UFC 224: Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC 224: Punch Drunk Predictions

Let’s be honest: I’ve been slacking with my prediction columns lately and I think it has contributed to me doing relatively poorly in terms of my actual selections.

I know that sounds unlikely to some, but slacking on the column means I’m not focusing as much on the matchups and not focusing as much on the matchups means I’m not putting as much energy and attention into making picks as I usually would and that explains (in part, at least) why my success rate has been in a steady decline all year.

But it’s time to change all that and while I know it can’t happen in a single event, there are three events over the next three weeks and I want to try to get as close to the 60% success rate by the time this stretch is over as possible.

Welcome to the comeback.

These are the UFC 224 Punch Drunk Predictions.

Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington

Nunes gets the opportunity to compete in her home country for the first time in three years and looks to become the first Brazilian to earn a championship victory at home since Jose Aldo successfully defended his title against Chad Mendes at UFC 179, while Pennington aims to continue the trend of titles changing hands in Brazil.

Unfortunately, Pennington is entering this contest off an 18-month hiatus after undergoing shoulder surgery following her breakout victory over Miesha Tate at UFC 205 and a career-threatening ATV accident after that and it’s hard to overlook the potential impact that time on the shelf could have in this fight.

While I don’t question her preparedness, there is just such a profound difference between getting in rounds at the gym and going live against someone like Nunes and although I think Pennington could be able to shake off the rust as the fight goes on, the champion also has a penchant for finishing early, so she might not get that opportunity.

Although Nunes showed greater patience and a more measured approach in her last bout against Valentina Shevchenko, a return to her attacking ways seems obvious here. Pennington has always been hittable (but tough to finish) and blitzing her while she’s still getting loose makes a lot more sense than allowing her to find a rhythm and start looking for counters.

My feeling is that Nunes presses forward with low kicks and sharp punches early and gets the finish before the end of the fight hits the championship rounds.

Prediction: Amanda Nunes

Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum

As someone who believed Gastelum had championship potential following his time on The Ultimate Fighter, his career to this point has been mildly disappointing. He’s had some good wins, but his weight struggles at welterweight sucked and I’m not sure he’s got enough advantages at middleweight to be a real contender, which relegates him – for now – to being a guy who lives in the 6-10 range in the Top 10.

That’s really good in the grand scheme of things, but not good enough, in my opinion, to beat someone as skilled and proven as Souza.

It often feels like we forget how good Jacare is. I did it heading into his fight with Derek Brunson and I think lots of people are doing it here, but the guy has only lost five times in his career and outside of his debut loss to Jorge Patino – who was already 25-fights deep into his career – the 38-year-old has only been beaten by absolute studs.

This might be the point where Gastelum takes that next step forward, but for me, the more likely scenario has Souza taking this fight to the floor and finishing there, much like Chris Weidman did againt him two fights back.

Prediction: Jacare Souza

Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Cooper

I just don’t buy the whole “all of Cooper’s losses have come by submission and Dern is a submission specialist so Dern is obviously going to maul her” logic many are espousing heading into this fight.

The facts are correct – Cooper’s three losses have all been by submission and Dern is one of the most decorated jiu jitsu players to transition to the Octagon – but Aspen Ladd, Tatiana Suarez and Cynthia Calvillo are all better athletes and more polished than Dern is at this point and Cooper has continued to improve as well.

I could end up looking ridiculous by picking Cooper here, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with Dern’s performance against Ashley Yoder and think Cooper will have opportunities to piece her up on the feet and unless Dern’s wrestling has improved by leaps and bounds in the last two months, she should be able to maintain distance and avoid her takedown attempts as well.

I didn’t like this meeting for Dern when it was first announced and nothing has made me change my mind on it since. If anything, the fact that Dern missed weight by a ridiculous seven pounds only further reinforces my conviction in picking Cooper, who was happy to take the fight regardless and seems pretty damn fired up about making a statement here.

Prediction: Amanda Cooper

John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher

I love Kelleher’s moxie and he’s been largely impressive since arriving in the UFC, but this just feels like a bridge too far for the Oceanside, New York native.

Lineker is a powerhouse with an iron chin and better defensive skills than he gets credit for, mostly because he tends always be on the offensive, and while I think Kelleher will be able to connect with some good shots and this will be a fun fight, I see “Hands of Stone” hurting him on the feet before clamping onto a guillotine or rear-naked choke to get the finish.

Prediction: John Lineker

Vitor Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida

I was always going to pick Machida, even though he didn’t look great against Eryk Anders because this is Belfort’s last fight and he looked washed several fights ago. Then Vitor went and turned up to Media Day wearing his bathrobe from the hotel and made this a slam dunk selection for me.

I get wanting to be comfortable and good for you for giving zero fucks on your last few days at work, but Belfort has checked out and Machida will finish him early.

Prediction: Lyoto Machida

Preliminary Card Picks

Karl Roberson def. Cezar Ferreira
Oleksiy Oliynyk def. Junior Albini
Davi Ramos def. Nick Hein
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos def. Sean Strickland
Warlley Alves def. Sultan Aliev
Jack Hermansson ded. Thales Leites
Alberto Mina def. Ramazan Emeev
Markus Perez def. James Bochnovic

2018 Prediction Record: 78-59-0 (.569)

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