Amanda Nunes heads up UFC 224. UFC.com
UFC 224 kicks off a run of 5 straight fight weekends for the UFC, and on paper it is a good, not great event. It lost the interim welterweight title matchup between Rafael Dos Anjos and Colby Covington to UFC 225 next month. That said, there are still some noteworthy fights on the card in Rio.
The main event matches up Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington for Nunes’ 135 lb. title. After bludgeoning Ronda Rousey and Meisha Tate, Nunes took a tight decision over Valentina Schevchenko in her last matchup. Still, the UFC is having a hard time putting someone in front of her that presents a legitimate challenge, and she is again a massive betting favorite in this one at -1100. Nunes is a wrecking ball. She is incredibly aggressive, and probably hits harder than anyone not named Cris Cyborg in women’s MMA. Add that to her black belt in jiu-jitsu and a brown belt in judo, and she is a real problem for any woman to deal with. Pennington is tough and a solid grappler in transition situations, but at the end of the day, there are really very few scenarios where I can picture her taking out the champion, particularly in front of a partisan Brazilian crowd.
The co-main would main event a lot of cards, and is probably the most anticipated fight on this card. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza takes on Kelvin Gastelum in what is unofficially a No. 1 contender’s bout for the middleweight title. Jacare is a force with his grappling, and is arguably the best pure jiu jitsu fighter in MMA history. He is a pressure grappler and adds to it by mixing in submission attempts with nasty ground and pound. His striking has also improved drastically since he got his start in MMA. Gastelum is a force. He couldn’t consistently make weight at 170 lbs., but has established himself at 185 with wins over Tim Kennedy and Michael Bisping. He also KO’ed Vitor Belfort, but the decision was turned to a no-contest when Gastelum tested hot for marijuana. He has a solid chin and is willing to engage. He is also faster and more athletic than the average middleweight, and Jacare has struggled with similar fighters (see Robert Whittaker). However, Whittaker moved well and changed angles, something that Gastelum doesn’t typically do. This should be an excellent fight.
Mackenzie Dern takes on Amanda Cooper, as Dern hopes to return some of the shine to her prospect star. She didn’t look great last time out, but escaped with a split decision victory. Her grappling is on a level that most women aren’t accustomed to dealing with, though she has shown some struggles to get the fight to the ground. Her standup is sloppy, but again, if the fight hits the mat, she is unstoppable. Cooper is a really solid striker, and has added some solid ground and pound to her repertoire. A win for Dern puts her in the conversation for a shot at the strawweight title.
Lyoto Machida takes on Vitor Belfort in a battle of 40-something year old former champions. Belfort is no longer the machine he was in his 20’s, when he had a chin willing to take a shot while he dished out two. He has struggled under duress in recent years. The good news for him is Machida has never been a pressure fighter, and is unlikely to change up his style to take on Belfort. Vitor has already announced that this is his last fight, and if he is able to get a win over Machida, it could be Lyoto’s as well.
The prelims include several familiar faces, including former TUF winner Cezar “Mutante” Ferreira, Thales Leites, and a heavyweight battle between Junior Albini and Alexey Oleynik.
Nunes by submission
Souza by submission
Dern by submission
Lineker by decision
Belfort by decision
Ferreira by decision
Oleynik by submission
Ramos by knockout
Strickland by decision
Alves by knockout
Hermansson by decision
Emeev by decision
Perez by submission
Houston Astros skipper Joe Espada wasted no time this week at spring training by answering one of the most talked about questions of the offseason.
Espada revealed that newly-acquired free agent Josh Hader will be the team's closer and will pitch the ninth inning, with Ryan Pressly working as the setup man.
Bryan Abreu will be tapped to pitch the seventh inning, but it wouldn't shock anyone if he had the best season of the three. But after Abreu, things get interesting in the bullpen.
Who pitches the sixth inning?
Astros GM Dana Brown gave Rafael Montero a vote of confidence, saying he's “legit.”
While we have our concerns about Montero after he finished with an ERA over five last year, there's reason for hope. The nature of relief pitchers halving up and down seasons from year to year could work in Montero's favor.
And with the salary that's already committed to him, Brown will likely give him every opportunity to justify his contract. It will be fascinating to see how Espada deploys him early on. You have to think with the boss man backing Montero, Espada will be on board too.
But if he does struggle, will Espada quickly stop using him in critical situations? The good news is, the team won't often have to turn to him in high leverage situations with Abreu, Pressly, and Hader ready to handle those duties.
Be sure to watch the video above for the full discussion about the Astros 'pen, and much more!
Don't miss Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) every week on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel!