One of boxing’s top pound for pound fighter returns to action against perhaps his toughest challenge to date while one of the UFC’s two reigning female champions defends her belt for the third time. Likewise, there are a couple more crucial UFC bouts scheduled for UFC 224, including a legacy fight between two Brazilian MMA legends. At the same time, Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix continues with another colossal encounter that is expected to provide plenty of fireworks.
Check out the fights, the odds plus our preview and predictions for May 12, 2018:
Vasyl Lomachenko vs Jorge Linares
12 rounds, WBA Lightweight Championship
Odds: Lomachenko -1200, Linares +800
Vasyl Lomachenko returns to the ring to challenge Jorge Linares for the WBA Lightweight title on May 12, 2018 at the fabled Madison Square Garden in New York.
Pound for Pound
Considered one of the best pound for pound fighters on the planet, Lomachenko has been nothing short of spectacular in his young but very successful pro career. Hailed as the greatest amateur fighter of all-time, Lomachenko is 10-1 with 8 KOs. His only loss was a controversial split decision defeat to Orlando Salido in 2014.
Loma has won 9 fights in a row with the last 7 coming by way of stoppage. In his most recent fight, Lomachenko easily outboxed Guillermo Rigondeaux and forced him to quit after six rounds. Prior to Rigo, Loma’s last three opponents also retired on their stools, including Nicholas Walters in November 2016.
Consensus Best Lightweight
Jorge Linares is the consensus best fighter at lightweight. He’s won 13 fights in a row and has not lost since back to back losses to Antonio DeMarco and Sergio Thompson in 2011 and 2012. Most recently, Linares beat Mercedito via 12 round unanimous decision. This will be his fourth defense of the title he won from Anthony Crolla in September 2016.
Lomachenko is a heavy favorite here at -1200 while Linares came back at +800. But this fight may be closer than that line because not only is Linares the naturally bigger fighter here, he also has very quick hands and excellent combinations. So don’t be surprised if we see Linares stealing a couple of early rounds and keeping the fight close early on until maybe perhaps the halfway mark of the fight.
Nothing Loma Can’t-Do
But while Linares may prove to be the biggest challenge for him, there is nothing that Vasyl Lomachenko can’t do inside the boxing ring. He can box, he can slug, he has high boxing IQ, punching power and the ability to control the fight. More importantly, Loma has the ability to make adjustments on the fly so that if things don’t go well early, he’s going to be able to figure it out before the fight is over.
We should see Linares get his moments in this fight. He’s not the best lightweight in the world for nothing. Being a well-rounded fighter should give Lomachenko some problems but as we said, there has so far been no problem inside the boxing ring that Lomachenko can’t fix.
The Bigger Punch
Loma’s moving up in weight but each time he’s moved up in the past, he’s carried his punching power with him. At lightweight, we still think he will have the bigger punch than Linares and given that Linares’ chin is suspect because all three of his losses were by knockout, then a knockout isn’t too far fetched here. Another factor to consider is that Linares won’t be with his lead trainer because of a scheduling conflict. That’s not good, especially since this is the biggest fight of his career.
All things considered, this should be an exciting affair. It can be close early but once Loma has things figured, he’s going to run away with this like the rest of his fights. Skill-wise, Loma is next to none. And maybe the only way he loses if he moves up in weight too fast and loses most of his advantages like size and power. But lightweight is still good for him.
We’re picking Vasyl Lomachenko to win a fight that will be closer than most people think it will be.
UFC 224 Main Event
Amanda Nunes vs Raquel Pennington
5 Rounds, UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship
Odds: Nunes -550, Penington +375
Amanda Nunes will defend the UFC women’s bantamweight title against Raquel Pennington at the main event of UFC 224 at Jeunesse Area in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
This will be Nunes’ third defense of the title she won from Ronda Rousey in 2016. Nunes retired Ronda Rousey during their remarch and then went on to defeat Valentina Shevchenko via split decision at UFC 215 last September.
After that win, Nunes expressed her desire to move up in weight to challenge featherweight champion Cris Cyborg but that hasn’t been seriously discussed yet. But if Nunes goes on to defeat Pennington in this bout, then the superfight with Cyborg could be on her horizon.
Raquel Pennington had a rocky start to her MMA career with two losses in her first four bouts. But she’s picked it up as of late and has won four in a row to improve her record to 9-5. In her last bout, Pennington officially sent former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate to retirement at UFC 205.
Pennington was booked to fight Nunes at UFC 219 but she suffered a leg injury due to a car accident so the fight was moved. Pennington has not lost since December 2015 when she dropped a close split decision to former champion Holly Holm.
Ring Rust For Penington
Nunes is favored here at -550 while Penington is the underdog at +375. Raquel Pennington is one of the tougher fighters at this weight class. She’s never been knocked out before with all of her losses coming by way of decision. Definitely, she can hold her own against Nunes if this turns out to be a striking affair.
Pennington also has excellent cardio and given that cardio was one of Amanda Nunes’ perceived weaknesses, this bout could become very interesting. The main concern about Pennington is the fact that she hasn’t fought in one and a half years so there has to be some ring rust on her.
Too Many Weapons
Amanda Nunes has built a reputation as one of the best female strikers in the sport. Her combination of speed, accuracy, and power make her tough to beat in the stand-up. Once she gets her offense going, there’s nothing much opponents can do about it.
Having said that, Raquel Pennington’s best chance may be to turn this fight into a grappling contest because that takes away many of Nunes’ weapons. Pennington has also shown improved grappling and ground work lately so that could work for her. That’s easier said than done though against Nunes who has been on a tear as of late.
On their feet, Amanda Nunes simply has too many weapons. She’s fighting at home in Brazil where she is 7-1. Pennington will try to turn this into an ugly affair but Nunes should be able to dictate the pace of the fight.
We’re going to see many exciting moments here but in the end, Amanda Nunes wins this. We’re picking Amanda Nunes to beat Raquel Pennington.
UFC 224 Co-Main Event
Kelvin Gastelum vs Ronaldo Souza
3 Rounds, UFC Middleweight Division
Odds: Gastelum +110, Souza – 140
With a possible title shot on the line, middleweight contenders Ronaldo Souza and Kelvin Gastelum square off in the co-main event of UFC 224.
Gastelum vowed he would never fight in Brazil again after the Brazilian Athletic Commission overturned his 2017 first round TKO win over Brazilian Vitor Belfort after he tested positive for marijuana. But with the chance to move up further in the rankings and possibly get a shot at middleweight gold, Gastelum is making an exception.
Moving To Middleweight
Gastelum was one of the most feared welterweights because of his punching power but after missing weight in a couple of bouts and his continued trouble trimming down, he moved to middleweight in 2016. Gastelum knocked out Tim Kennedy in his middleweight debut and that was followed by the Belfort fight.
In his next bout, he suffered his third defeat in seven fights after he was submitted by Chris Weidman at UFC on Fox 25. Gastelum was set to face Anderson Silva next but after Silva was suspended over a failed drug test, Gastelum went on to knockout former champion Michael Bisping in one round at UFC Fight Night 122.
Long Wait For Title Shot
Former Strikeforce middleweight champion Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza recently returned to the win column with a head kick knockout of Derek Brunson at UFC on Fox 27 in January. One fight earlier, he was knocked out by current middleweight champion Robert Whitaker at UFC on Fox 24.
Ronaldo Souza has been one of the most consistent middleweights in the UFC. Despite having an 8-2 record in the promotion, he’s never gotten a title shot. He hopes that a win over the 5th ranked Gastelum finally earns him the shot at gold that he’s long waited for.
This is a pick ‘em fight really with Souza just a -140 favorite against Gastelum who is at +110. But the bookies may have been too kind to Gastelum to put the fight this close. For one, Gastelum doesn’t really have the size of a middleweight and when faced with a top contender like Weidman, the size difference mattered.
Jacare Souza is one of the best grapplers ever in the UFC, regardless of weight class. Not only does he have 17 submission wins under his belt, Jacare almost often gets the fight to the canvass where he has every advantage he needs. Souza also has knockout power so Gastelum can’t be too confident to trade with him.
Gastelum is known for his power and because of that, he will always have the puncher’s chance to win any fight. Even during his defeat to Chris Weidman, Gastelum landed several powerful shots at Weidman. Had it not been for Weidman’s granite chin, Gastelum could have won that fight.
Gastelum wouldn’t want to grapple with Jacare so look for him to take out Souza early with a barrage of punches. We’ve seen Souza get knocked out by a similarly powerful striker in Whitaker so if Gastelum can land, it may be over in a hurry. But Souza may be too big for Gastelum. He’s also the more balanced fighter and can keep up with him in the striking game. Jacare is 9-1 fighting in Brazil and has not lost there in 15 years. Souza takes Gastelum down before the latter can connect with a big punch.
We’re picking Ronaldo to Souza to beat Kelvin Gastelum, likely by submission.
UFC 224 Featured Bout
Lyoto Machida vs Vitor Belfort
3 Rounds, UFC Middleweight Division
Odds: Machida -270, Belfort +210
Vitor Belfort will end his storied MMA career with a showdown against countryman Lyoto Machida.
After a career that spanned two decades and one that had an incredible 25 fights in its resume, Vitor Belfort is calling it quits. Belfort rose to fame when he won the UFC 12 Heavyweight tournament as a teenager. Known as the Phenom, Belfort also won the UFC light heavyweight title during his better days.
But age has caught up with Belfort in recent years. Four knockout losses, three of which came in round one, made the Phenom re-think about his future. Belfort continued to fight and most recently, he got a win over Nate Marquardt at UFC 212. Despite that, Belfort decided that it would be time to leave but not after giving his fans one more treat inside the UFC octagon where he became a legend in the fight sport.
Has Seen Better Days
Like Belfort, Lyoto Machida has seen his better days pass him by. The former UFC light heavyweight champion has just gotten out of a three-fight losing streak with a narrow win over Eryk Anders last February. Machida has split his last 16 fights and you’ve got to wonder if this should be his last fight too.
Machida has beaten the likes of Tito Ortiz, Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, Randy Couture and Dan Henderson so his resume is impressive. However, since 2014, victories have been few and far between. He hasn’t declared that this is his final fight but if he loses this one, this could be it for him too.
Lost A Step or Two
This one comes as a surprise because Machida is the favorite here at -270 while Belfort came back at +210. At his best, Machida was a striking machine owing to his karate background. He was never known as a power puncher but his wide array of striked often overwhelmed his opponents.
But his last meaningful win was against C.B. Dolloway and that was in 2014. This Dragon has lost plenty of fire in recent years and he has surely lost a step or two inside the octagon. If this fight happened say ten years ago, it would be one of the most explosive fights in middleweight history.
Still Carries Power
Like Machida, Belfort has lost a couple of steps too. His reflexes are no longer the same and he is easier to hit now than before. But the thing with Belfort is that he still carries the same punch. And compared to Machida, Belfort still has some of the explosiveness left in him too.
Machida has looked worse in the last couple of years and all it takes for Belfort to win is one strike. Between the two, Belfort doesn’t just have the better pop, he also appears to be quicker too. This is the swan song bout for the Phenom and he definitely wants to end his career with a highlight win.
Because of recent form, we’re picking Vitor Belfort to beat Lyoto Machida.
Bellator 199 Main Event
Ryan Bader vs Muhammed Lawal
5 Rounds, Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix Quarterfinals
Odds: Bader -310, Lawal +255
Bellator MMA’s Heavyweight Grand Prix continues as Bellator light heavyweight champion Ryan Bader hopes to win a second belt in his new home. His journey to a second-word title begins at Bellator 199 when he faces Muhammed ‘ King MO’ Lawal.
Ryan Bader broke into the UFC scene by winning season 8 of the Ultimate Fighter in 2008. But despite fighting in the promotion for over a decade, Bader never got his title shot nor was he close to getting it. So Bader moved to Bellator MMA where so far, he’s achieved nothing but success.
In his Bellator debut, he won the Bellator light heavyweight title against fellow UFC alumnus Phil Davis. Last November 2017, Bader successfully defended his belt with an impressive TKO win over Linton Vassell.
One More Gold
King Mo is a former Strikeforce Heavyweight champion who also worked as a professional wrestler for TNA ( Total Non-Stop Action ) Wrestling in the past. Most recently, King Mo won the Rizin Fighting Championships Heavyweight Grand Prix, officially making him a two-time world champion.
Lawal has lost two of his last four bouts, dropping a decision to Phil Davis and getting knocked out by Mirko Cro Cop in the 2016 Rizin Grand Prix 2nd round. At age 37, Lawal is looking for one more golden hardware before he retires.
More Gas Left
Bader is favored here at -345 against King Mo’s +245. Bader hasn’t lost since 2016 when he was knocked out in the first round by Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson and at age 35, he is the guy who has more left in the tank. In fact, you can’t consider Bader to be over the hill yet. He’s looked very solid in two fights at Bellator MMA.
Bader is a very polished wrestler who almost always gets his takedowns. He is also a high volume striker who loves to rush his opponents. Bader has power in his punches as well as his kicks and he’s a really dangerous man to face, especially in the 2nd tier Bellator promotion.
King Mo though is no pushover. He’s a smart fighter who has power in his fists and also has a deep background in wrestling. He’s got good takedowns and has a massive ground and pound game if he gets on top position. Despite his age, he is still very athletic and can still knock people out.
But between two striking dudes, you’ve got to pick the one who has more stamina and conditioning. Given his age and recent form, that’s Bader. Lawal has a five-inch reach advantage but Bader’s aggressiveness and power should negate that.
We’re going with the younger, more powerful and quicker guy here. Our pick here is Ryan Bader to win possibly by knockout.