.

Dern’s jiu-jitsu credentials are the best in women’s MMA. Although I feel she hasn’t fully been able to transition all her knowledge to MMA, whatever degree she’s been able to use is still levels higher than her opponents. Dern’s striking is still very raw and unpolished, but she has decent power and is not hesitant or afraid to throw down.

I think there is a path to victory for Cooper. If she’s able to stuff Dern’s sometimes questionable takedowns and keep it technical on the feet, she might be able to pull off a close decision win. However, I think Dern will likely draw Cooper into a brawl and open the opportunity for takedowns.

Pick: Dern

John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher

Any time John Lineker is in the Octagon, you know you’re going to get an entertaining scrap.

Lineker is a powerhouse at 135 pounds. “Hands of Stone” is the perfect nickname for Lineker. The Brazilian attacks with wild hooks that can sleep almost anyone. Lineker is relentless with his attacks and has great takedown defense that allows him to strike with confidence. Lineker is also extremely tough and durable.

Brian Kelleher is a solid fighter. He’s pretty skilled on the feet and mixes things up well. Kelleher also possesses a complete ground game with dangerous submissions. Kelleher is durable and keeps up a high pace.

This could be fight of the night. I think Kelleher is a game fighter, but I don’t see him taking down Lineker. On the feet, Kelleher skill and range will allow him to have success against Lineker, but I don’t think enough to get him a victory.

Pick: Lineker

Vitor Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida

Although I enjoy the veteran vs. prospect narrative, it’s always fun to see two legends and former champs getting matched up.

Vitor Belfort will always be dangerous. “The Phenom” might not be the same fighter he once was, but he still has plenty of power, explosiveness and high-level technique behind his striking. Belfort’s chin, cardio, takedown defense and ground game are suspect, but he won’t have to worry about the last two in this bout.

Lyoto Machida is also on the tail end of his career, but he does seem to be a little better preserved than Belfort. Machida is quick, elusive, and possesses a very technical stand up game. Machida also has a pretty decent ground game and he’s extremely experienced.

I see Belfort ending this quick or I see Machida winning a decision. In his last fight, Belfort proved he can pace himself and go the distance, but with a very low attacking rate, which is usually not good for winning decisions. Both guys are game here, but Machida should be the favorite to win.

Pick: Machida

Undercard:

Karl Roberson def. Cezar Ferreira

Junior Albini def. Alexey Oleinik

Davi Ramos def. Nick Hein

Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos def. Sean Strickland

Warlley Alves def. Sultan Aliev

Thales Leites def. Jack Hermansson

Ramazan Emeev def. Alberto Mina

Markus Perez def. James Bochnovic


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