UFC 224: Pennington Capable of Upsetting Nunes

Wednesday, May 9, 2018 3:25 PM UTC

Wednesday, May. 9, 2018 3:25 PM UTC

The UFC heads back to Rio de Janeiro on Saturday as some of Brazil’s favorite fighters are set to compete at UFC 224.

[/]{"component":"video", "type":"youtube", "url":"https://www.youtube.com/embed/S5CCJ-gsofs", "videoSize":"Large" }[/]UFC 224: Nunes vs. PenningtonFree UFC Pick: Raquel PenningtonBest Line Offered: Heritage

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Headlined by Amanda Nunes defending her UFC women’s bantamweight title against the fast-rising Raquel Pennington, Saturday's UFC 224 card in Rio de Janeiro also features a potential UFC middleweight title eliminator between Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Kelvin Gastelum as well as one of the newest stars of the women's division, Mackenzie Dern, squaring off with Amanda Cooper. But even though Brazil has their favorites pegged, how will that bode for SBR's top-rated sportsbooks? Let’s take a look at the betting value on this card.

Nunes is riding a six-fight winning streak that dates to 2015. Along the way, she’s knocked out both Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, claimed the UFC women’s bantamweight title and squeezed by Valentina Shevchenko twice. Perhaps of more significance is the fact that Rousey, Tate and Shayna Baszler retired from mixed martial arts shortly after losing to Nunes, while Shevchenko has decided to drop down a weight class. She appears to be the monster of the division at the moment, but does that warrant a -1000 favorite line against Pennington?

Absolutely not.

What started as a -515 line has crept all the way up to -1000, while Pennington has jumped from a +400 underdog to a +650. What gives? Pennington is currently riding a modest four-fight winning streak with victories over Tate (whom she sent directly into retirement), Elizabeth Phillips, Bethe Correia and Jessica Andrade. Prior to the streak, she lost a narrow split decision to Holly Holm and was a mediocre 5-5 fighter. Nunes should definitely be the favorite considering that she has advantage in both the ground game and standup, but there’s something about Pennington’s tenacity that cannot be gauged by oddsmakers.

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When you watch Pennington fight, nothing especially jumps out at you. But her confidence that she can outhustle her opponents is visible the more you watch her compete. And as much as Nunes is being made out to be the most dominant woman in MMA not named Cyborg, she’s not infallible. Her cardio was a question mark before her rematch with Shevchenko, but despite nabbing the win there are still concerns. Pennington has yet to find herself in a five-round fight, so this will be new ground for her. Nunes' jiujitsu is probably her best option to win here but something tells me that she’ll be gunning for the knockout in her home country. If that’s the case, and Pennington’s chin holds up (she’s never been knocked out), things could get interesting. With a line this wide, you almost have to put money down on Pennington. She’s not that overmatched, and Nunes might not be the dominant force that has been advertised.

The co-main event finds Gastelum looking to punch his ticket to a middleweight title fight as he faces Souza. The line is an interesting one that finds Gastelum as a slight underdog at +125 while the former Strikeforce champion sits at -145. At just 26, Gastelum is entering his prime years as a fighter and ran roughshod over former champion Michael Bisping last November with a first-round knockout. But it hasn’t been all great for Gastelum. Prior to the Bisping victory, he was choked out by Chris Weidman, had a TKO against Vitor Belfort overturned after he tested positive for marijuana and scored a TKO over Tim Kennedy. It’s a relatively thin division, which is the reason why he finds himself in this position.

Jacare, on the other hand, has been one shot away from a title fight and has failed on both occasions. Yoel Romero edged him out with a split decision at UFC 194 in 2015 and there was simply nothing he could do against current champion Robert Whittaker when the two met at UFC on Fox and Whittaker ended up knocking out Jacare in two rounds. At the age of 38 it’s evident that he’s getting no younger. The challenge here is whether Gastelum’s steadily improving striking can get to the Brazilian before Jacare manages to bring the fight to the canvas. If the latter happens, it’s lights out for Gastelum. But Jacare can’t waste time looking to drag the fight to the mat. It’ll have to be quick or else he finds himself in a vulnerable position where Gastelum can outstrike him. It’s a three-round fight with the 'over' 1.5 rounds being at -165 while the 'under' sits at +145. It’s a risky play because it could certainly end quickly but the line doesn’t carry enough value to have me bite the bait.

However, I do like Jacare in this fight, just as long as he doesn’t get caught early. This is going to be a unique way to hedge my bet here, but I don’t see Gastelum winning a decision. He’ll have to end Jacare’s night early. Although Jacare can do the same, it may take a little longer to put himself into position to submit Gastelum. For that reason, I’m taking both Jacare and the under here, which could end up biting me on the backside if Gastelum wins a decision. Jacare has more ways to win but pairing these two could bail you out if Gastelum gets a flash finish. Or, you double your winnings with an early Jacare stoppage.

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