If there’s any country in the world that likes mixed martial arts more than the United States, it’s Brazil, which has produced several all-time MMA greats. UFC 224 is staged from Rio de Janeiro on Saturday night from Jeunesse Arena and it’s headlined by a women’s bantamweight bout. Here’s a look at the top fights on the main card and their MMA odds. The main card is on pay-per-view starting at 10 p.m. ET.
UFC 224 Betting Preview & Predictions
UFC 224 Event Info
When: May 12th, 2018
Where: Jeunesse Arena, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Live Stream: UFC Fight Pass
UFC 224 Full Card
- Amanda Nunes vs. Rauqel Pennington – Women’s Bantamweight Championship
- Ronaldo Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum – Middleweight
- Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Cooper – Women’s Strawweight
- John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher – Bantamweight
- Vitor Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida – Middleweight
Preliminary Card (FX)
- Cezar Ferreira vs. Karl Roberson – Middleweight
- Oleksiy Oliynyk vs. Júnior Albini – Heavyweight
- Davi Ramos vs. Nick Hein – Lightweight
- Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Sean Strickland – Welterweight
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass)
- Warley Alves vs. Sultan Aliev – Welterweight
- Thales Leites vs. Jack Hermansson – Middleweight
- Alberto Mina vs. Ramazan Emeev – Welterweight
- Markus Perez vs. James Bochnovic – Middleweight
Amanda Nunes (15-4) vs. Raquel Pennington (9-5)
- UFC 224 Betting Odds: TBA
Nunes, who is from Brazil, puts here bantamweight title on the line against the American Pennington, ranked No. 2 in the division. Nunes has taken huge action and is now a -1000 favorite after opening around -550. Pennington is +650. The over/under for the scheduled five-rounder is 2.5 rounds. It’s believed to be the first time in UFC history that two openly gay fighters will compete for a championship title.
Nunes may be best known for destroying Ronda Rousey at the end of 2016 by first-round knockout and sending Rousey into MMA retirement. That was Nunes’ first title defense and her second was a split-decision win over Valentina Shevchenko last September. The five-round title fight, which was a rematch of a Nunes’ decision win in March 2016, was razor close. Two judges scored it 48-47 for Nunes, and a third saw it 48-47 for Shevchenko. Nunes pointed to a pair of late takedowns as a difference-maker.
“I made sure I was sharp everywhere,” said Nunes, who was largely overmatched while on her feet. “Also learned that at the end of the round is when she is getting tired, not me. I decided with my coach that at the end of the round, take her down. That’s what happened tonight.”
The rematch was very different from the first fight, which saw Nunes dominate Shevchenko on the ground for two rounds before gassing in the third.
How Well Has Pennington Done Lately?
Pennington is on a four-fight win streak. Her UFC career got off to a rocky start at 2-2, but she has been impressive since, earning wins over former strawweight title challenger Jessica Andrade and former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate. Pennington is a solid wrestler, as evidenced by her 1.5 takedowns per 15 minutes, and she is particularly effective with reactive shots when opponents get overly aggressive. Pennington also may have an advantage in clinch striking. During her UFC career, she has landed 26 percent of her significant strikes in the clinch, compared with only 8 percent for Nunes, who does a large majority of her striking at distance.
What’s most important about this fight is that if Nunes wins, she likely will fight featherweight champion Cris Cyborg next in arguably the biggest women’s bout in UFC history. Cyborg is considered the pound-for-pound female champion.
Ronaldo Souza (25-5) vs. Kelvin Gastelum (14-3)
- UFC 224 Betting Odds: Souza -150 / Gastelum +130
“Jacare” Souza, from Brazil, is the No. 2 middleweight and Gastelum, an American, is No. 5. It is expected that the winner of this bout will take on middleweight champion Robert Whittaker as long as Whittaker isn’t upset by Yoel Romero next month at UFC 225.
Gastelum vowed never to return to Brazil after a first-round TKO over ex-champ Vitor Belfort in May 2017 was overturned in the wake of a positive drug test. But Souza was too good of an opportunity to pass up. A win over Souza would give Gastelum a clear case for a title shot, which greatly improved after his first-round knockout of ex-champ Michael Bisping in his previous Octagon performance this past November. Originally slated to face ex-champ Anderson Silva, Gastelum took on Bisping after Silva failed an out-of-competition drug test. Gastelum is a composed and vicious puncher in the pocket and is also a solid wrestler, both offensively and defensively, and a nimble scrambler.
Souza is coming off a first-round knockout against Derek Brunson at UFC Fight Night on Jan. 27. The 39-year-old missed the second half of 2017 due to multiple injuries. He has never fought for a UFC title, despite an impressive 8-2 mark in the UFC. Souza is one of the three best grapplers in MMA history and a former Strikeforce champion.
Lyoto Machida (23-8) vs. Vitor Belfort (26-13)
- UFC 224 Betting Odds: TBA
This will be the fight of the night in Rio because these are two Brazilian legends and former UFC champions. It also could be the end for both with Belfort age 41 and Machida 39. Actually, Belfort claims this will be his last fight – even though he’s not retiring. What does that mean?
“I’m not retiring because when you retire, you’re still getting paid. I’m not getting paid, so I’m not retiring,” he said. “But this is my last fight. That’s important because people say, ‘OK, what’s the legacy you’re leaving?’ Legacy is not what I did for myself. It’s what I’m doing for the next generation. So I think I’m leaving one of the biggest legacies in the sport, for sure, worldwide. And I’m not retiring because I’m not getting paid after I finish [fighting], so I’m looking for jobs. I’m looking for opportunities.”
Belfort has been had 40 fights, 26 UFC appearances in multiple weight classes, a UFC title, three subsequent failed UFC title bids, seven UFC fight-night bonuses, a UFC-record for knockouts (12), stints with organizations as PRIDE and Strikeforce, some drug-testing failures and a coaching stint on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.” He’s an all-timer.
Earlier this year, Belfort announced he planned to retire following a bout against Uriah Hall on Jan. 14, but Hall was forced out of the fight at the last minute due to complications during his weight cut. Belfort is coming off a decision win over Nate Marquardt last June. Prior to that, he had been knocked out in four of his last five fights.
Machida, 39, earned a split decision win against Eryk Anders in February. The former light heavyweight champion sat for more than two years between 2015 and 2017, due to an 18-month drug suspension.
Expert UFC 224 Betting Predictions
Nunes submits Pennington, Souza wins by decision and Machida wins by KO/TKO.