MMA Review: #640: UFC 224: Nunes vs. Pennington

-This one felt like a bit of a lesser PPV largely because of the main event – a good-sounding fight to be fair but just not one to really capture the imagination of the fans. Elsewhere we had some top Brazilian talent, but just nothing to really write home about.

UFC 224: Nunes vs. Pennington

Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro

-Your hosts are Jon Anik and Jimmy Smith.

Middleweight Fight: Lyoto Machida vs Vitor Belfort

The word coming into this one was that it would be Belfort’s farewell fight and potentially Machida’s true, but obviously with retirements in MMA always being questionable (and Bellator seemingly willing to snap up any ancient stars) I was taking that with a pinch of salt. I was taking Lyoto as despite looking shot recently, I figured he still had more left in the tank than the TRT-free Vitor.

Fight begins and they circle around and throw out some feints, with Machida in his classic karate stance. 1:30 into the round and neither man’s landed a single strike. Looks like we could be in for a staring contest. Belfort is in such bad shape these days too. Crowd begin to boo loudly about two minutes in, unsurprisingly. This is one of the worst rounds in a long time. Little flurry from Belfort doesn’t really land. Hook kick glances for Lyoto and he follows with a glancing body kick. And from there we’re back to staring with Machida throwing the odd kick that doesn’t land cleanly. More booing from the crowd is suddenly broken as Vitor lunges forward with a combo, but Machida seems okay. Less than a minute left in the round now and they’re still not picking it up. Round ends there. Terrible stuff; 10-9 Machida I guess.

Into the 2nd and both men throw out left hands that miss. More missed strikes follow before Lyoto suddenly uncorks a KILLER FRONT KICK and knocks Vitor STONE DEAD!~!

Holy shit. That was an incredible knockout. Maybe top five in Lyoto’s career and that’s saying something given his KO’s of Couture, Evans, Bader et al. Probably a better front kick knockout on Vitor than Anderson Silva’s was, even. I mean, Vitor is obviously done and can’t take a shot any more but who cares? That knockout totally made up for the dull first round. And then post-fight Vitor lays his gloves down in an apparent retirement, so let’s hope he doesn’t end up in Bellator any time soon. As for Machida, I still maintain he ought to retire too but he’s now on a two-fight win streak so I guess we’ll be seeing more of him yet.

Bantamweight Fight: John Lineker vs Brian Kelleher

After his big win over Renan Barao in February this was a chance for Kelleher to crack the top ten, while Lineker was looking for a better performance than his October win over Marlon Vera that had seen him look more tentative than he’d ever done before. I was taking Lineker personally as I couldn’t see Kelleher being able to take his power.

Round One begins and Kelleher pushes forward as both men look a bit tentative, but he tastes Lineker’s power early and backs up a little. Couple of low kicks land for Lineker. Brutal combination to the head and body land for Lineker as he backs Kelleher up a bit, but Kelleher fires back with a left hook that wobbles his legs slightly. Big shot to the body responds for Lineker and we might have a brawl brewling here. Takedown attempt from Kelleher is avoided but he lands an uppercut on the break. Lineker is absolutely winging shots to the body here. Big left hand drops Kelleher face-first and Lineker dives on him in an attempt to finish, but Kelleher manages to tie him up enough to survive. Crowd are fucking BUZZING for Lineker. They come back up to their feet before breaking off, and Lineker sends him slipping, but Kelleher connects on a spinning backfist in the process. More winging punches from Lineker and he easily blocks a takedown attempt. Big combination wobbles Kelleher and sends him on the run, but he clinches to slow things down. Seconds remaining and they break off, and Lineker continues to land the better shots until the round ends. 10-9 Lineker, easy.

Round Two and Lineker again comes out swinging, going to the body and head indiscriminately. Lineker is so awesome to watch when he’s on like this. Brutal left hook connects for the Brazilian. Kelleher seemingly can’t do a lot to combat this. He tries to swing back and does land, but he’s eating far heavier shots and they’re coming in combination too. Crowd are loving this as Kelleher does keep swinging though. Big right hand to the body hurts Kelleher and he doubles over slightly and has to really back up to avoid any more punishment. Dude has a ton of heart, can’t fault that. More big shots land for Lineker though and this is beginning to feel like just a matter of time before Kelleher goes down for good. He tries a single leg, but Lineker easily hops away. More of the same follows as Lineker just looks totally confident in landing all of these shots now. They clinch and Lineker gets a rear waistlock, but breaks off rather than go for a suplex. Another big combination follows. Round ends just after that. 10-9 Lineker again.

Round Three and right away Lineker tags Kelleher with a right to the body and left hook to the head. Takedown attempt from Kelleher but Lineker stuffs it and it looks like he might be reaching for a guillotine. Kelleher does well to avoid it even as Lineker drops to half-guard, and they pop back up to their feet. Kelleher drops for the takedown again, but he still can’t get the Brazilian down. Few more left hands land for Lineker as Kelleher tries to work a jab. Halfway through the round and Kelleher lands some decent shots, but a right to the body backs him up again. Looks like Lineker’s slowing down a bit. Big combination wobbles Kelleher though and Lineker smells blood, and he comes in FIRING with some HUGE SHOTS that have Kelleher on the retreat! Kelleher is in big trouble but he survives somehow and backs off again, but Lineker keeps on pushing and finally KILLS HIM DEAD WITH A VICIOUS LEFT HOOK!~!

Amazing knockout right there. Probably the best of Lineker’s UFC career in fact and the best performance from him since his 2016 win over Michael McDonald. This was the REAL John Lineker after that tentative showing against Marlon Vera. Kelleher tried but just couldn’t hold up under the pressure of all the body work and winging punches to the head. This was awesome to watch as Lineker tends to be when he’s on form like this.

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Mackenzie Dern vs Amanda Cooper

There was a LOT of controversy around this one coming in as Dern somehow missed weight by a massive 7lbs – and didn’t seem to care that much about doing it, either – making people question how serious she was about her UFC career. The fight seemed tailor-made for her though as Cooper had been submitted in both of her previous UFC losses, so I was still picking Dern to win.

Fight begins and Dern doesn’t even look to be in good shape really. Doesn’t look like she’s got much useful size on Cooper really. They circle around and throw out some glancing strikes and both girls are swinging pretty wildly. Decent punches from Cooper back Dern up a bit, but Dern keeps on swinging wildly and literally out of nowhere she drops Cooper with an overhand right! Crowd go wild as Dern pounces and lands a bunch of elbows before taking full mount. Cooper gives her back and Dern immediately slaps on the rear naked choke for the tapout. Wow.

Shitty circumstances for the win with regards to the weight miss, but Dern looked pretty awesome here. I mean, her striking still looked really crude, but she clearly hits HARD and once Cooper was down, she had pretty much no chance with a grappler as good as Mackenzie on her back. How far Dern can go given all these issues is anyone’s guess but she’s certainly worth watching and this was a fun fight for sure.

Middleweight Fight: Jacare Souza vs Kelvin Gastelum

This was a pretty major fight at 185lbs to say the least – with Gastelum coming off his KO win of Michael Bisping and Jacare his own knockout over Derek Brunson, and Chris Weidman still on the sidelines it looked like the winner here would probably be in line for the next title shot. Close one to call too but I was leaning towards Gastelum as I was concerned about Jacare’s age suddenly catching up with him.

Round One begins and Jacare shoots right away. Gastelum sprawls and they end up clinched, with both men landing some knees inside. Jacare looks to trip him down, and forces him into the fence, really working the body inside with strikes. Single leg attempt from Jacare leads to Kelvin hopping around on one foot and even landing some elbows, before Jacare pulls guard by jumping for a leglock (!) and from there he turns it into a sweep to get on top. That was sick. Side mount now for Jacare and Kelvin’s in trouble. He moves into full mount and it looks like Gastelum’s got no answer for this. He does manage to shrimp to half-guard, but Jacare remains firmly in control and he muscles back to mount. Good punches land for Jacare and it looks like he might be fishing for an arm triangle. Just over a minute to go and Jacare goes for an armbar, but Gastelum manages to hold on and leans down onto him to take the pressure off somewhat. Jacare keeps going for it, and it looks tight, but the round ends right as Kelvin escapes. 10-9 Jacare.

Round Two and Kelvin presses forward and tags Souza with an early combination as he avoids a takedown. Big right hand answers for Jacare and he shoots again, but Kelvin shrugs him off and opens up a cut on the left side of Jacare’s face with a combo. Looks like Jacare might be gassed. Left hand lands cleanly for Gastelum. Big right hand answers back for Jacare as Gastelum keeps on pumping the left hand. It doesn’t slow Kelvin down though and he continues to press forward with punches. Clinch from Souza follows but Kelvin breaks quickly. Takedown is avoided by Gastelum, but he eats some big punches on his way out. Dude has a great chin though and just absorbs it. Big exchange sees both men land. This is a great fight. Exchange continues and a BIG LEFT drops Jacare! Kelvin looks to finish by landing punches, and then steps away when he tries to call him down to guard. Two minutes to go and Kelvin presses forward more, avoiding some head kicks, but he does eat a right hand. Jacare is still swinging but he looks exhausted. Superman punch lands for Kelvin. One minute to go and it’s Gastelum still pressing the action. Hard left lands for Souza though and that pegs him back a little. Big shots land for both men now as they’re openly brawling. This is great. Round ends with another huge exchange. 10-9 Gastelum to even it up.

Round Three and this could definitely go either way. Big left hook opens the round for Gastelum but he eats a huge overhand right from Souza in return. Takedown is easily avoided by Gastelum. Big punches land for Kelvin as Jacare lumbers forward and tries to clinch. He’s eating more shots on the way in for sure. Couple more heavy rights land flush for Jacare but Kelvin’s chin continues to hold up and he works the body with a pair of lefts. Into the clinch and Jacare looks totally out of steam. He still manages to land a head kick though and uses it to go for the takedown. Gastelum blocks it again, but Souza manages to force him down to a big crowd pop. Gastelum reverses it though and he’s right back up. Both men look tired now. It’s still Gastelum on the offensive though, pushing the action even if he’s eating counters a lot. Clean combo lands for Kelvin. Good body kick answers for Souza but he gets forced back by another combo. Beautiful jab lands for Gastelum. Big swings from Jacare force Kelvin back a bit but he comes right back swinging again. This is so awesome. Takedown attempt with seconds to go for Jacare but he still can’t get Kelvin down, and the fight ends with a wild exchange. 10-9 Gastelum by a hair, and 29-28 Gastelum overall.

Judges have it 29-28 Gastelum, 29-28 Jacare, and 29-28 for Kelvin Gastelum to take the split decision. Well, it could’ve gone either way really – the first was clearly Jacare’s, the second clearly Gastelum’s, and it came down to the third, but I just felt like Gastelum was pushing forward more, was more active, and seemed to do more damage. It looked like Jacare might’ve blown up in going for the armbar so hard in the first round actually and just had nothing left after that outside of a lot of heart. Tremendous fight though – probably a low-end FOTYC – and I want to see Gastelum in a title fight next I think. Gastelum vs. Whittaker in particular sounds fantastic.

UFC Women’s World Bantamweight Title: Amanda Nunes vs Raquel Pennington

Despite a bunch of reports suggesting Nunes would be fighting Cris Cyborg in a superfight of sorts on this show, in the end the UFC booked her for her third title defense instead. Challenger Pennington had beaten Miesha Tate last time out and was on a four-fight win streak, but she also hadn’t fought since November 2016 due to a serious leg injury, and so I couldn’t pick her to beat Nunes in good conscience.

First round begins and Nunes drops Pennington with literally the first low kick she throws. Raquel pops right back up but she’s clearly rattled and Nunes closes her down and lands with another low kick as Pennington tries to fire back. Nice jab from Nunes. Another low kick hurts the challenger too. Couple of punches glance for Pennington but Nunes is just walking her down. Big combination lands for the champion. Pennington just doesn’t look fast enough to really catch her. Her left leg is already badly marked up too. Low kick is countered by a sharp uppercut from Pennington this time but Nunes eats it right up. Couple of big right hands and another low kick land for Nunes. Less than a minute to go now and it’s still Nunes getting the better of these striking exchanges. Round ends on the feet; 10-9 Nunes for sure.

Second round and Nunes presses forward again, shrugging off a clinch attempt to land a quick flurry. Front kick to the body seems to have Pennington hurt and she backs right up, but Nunes doesn’t really capitalise. She continues to just pot shot the challenger though, continually forcing her back towards the fence. Couple more savage leg kicks land for the champ. Pennington tries to fire back but she looks outgunned. Takedown attempt from Raquel but Nunes blocks it again. Good right hand lands for Pennington in a brief exchange but again Nunes just eats it up and keeps on landing on her. Another takedown attempt from Pennington is shrugged off easily. Spinning back kick lands to the body for Nunes. Can’t fault Pennington’s heart as she keeps swinging, but Nunes lands a couple of really nasty knees from the clinch. Pennington manages to force her into the fence, but she can’t get the champion off her feet. A suplex does manage to get her down into side mount, but with 45 seconds remaining she’s likely out of time. Nunes gets to half-guard, but she eats some elbows. Round ends with Pennington allowing Nunes to her feet and they trade off to the buzzer. 10-9 Nunes but a closer round I guess.

Third round and Nunes opens with another nasty leg kick. Pennington pushes forward with her jab, and then manages to clinch only for Nunes to shrug her off. Combination lands for Pennington as Nunes looks to back her up. Another leg kick lands for Nunes and then she catches Pennington coming forward and dumps her to the ground in half-guard. Action slows down a bit from there as Pennington gets to full guard and manages to wrap up Nunes’s arms, preventing much damage. Ref decides to stand them up with just under 2 minutes remaining, and they trade shots before Pennington drops for the takedown. Nunes defends it well and separates, and from there she unloads with a combo. Pennington’s right eye looks to be in bad shape. Exchange follows before Pennington blocks a takedown, but she can’t quite get one of her own. Big right hand wobbles Pennington in an exchange, but she seems okay. Big knee ends the round for Nunes and Pennington is left on her knees for a moment. 10-9 Nunes.

Fourth round and again they exchange with Pennington coming up a little short with most of her shots. Nunes doesn’t look tired at all which is impressive. Couple of jabs land for Nunes but nothing too major thus far in this round. Big right hand does connect but Pennington takes it really well. Takedown attempt is stuffed by Nunes who lands some knees to make her pay. Beautiful trip follows and the champ lands on top in guard. Action slows down a lot from there as it looks like Nunes might be resting a little, but the ref lets them stay on the ground anyway. Pennington reverses back up, but gets caught in a plum clinch and eats some knees before they break. Right hand lands for Pennington but she still can’t seem to catch Nunes cleanly. Another big knee lands for the champ before Pennington drops for a double leg. Nunes blocks that and breaks, then opens up with a flurry while Pennington has her back to the cage. More knees from the plum clinch follow and Pennington’s in trouble. She drops for a single leg again but it looks desperate and Nunes stuffs it to end the round. 10-9 Nunes and this is all but over really. Pennington is busted WIDE OPEN too.

Between rounds we get a disturbing moment as Pennington tells her corner “I’m done”, but for some reason they let her go right back out which is RIDICULOUS. She’s pretty much got no chance of winning so why put her through another round?

Fifth round and to be fair Pennington comes out swinging, but Nunes doesn’t seem to care and throws a couple of heavy hooks that back the challenger up. Big combination follows and Pennington’s clearly in trouble here. She does fire back, but Nunes hits a big double leg and dumps her to the ground in guard. She works from the top with some hammer fists and Pennington’s nose is an absolute mess now. Big elbow cracks the nose further and now Pennington looks like she’s had enough. She turns her back and Nunes gets both hooks in and SOAKS THE CANVAS WITH BLOOD until the ref calls it off. Brutal finish in the end actually.

Really good fight actually even if Pennington’s corner should’ve stopped it before the fifth round. Pennington gave her all and even after that she didn’t stop swinging, but she was physically outgunned from the start as she couldn’t seem to hurt Nunes and had trouble with the champ’s speed, too. Nunes looked awesome here – one of her best showings in the UFC actually – but she’s such a nondescript character that it’s just hard to get into her title defences, especially in such a thin division. I dunno, it took Anderson Silva a while to take off but look at Demetrious Johnson, and I see Nunes as more Mighty Mouse than Spider I guess. Maybe the Cyborg superfight really is the way to go for her?

And then post-fight they all make up like happy families as Pennington’s partner Tecia Torres is a friend and former training partner of Nunes….which is really nice to see, but obviously doesn’t help to sell fights! See what I mean?

-Show ends with some plugs for the upcoming stuff and a highlight reel.

Final Thoughts….

Best PPV show of 2018 thus far by a mile as we actually got a bunch of finishes for once and they were pretty much all pretty awesome, with Lyoto’s front kick being the best but Lineker’s total starching of Kelleher being pretty close too. The one fight that went the distance was awesome as well and while it was somewhat of a one-sided fight, the main event was watchable too. Definite thumbs up for this one then.

Best Fight: Jacare vs. Gastelum
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: