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UFC 224 card: Amanda Nunes vs Raquel Pennington full fight preview

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight scrappers Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington will clash TONIGHT (May 12, 2018) at UFC 224 inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Nunes rose quickly from middling fighter to champion to defending her title multiple times. She enters this match as a 10-1 favorite, practically guaranteed by the odds makers to stomp another challenger and set up the super fight opposite Cris Cyborg. Pennington, meanwhile, will walk into the cage following a very strong win streak but an unfortunate layoff as well. “Rocky” is one of her division’s most consistent athletes, a forward pressure fighter who puts a pace on opponents and does not back down from a scrap.

It has all the makings of a much better fight than the odds imply, so let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each woman:

Amanda Nunes
Record: 15-4
Key Wins: Ronda Rousey (UFC 207), Miesha Tate (UFC 200), Valentina Shevchenko (UFC 215, UFC 196), Sara McMann (UFC Fight Night 73)
Key Losses: Cat Zingano (UFC 178), Sarah D’Alelio (Invicta FC 4), Alexis Davis (Strikeforce: Barnett vs Kharitonov)
Keys to Victory: Nunes is a large Bantamweight with fluid power punching and legitimate skills in both Judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. She’s a formidable finishing threat in all areas with her combination of athleticism, size and technique routinely allowing her to dominate opponents.

In this bout, Nunes has to be wary of her output. Pennington is a durable fighter who pushes a hard pace — historically, that’s the type of opponent Nunes has struggled with. Last time out, however, Nunes was methodical and measured, allowing her to remain effective throughout five rounds.

Nunes will have to fight with similar caution here, as she cannot rely on an early finish. However, unlike Shevchenko, there should be more openings to land while staying patient. The boxer does not like low kicks, so that should definitely be a staple of her offense. In addition, Nunes will have her usual height and reach advantage. If she maintains her range with low kicks and the one-two combination, she stands a fair shot at forcing Pennington to walk right into a reactive takedown.

Between all those damaging and point-scoring strategies, Nunes should be able to win without fatiguing.

VS.

Raquel Pennington
Record: 9-5
Key Wins: Miesha Tate (UFC 205), Jessica Andrade (UFC 189), Bethe Correira (UFC on FOX 19), Ashlee Evans-Smith (UFC 181)
Key Losses: Holly Holm (UFC 184), Cat Zingano (Invicta FC 3), Jessica Andrade (UFC 171)
Keys to Victory: Pennington is a rough-and-tumble athlete with quality hand speed, a sharp jab and very effective dirty boxing. Her wrestling and grappling are underrated as well, and Pennington does have a talent for suddenly locking in a fight-ending submission.

The short story here is that Pennington has to make this ugly and push the pace. The key to beating Nunes has always been to survive the early storm and capitalize when she fatigues. Tate and Rousey were finished far too quickly for the Brazilian to tire, and Shevchenko allowed such a leisurely pace that Nunes’ conditioning was never tested.

Pennington has the toughness and grit to walk down Nunes. She still has to work behind the jab and stay tight defensively — no one can eat too many of Nunes’ punches without feeling it — but Pennington is unlikely to crumble at the first hard shot. Perhaps the best choice for Pennington would be to punch into the clinch. Phone booth fighting is exhausting, and while knees and elbows hurt, the close distance would limit the pure punching advantage of Nunes.

If Pennington can keep a high pace and withstand her opponent’s punches, she stands a good chance of taking over late in the fight.

Bottom Line: It’s an overlooked title fight.

The stakes are clear for Nunes. Each time she defends her title, she comes a step closer to replacing Ronda Rousey as the greatest women’s Bantamweight of all time. In this particular fight, Nunes also fights to guarantee a title bout with Cris Cyborg, potentially the biggest fight to make in women’s mixed martial arts (MMA) right now.

A loss cancels that opportunity real fast.

Meanwhile, Pennington is in the rare position of returning from a long layoff into a title fight. That’s definitely a bit of added pressure despite being the massive underdog: If Pennington loses, it will cause her to drop quite a bit in the rankings since she’s without any recent wins. On the flip side, it’s also a chance to jump back in and immediately take the crown, a win that would stand as one of UFC’s biggest upsets in history.

At UFC 224, Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington will meet in the main event. Which woman will leave the cage strapped with gold?

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