Once the bearer of a 5-5 professional record, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) alum Raquel Pennington, has fought her way to a title shot, facing women’s Bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes, in UFC 224’s pay-per-view (PPV) main event this Saturday (May 12, 2018) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That’s not the only “America vs. Brazil” mixed martial arts (MMA) match up on the main card, which features Kelvin Gastelum vs. “Jacare” Souza and Brian Kelleher vs. John Lineker.
The long-neglected FX station gets some love, hosting four of UFC 224’s “Prelims” undercard bouts (check out the Fight Pass portion here). Let’s see what’s in store:
185 lbs.: Cezar Ferreira vs. Karl Roberson
A dominant run on the inaugural TUF: “Brazil” series and three straight UFC victories gave way to a 1-3 stretch that saw Cezar Ferreira (12-6) suffer three first-round knockout losses. He’s since found new life, winning four of his last five and earning “Performance of the Night” for his upset submission of Jack Hermansson.
“Mutante” will have four inches of reach on Karl Roberson (6-0).
It took Roberson just 15 seconds to wipe out the favored Ryan Spann on Week 3 of Dana White’s “Tuesday Night Contender Series,” earning a contract in the process. He went on to extend his first-round stoppage streak to five with a submission of Darren Stewart in his Octagon debut.
Though an experienced kickboxer who has fought the likes of Jerome Le Banner, half his wins have come by submission.
Genuine props to Ferreira for realizing that he doesn’t have the durability to slug it out and adjusting his style accordingly. Not enough fighters have the self-awareness to properly assess their faults and make the necessary alterations.
Not sure it’ll be enough to save him from Roberson, though. The American is the sharper striker and has the wrestling chops to force prolonged stand up exchanges. In addition, he’s proven he can do serious damage in the clinch, making keeping him on the fence a dicey proposition. Ferreira could very well grind his way to victory, but the more likely outcome is Roberson catching him inside and pounding away from the finish.
Prediction: Roberson via first-round technical knockout
265 lbs.: Aleksei Oleinik vs. Junior Albini
More than 20 years into his MMA career, Aleksei Oleinik (55-11-1) continues to soldier on, going 4-2 in the UFC despite his age. After consecutive finishes of Viktor Pesta and Travis Browne — the former of which saw him score the first Ezekiel choke in UFC history — Oleinik faced the rising Curtis Blaydes and was forced to bow out midway through the second round.
He has a staggering 40 submission victories.
Junior Albini (14-3) made an immediate impression in UFC by defying more than +200 odds to knockout Timothy Johnson in his debut, earning “Performance of the Night” in the process. This installed him as a massive favorite against Andrei Arlovski, but a tepid performance in defeat led to a very different impression, one not helped by his diaper-like shorts.
“Baby” has knocked out and submitted four opponents apiece.
Oleinik faces a much bigger, much younger, much more powerful fighter. He has a disturbing tendency to win these sort of match ups anyway, but after that tepid performance against Blaydes, it’s hard to have any faith in him. He just has so much wear and so little speed that it’s hard to pick him against an athletic Heavyweight unless said Heavyweight has been thoroughly ruined by Edmond Tarverdyan.
Though Albini proved against Arlovski that he can throw away a perfectly winnable fight, I expect him to fight with extra urgency here. He shuts down Oleinik’s wrestling and ultimately puts him away once he starts to fade.
Prediction: Albini via second-round technical knockout
155 lbs.: Davi Ramos vs. Nick Hein
Davi Ramos (7-2) — who took home gold at ADCC 2015 with a beautiful jumping armbar — came up just short in his short-notice UFC debut against fellow grappling ace Sergio Moraes, which saw the two black belts spend most of three rounds trading on the feet. Returning to Lightweight, he outclassed TUF veteran Chris Gruetzemacher on the mat on his way to a third-round choke finish.
He has submitted five professional foes overall.
“Sergeant” Nick Hein (14-2-1) split his first two UFC bouts, battering Drew Dober before dropping a decision to James Vick in Austin. Three straight victories set up Hein to welcome Zabit Magomedsharipov to UFC, but injury scrapped that fight and has kept Hein out of action since Sept. 2016.
He will give up two inches of height and four inches of reach to Ramos.
I’m legitimately conflicted here. Ramos’ striking and wrestling haven’t caught up to his Brazilian jiu-jitsu, meaning this will probably be a stand up affair that favors Hein despite the German’s stubby arms. On the other hand, Hein is 34 and hasn’t fought in nearly two years.
The stylistic clash still favors Hein enough for me to pick him. His 90 percent takedown defense and greater UFC experience allow him to shut down Ramos’ takedowns and steadily take control of the striking.
Prediction: Hein via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos vs. Sean Strickland
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (18-5) debuted in 2015 against then-unbeaten Nicolas Dalby and gave the Cage Warriors champ all he could handle en route to a split decision defeat. Undaunted, “Capoeira” enters the cage on a four-fight win streak that includes three “Fight of the Night” bonuses.
Twelve of his 18 knockout wins have come in the first round.
Sean Strickland (19-2) rebounded from his first-ever loss at the hands of Santiago Ponzinibbio to win three straight, only for Kamaru Usman to halt his rise in brutal fashion. “Tarzan” still wound up a nearly three-to-one favorite against Court McGee, whom he defeated in Norfolk in Nov. 2017.
At 6’1,” he stands two inches taller than Zaleski and has three inches of reach on him.
This is one of the most dramatic discrepancies in entertainment/talent ratio that I’ve seen in awhile. Zaleski’s boxing is rough and his wrestling nonexistent, but he is enormously game, tough and fun to watch. Strickland, meanwhile, is massive for the weight and solid all around, but religiously takes the path of least resistance.
Sadly, I think boring practicality wins the day.
The standout stat is Zaleski’s woeful 40 percent takedown defense. He’s a deceptively good scrambler, which got him out of danger against Keita Nakamura and allowed him to survive against Omari Akhmedov long enough to put him away late, but Strickland isn’t going to take any chances once he gets on top. Further, “Tarzan” survived hellacious bombs from both Ponzinibbio and Usman, so a knockout is unlikely. Strickland lays-and-prays his way to a decision victory.
Prediction: Strickland via unanimous decision
UFC 224’s main event is solid, the co-feature is great, and Kelleher-Lineker has major slobberknocker potential. Don’t miss it! See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Remember, too, that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 224 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FX Network at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.