Brazilian Bantamweight Amanda Nunes defends her belt against surging American Raquel Pennington, in her home country, with a litany of other Brazilian stars appearing, from prospects to legends.
UFC 224 seems to have been curiously under-appreciated even by the UFC itself; the promotion seems to have already switched its publicity to focus more onto UFC 225 and 226, despite the fact that UFC 224 should be a marketer’s dream .
Nunes, a Brazilian immigrant to the US, is a strong female character excelling at a traditionally ‘male’ past-time, and openly gay to boot. Publicity-wise, she could not be a better representation of what the UFC can offer as a symbol of diversity and equality. The American Dream made good.
It also helps that she’s an engaging personality outside of the cage, while being something of a force of nature in it. She has dismantled fighters of the likes of fan-favourite Miesha Tate to win the belt, and famously demolished Ronda Rousey in forty-eight seconds upon Rousey’s much-anticipated return.
Her last win was a contentious split decision in an uncharacteristically placid bout, however, so she may enter the cage here feeling that she has something to prove, which could pose a problem for her opponent, the US’s own Raquel Pennington.
Pennington is on a four-fight win streak, easily at the best point in her career, and has string of good names under her belt; in her last win she effectively retired Miesha Tate – a victory she shares with Nunes of course, and will be looking to inflict similar heartbreak on her opponent here.
The co-main event is a battle of contenders in the 185lb middleweight division, as the American Kelvin Gastelum continues his small-man-in-a-big-pond rise up the middleweight rankings against feared Brazilian grappler Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza.
After some weight cut issues at 170lbs, Gastelum has moved up and has proven that any size disadvantage can be negated by his speed and power; he has lost to Chris Weidman in his middleweight run but knocked him down in that fight, and has looked good otherwise.
Jacare, even at the age of 38, is still a threatening contender. He’s coming off a KO win over a prime athlete in Derek Brunson, proving that his striking game is as dangerous as ever.
Not as dangerous as Gastelum’s perhaps, but if that doesn’t work out to his advantage, he won’t be afraid to take the fight to the mat, where the BJJ ace is considered one of the best in the UFC.
The third fight on the card is between two raw prospects; Americans Mackenzie Dern and Amanda Cooper.
Dern is the latest in the UFCs beautiful-people promotional push, re: Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant. These fighters can often be regarded with cynicism, being seen as benficiaries of fortunate genetics rather than fighting talent; VanZant and Northcutt have somewhat borne this out, having mixed success in the UFC to this point.
The difference with Dern is she is a legitimate phenom in the core MMA discipline of BJJ, and has beginner’s record of 6-0.
While her striking game leaves a lot to be desired, she is young and has plenty of time to learn. Meanwhile, her opponent Cooper is extremely susceptible to submission losses. Of her 3-3 professional record, all three losses were via submission.
This bout does smack of a hot prospect being fed a journeywoman with a little bit of name value; however, Dern is vulnerable enough on the feet to make the fight intriguing in the beginning at least.
Not to mention, if she does have continued success, it’s be fascinating to watch how a dedicated professional’s striking game progresses.
The last fight of note is a nostalgic booking; Brazilian icons Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida didn’t so much as challenge one another to fight, but agree to see out each other’s careers.
Neither fighter is younger than 39, so they are both approaching the conclusions of pro life; Belfort has stated this to be his last fight.
Both are former champions, and both have huge followings in Brazil, so as a main card opener, this is certainly a well-matched, smartly booked contest that will be unlikely to disappoint on a technical level, while providing a dignified send-off for at least one fighter: maybe – Belfort has claimed several past fights to be his last.
In any case, this main card is being unfairly treated by almost all involved in the promotion of it. It has plenty of stylistic variety, plenty of history, as well as plenty of future potential, with a few fun action fights thrown in. So despite what the UFC seems to think, this card has a passing-of-the-torch feel to it that could render it important for the future.
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