Cleat Geeks

UFC 224 Predictions

UFC 224 takes place this Saturday, May 12th at the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 5-fight main card begins at 10 PM EST and is headlined by a women’s bantamweight title fight between reigning Champion Amanda Nunes and #1 contender Raquel Pennington. The co-main event will see longtime middleweight contender Jacare Souza take on the always-improving Kelvin Gastelum. Also on the main card are Amanda Cooper and one of the hottest prospects on the roster, Mackenzie Dern. The second fight will see an exciting bantamweight fight between Brian Kelleher and John Lineker. The opening act of the main card features two of the greatest Brazilians of all time as Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida lock horns in a fight that could very well be the last for either man.

 

Vitor Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida

Image result for vitor belfort vs. lyoto machida

 

Vitor BelfortImage result for vitor belfort

Age: 41

Height: 6’0”

Reach: 74”

Overall Record: 26-13-0 (1 NC)

Last 3:

Win vs. Nate Marquardt (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC 212 in July 2017

NC vs. Kelvin Gastelum (overturned-originally R1 TKO Loss) @ UFC FN in March 2017

Loss vs. Gegard Mousasi (R2 TKO) @ UFC 204 in October 2016

Keys to Victory: Belfort needs to be aggressive but not overly so. He needs to use movement to stay active and not stay stationary. He also needs to cut off the cage as Machida backs up.

 

Image result for lyoto machida ufcLyoto Machida

Age: 39

Height: 6’1”

Reach: 74”

Overall Record: 23-8

Last 3:

Win vs. Eryk Anders (Split Decision) @ UFC FN in February 2018

Loss vs. Derek Brunson (R1 KO) @ UFC FN in October 2017

Loss vs. Yoel Romero (R3 KO) @ UFC FN in June 2015

Keys to Victory: Avoid the power shots early in the fight. He needs to be patient in round one and let Belfort expend his energy. Use his trip takedowns to keep Belfort guessing.

 

This fight should be fun while it lasts, and I don’t expect it to make it to the judges’ scorecards. The Machida puzzle has officially been solved, whether Belfort can crack the code like others have is anyone’s guess. They both seemed invincible at one point, and both have quickly diminishing chins. Both guys have the power and accuracy to end this contest with one shot. Machida’s much more methodical in his approach and may even look to land a takedown or two with his underrated wrestling just to keep Belfort honest. Expect a slow start from both men, very similar to what we have seen with Belfort and Henderson in the past. Machida will remain patient and look for Belfort to wear himself down. In front of a Brazil crowd, it’s difficult to judge who the crowd gets behind but look for Belfort to be the fan favorite. Both fighters are a shell of their former selves. Neither has been super impressive over the last few performances as you can see from their recent records. This sounds like a retirement fight for at least Vitor, and he will find a kill shot sometime in the second round and ride off into the sunset with the Brazilian flag on his shoulders and a wild crowd in the background.

 

John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher

 

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John LinekerImage result for john lineker ufc

Age: 27

Height: 5’3”

Reach: 67”

Overall Record: 30-8

Last 3:

Win vs. Marlon Vera (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC FN in October 2017

Loss vs. TJ Dillashaw (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC 207 in December 2016

Win vs. John Dodson (Split Decision) @ UFC FN in October 2016

Keys to Victory: Lineker needs to keep the fight standing and lure Kelleher into a brawl. He needs to mix in some kicks as well, his game plan doesn’t seem to change much, even mid-fight. He needs to dig into his bag of tricks to find something other than body-head punch combos.

 

Image result for brian kelleher ufcBrian Kelleher

Age: 31

Height: 5’6”

Reach: 64”

Overall Record: 19-8

Last 3:

Win vs. Renan Barao (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC on FOX in February 2018

Win vs. Damian Stasiak (R3 TKO) @ UFC FN in October 2017

Loss vs. Marlon Vera (R1 Sub) @ UFC on FOX in July 2017

Keys to Victory: Kelleher needs to avoid the fence. He’s the taller fighter and may find some success in the clinch if he can get there. He needs to be patient and not let his emotions take over.

 

Although their records and levels of competition would say otherwise, this is a close fight to call. Lineker has heavy hands and an indestructible chin, but he’s at least somewhat predictable in his approach. His punch combos are some of the best in the game, and he’s great at getting in opponents’ heads and luring them into a fire fight. Kelleher is extremely underrated and still young in the sport, despite being 4 years the elder. His wrestling and takedowns leave a lot to be desired, but he needs to commit to some takedowns in this fight. Even if he’s unsuccessful in doing so, he may be able to get Lineker against the fence and stall the fight for minutes at a time. Kelleher was on Twitter suggesting this fight will be a barn burner. If his plan is to stand and trade with “Hands of Stone,” he will wake up to a crowd erupting supporting their Brazilian fighter. Lineker wins a close decision with the possibility of a late stoppage.

 

Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Cooper

Image result for Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Cooper

 

Mackenzie DernImage result for mackenzie dern ufc

Age: 25

Height: 5’3”

Reach: 64”

Overall Record: 6-0

Last 3:

Win vs. Ashley Yoder (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC 222 in March 2018

Win vs. Kaline Medeiros (R3 Sub) @ Invicta FC 26 in December 2017

Win vs. Mandy Polk (R1 Sub) @ LFA 24 in October 2017

Keys to Victory: Dern must be willing to strike in order to set up her takedowns. She can’t telegraph takedowns or become predictable in the Octagon. She needs to face some adversity in order to improve.

 

Image result for amanda cooper ufcAmanda Cooper
Age: 26

Height: 5’3”

Reach: 63”

Overall Record: 3-3

Last 3:

Win vs. Angela Magana (R2 TKO) @ UFC 218 in December 2017

Loss vs. Cynthia Calvillo (R1 Sub) @ UFC 209 in March 2017

Win vs. Anna Elmose (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC FN in November 2016

Keys to Victory: Cooper needs to keep this fight standing and keep her distance from the BJJ wizard. She also needs to keep her composure in the spotlight. She needs to stick to her game plan and make adjustments when necessary.

 

The world will be watching to see if Mackenzie Dern has what it takes to be a complete Mixed Martial Artist. Her striking looked better than previous bouts in her Octagon debut, and hopefully she’s shaken off the debut jitters. Her game plan is always to get her opponent grounded somehow, but she relied too much on upper body strength in her last fight and was unsuccessful. Moving training camps may be exactly what she needs to evolve as a fighter in the Octagon. Cooper, on the other hand, has some experience in the UFC and could play spoiler and derail the Dern hype train. Cooper will find herself back pedaling a lot in this fight and needs to avoid the fence at all costs. Dern showed some improved clinch work in her last bout, but she also tired quickly from the look of it. The longer this fight goes, the more it favors Cooper, who’s not shown any issues cutting weight, unlike her opponent. Cooper shocks the world, at least somewhat, and takes a split decision in enemy territory.

 

Ronaldo Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum

Image result for Ronaldo Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum

Ronaldo SouzaImage result for Ronaldo Souza ufc

Age: 38

Height: 6’1”

Reach: 72”

Overall Record: 25-5 (1 NC)

Last 3:

Win vs. Derek Brunson (R1 KO) @ UFC FN in January 2018

Loss vs. Robert Whittaker (R2 TKO) @ UFC on FOX in April 2017

Win vs. Tim Boetsch (R1 Sub) @ UFC 208 in February 2017

Keys to Victory: Souza needs to avoid the left hand of Gastelum. He needs to employ the same strategy as Weidman, who found success. He’ll have to get tricky with takedown attempts as he didn’t have much success against Whittaker, who was much faster than he like Gastelum will be.

 

Image result for kelvin gastelum ufcKelvin Gastelum

Age: 26

Height: 5’9”

Reach: 71”

Overall Record: 14-3 (1 NC)

Last 3:

Win vs. Michael Bisping (R1 KO) @ UFC FN in November 2017

Loss vs. Chris Weidman (R3 Sub) @ UFC on FOX in July 2017

NC vs. Vitor Belfort (overturned-originally R1 KO Win) @ UFC FN in March 2017

Keys to Victory: Gastelum needs to create as much space as possible. He needs to avoid the takedowns and clinch of Souza. He needs to use his speed advantage and follow the same game plan that Whittaker found success with.

 

This fight may determine the next title challenger at 185 pounds. Souza has some of the best jiu jitsu skills in all of MMA and has for a long time. His striking isn’t as technical as he’d probably like, but when he lands the other fighter typically falls. He grew more frustrated in his fight with Robert Whittaker as the fight wore on and he was unable to ground him. He’ll have more success taking down Gastelum, but Gastelum has a better guard and may be difficult to submit. Gastelum took advantage of a shop-worn Bisping late last year and showed off his knockout power, which translated well into the middleweight division. He’s going to be undersized but has been the smaller fighter for most of his career, even at welterweight. Gastelum has the wrestling acumen to surprise some people and may even try to take “Jacare” down. The striking advantage probably goes to Gastelum as he’ll be able to dart in and out before allowing Souza to tee off. This is the toughest fight on the card to predict for me. Seldom does a Brazilian fighter lose a close decision in Brazil. For that reason, I’ll take Souza by split decision in a very close contest.

 

Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington

Image result for Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington

Amanda NunesImage result for Amanda Nunes ufc

Age: 29

Height: 5’8”

Reach: 69”

Overall Record: 15-4

Last 3:

Win vs. Valentina Shevchenko (Split Decision) @ UFC 215 in September 2017

Win vs. Ronda Rousey (R1 TKO) @ UFC 207 in December 2016

Win vs. Miesha Tate (R1 Sub) @ UFC 200 in July 2016

Keys to Victory: Nunes is a fast starter and she needs to continue to do that. Pennington is durable but Nunes’ striking will be unlike anything she’s ever faced before. She needs to pace herself, she wore out in the second half of the Shevchenko fight.

 

Image result for raquel pennington ufcRaquel Pennington

Age: 29

Height: 5’7”

Record: 67”

Overall Record: 9-5

Last 3:

Win vs. Miesha Tate (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC 205 in November 2016

Win vs. Elizabeth Phillips (Unanimous Decision) @ UFC 202 in August 2016

Win vs. Bethe Correia (Split Decision) @ UFC on FOX in April 2016

Keys to Victory: Pennington needs to be patient in the first round and avoid the power shots from Nunes. She needs to weather the early storm and prepare to take over after the first 2 or 3 rounds. She needs to clinch up or work some ground game to wear Nunes out.

 

There isn’t a more deserving title challenger on the roster than Raquel Pennington. Unfortunately, she hasn’t fought in 18 months and Amanda Nunes is a monster. Pennington has struggled against elite competition in the past aside from her victory over an unmotivated Miesha Tate. She’s a really good fighter everywhere, but I’m not sure she’s great in any one area. If she can weather the early storm, she may be able to take the title from Nunes due to a late surge, but she’s never been 5 full rounds before. Nunes’ game plan is complete but striking is her bread and butter. She is extremely accurate and throws every strike with bad intentions. If she’s unsuccessful dispatching the challenger early, she may wear herself out and be vulnerable like she was with Valentina. Pennington is super durable but she’s hittable and the ring rust and away crowd will be too much for her to overcome. She will be a UFC Champion at some point in her career, but it’s Nunes’ time right now. Nunes by first-round TKO is the pick.

 

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