UFC 224 Picks: Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington – Ronaldo Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum Predictions

UFC 224 Preview and Predictions to Win
When: Saturday, May 12, 2018
Where: Jeunesse Arena, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
by Scott of Predictem.com

Fight Analysis:

UFC 224 comes to Rio, where countrywoman Amanda Nunes will headline the card in her UFC Womens Bantamweight title defense against Raquel Pennington. One of the fiercest female fighters, Nunes looks to make her third successful title defense against the improved American contender. In the co-main event, top 185-pounders Jacare Souza and Kelvin Gastelum duke it out in a pivotal middleweight bout that could determine the next title challenger. Lets see what we can come up with betting-wise for UFC 224.

Amanda Nunes, 15-4 (10 KOs, 3 Submissions), (-740) vs. Raquel Pennington, 9-5 (1 KO, 3 Submissions), (+520)
Amanda Nunes makes the third defense of her UFC Womens Bantamweight Title against challenger Raquel Pennington. Nunes is looking to cement her status as one of the sports most-dangerous female fighters after a violent rise to the top. After beating Miesha Tate for the belt and destroying Ronda Rousey, she won a decision over Valentina Shevchenko in September in her last octagon appearance. She must beat a peaking contender in Pennington, who is looking for a signature win after a nice run of recent success.

Nunes is a real handful. She really packs a punch and when the hands start flying, most women are quickly out of their element. There is a certain velocity to her strikes that isnt commonly found with women fighters. In fact, she might be the most-fearsome puncher in womens MMAever. Only the superb Shevchenko has forced Nunes to win a fight over the distance, with all other Nunes victims having been stopped. She has submitted top female talent like Tate and Sara McMann, while her strikes have done away with the likes of Rousey and Germaine DeRandamie. She can get it done in a variety of ways, When it was time for her to peak, she did so with flair and has been fairly dominant over her last handful of fights.

Nunes became craftier over time. Early on in her tenure in the UFC, she was hit-and-miss, stopped on strikes by Cat Zingano and Alexis Davis. Soon, we saw a fighter develop the other chops to go along with her fierce punching. Not many could see it coming when she took cemented top talent like Tate and Rousey and beat both with stunning ease. It wont be easy to unseat her, but lets not forget that shes not the only one with a right to improve.

Its understandable on some level that many would be dismissive of Penningtons chances in this title challenge. Her 9-5 record fails to inspire much confidence and those who saw her a few years ago and before that might have cast the dye on her prematurely. It might be time to view Pennington with a different lens. After four wins and a victory over Tate, she has broken free from the rest-of-the-pack and would seem to represent a righteous title challenge in this spot.

The youngness of womens MMA plays a role in the career trajectories of some of these fighters we now see in the UFC. Pennington did lose to some people early on, but was very early in her development, taking on top females mere months after becoming a pro. She was talented enough to win a season of The Ultimate Fighter, before being thrown in with the likes of Jessica Andrade and Holly Holm while still very young. Eventually, she found her footing, won a rematch against Andrade, and got on a nice roll that landed her in this spot.

Pennington showed nice improvement by submitting Andrade, along with subsequent wins over Bethe Correia, Elizabeth Phillips, and Miesha Tate. Having not fought since November 2016, however, is a concern and not what youd ideally like to see from a title challenger facing what seems like at best, a really tough challenge. She hasnt fought a fighter like Nunes, an extraordinary striker with BJJ skills. Still, there has been a lot of turnover at the top of womens MMA and a case on Pennington can be made simply on the basis of how what worked yesterday in womens MMA so quickly stops working. Still, despite Penningtons improvement, I see her biting off more than she can chew with Nunes. Im going with the champion to retain her belt.

My Pick to Win: Im betting on Amanda Nunes at -740 betting odds. When betting against a force like Nunes, youd like to see one compelling trait from the challenger and while Pennington is competent in most areas, she lacks that special dimension to warrant picking her to beat a champion of Nunes caliber. Bet YOUR pick using your credit card and get a massive 50% bonus up to $250 FREE at Bovada Sportsbook.

Ronaldo Jacare Souza, 25-5 (4 KOs, 17 Submissions), (-150) vs. Kelvin Gastelum, 14-3 (7 KOs, 3 Submissions), (+130)
The UFC 224 co-main event features a potential middleweight barnburner, with Jacare Souza taking on up-and-coming Kelvin Gastelum. Both are ranked high, meaning this could be a de-facto title eliminator bout. Jacare, now 38, is coming off a nice win over Derek Brunson in January. Gastelum was last seen in the octagon in November, punching out former champ Michael Bisping. At 26, he looks to make the jump to the top, but must beat an experienced and ultra-dangerous foe in Souza to do so.

After losing to current champ Robert Whittaker, Souza really needed to get back on the winning track. Beating Brunson, albeit a repeat win, was important for him and at 38, hes running out of chances to win UFC gold. Since 2011, Whittaker and top contender Yoel Romero were the only guys to get the better of BJJ expert. His resume shows a lot of good wins over a whos-who of 185-pound talent. A win here would really be huge.

While he is pushing 40, Jacare has shown different dimensions during his time in the UFC, which followed a stint where he was the Strikeforce champ at 185 pounds. With TKO wins via strikes over Derek Brunson and Vitor Belfort, he has more ways to get you now, even at this level. With 17 submission wins, his BJJ is above reproachone of the best in the business. Gastelum has been submitted before and its not that hard to see Jacare getting somewhere in this area. He has been stopped on strikes just once in the past decade. Its important to consider that Jacare is at an elevated state of urgency. A loss here would force a rebuilding period that he might not be up for. His back is against the wall, more so than the 12 years junior Gastelum. That alone doesnt win fights, but the urgency-factor is in Jacares corner for this one.

Gastelum is the younger fighter, both in age and approach. Like many of todays rising octagon commodities, he does most things well. He continues to grow as a fighter, following some ups and downs in his early career. There have been repeated issues with making weight and a failed drug test for marijuana. It has slowed his progress, but there is no mistaking his talent and potential. He is versatile and with different dimensions, an improved fighting force since moving up to middleweight from 170 pounds. At 21, he won The Ultimate Fighter and with some big wins, like his recent KO over Bisping, his star is assuredly on the rise.

Gastelum can do a lot of different things well. He comes from a wrestling background. Gastelums BJJ is getting better and better with time. What really makes him stand out are his hands. He fights with the innateness of a longtime boxer. It just looks more-natural than other fighters in the UFC. He throws in a very fluid way, with a slickness that belies his youth. He is natural in how he moves with a high level of relaxation that allows him to flow in the octagon and see everything coming. The young middleweight contender can take a heck of a shot and is exceptionally light on his feet. He controls the geography in the octagon, with the ability to adapt on the fly, while controlling range, distance, and angles. His accuracy and movement seem improved with the rise in weight, even if he isnt the most physically-menacing 185-pounder in the world. And while he will never match Jacare on the ground, he has shown he is capable enough to hold his own in that area.

One can maybe sense a bit of reluctance on some observers parts to anoint Gastelum as the next big thing at middleweight. Some might site his lack of discipline, as his past issues attest. He was submitted last year by ex-champ Chris Weidman, making some wonder what Jacare might be able to come up with. He lost decisions to Tyron Woodley and Neil Magny in 2015. There are some things that elicit concern. But his youth needs to be taken into account and losing by split decisions to Magny and Woodley, along with a loss to Weidman, isnt as damning as it might first appear. Still, a lot of his wins are against guys who werent at their absolute best, with wins over waning forces in Nate Marquardt and Johny Hendricks, A TKO over Tim Kennedy who retired after the fight, an overturned KO over Belfort, and the KO win over a version of Bisping who was just a few weeks off a loss.

Even if Gastelums resume looks better than it really is in the big picture, he is the fighter more-capable of improving in this fight. Jacare is who we know him to be, while Gastelum has the higher ceiling. More often than not in this or any fighting sport, youth is served. Jacare will be urgent and this is a big fight for him, but I see Gastelum getting through some rough moments to earn the win. Im taking Gastelum.

My Pick to Win: Im betting on Kelvin Gastelum at +130 betting odds. I think he represents the better betting value in this matchup. Younger, more versatile, and improving, I see Gastelum having a pronounced advantage in the stand-up, which he will use to earn a hard-fought victory. Spice up your fight night by wagering on the largest variety of MMA prop bets at 5Dimes!