It’s UFC 224 from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil – perhaps the most-crazed MMA country in the world -- on a Saturday night headlined by the women’s bantamweight title fight.
The five-fight main card is expected to begin at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view. Here’s a look at those bouts and their Sports Interaction UFC odds.
Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington
Records: Nunes (15-4), Pennington (9-6)
Division: Women’s bantamweight
UFC Odds: Nunes -960, Pennington +575
Prediction: Nunes by KO/TKO
Many believe that Nunes is the best pound-for-pound women’s MMA fighter going not named Cris Cyborg. The UFC originally was planning to match Cyborg, the women’s featherweight champ, and Nunes, the bantamweight queen, but scrapped that and had Cyborg fight at UFC 222, in which she wiped out Yana Kunitskaya. Should Nunes defend her belt here, facing Cyborg is easily the most appealing women’s fight left on the table. Nunes vs. Pennington was being targeted for UFC 219 back in December, but Pennington was hurt in a car accident.
Nunes, a 29-year-old from Brazil, has won six straight since a loss to Cat Zingano at UFC 178. The “Lioness” has defended her title three times, including beating Ronda Rousey in December 2016 (Rousey’s final MMA bout) and then a rematch victory over Valentina Shevchenko last September by split decision. That was Nunes’ first bout to go five rounds. Pennington, ranked second in the division, is a 29-year-old American who hasn’t fought since upsetting Miesha Tate in November 2016 due to injury. Nunes, who has 10 victories by KO/TKO, also has a win over Tate (July 2016). We could well see Nunes-Cyborg later this year if Nunes prevails here.
Ronaldo Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum
Records: Souza (25-5, 1 NC), Gastelum (15-3, 1 NC)
UFC Odds: Souza -140, Gastelum +110
Prediction: Souza by submission
This is the co-main event with “Jacare” Souza, also from Brazil, ranked No. 2 in the middleweight division and Gastelum, an American, at No. 5. It is expected that the winner here will get a shot at the UFC middleweight title with current champion Robert Whittaker a sizable favourite over Yoel Romero at UFC 225.
The 38-year-old Souza has yet to fight for a title in his career. He lost to Whittaker by second-round TKO last April but bounced back with a first-round knockout victory over Derek Brunson in January. Gastelum, 26, comes off a first-round knockout of former champion Michael Bisping last November.
Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Cooper
Records: Dern (6-0), Cooper (4-3)
Division: Women’s strawweight
UFC Odds: Dern -285, Cooper +215
Prediction: Dern by submission
It’s a matchup of Americans here. While Dern calls the USA home, she’s the daughter of legendary Brazilian MMA fighter Wellington “Megaton” Dias so Dern, a renowned Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner who earned her black belt at age 19, will certainly be the fan favorite here. Dias will be in attendance.
Dern debuted in the UFC in March and beat Ashley Yoder by split decision. Two judges scored the bout for Dern, 29-28. A third had it for Yoder, 29-28. Dern seemed to have trouble while standing in the fight as she prefers to take her opponent to the ground – half of her six wins are by submission. Cooper comes off a second-round TKO over Angela Magana in December.
John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher
Records: Lineker (30-8), Kelleher (19-8)
UFC Odds: Lineker -295, Kelleher +215
Prediction: Lineker by decision
Lineker is a Brazilian ranked sixth in the bantamweight division, whose champion is TJ Dillashaw. Lineker’s only loss in his past eight fights was to Dillashaw in a non-title bout by unanimous decision at UFC 207 at the end of 2016. Lineker has fought just once since, a unanimous decision win over Marlon Vera last October. A total of 40 per cent of Lineker’s wins have come by decision even though he’s the type of fighter who likes to advance and use his power punches.
Kelleher, from the USA, has just one loss in his past 10: to Vera in July 2017 by unanimous decision. This is a decided big step up in competition for Kelleher, who makes only his fifth UFC appearance.
Vitor Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida
Records: Belfort (26-13), Machida (23-8)
UFC Odds: Machida -255, Belfort +185
Prediction: Machida by decision
It’s two Brazilian legends hoping to earn one last shot at glory with Belfort ranked ninth in the middleweight division and Machida 12th. Belfort, 41, has one victory in his past four fights but it was last time out against Nate Marquardt in June 2017. Belfort is a former UFC light-heavyweight champion who claims this will be his final fight. He was supposed to fight Uriah Hall at UFC Fight Night 124 for his retirement bout but Hall had to pull out.
This will be only the fourth time that Belfort faces a fellow Brazilian professionally; he’s 1-2. The 39-year-old Machida, also a former light-heavyweight champ, ended a three-fight losing streak in February with a split decision over relative unknown Eryk Anders. Machida was suspended 18 months from 2015-17 due to a positive drug test.