Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Bantamweight champion, Amanda Nunes, returns to the cage after eight months away this Saturday evening (May 12, 2018), looking for her third successful title defense at the expense of Raquel Pennington inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The UFC 224 pay-per-view (PPV) event will also feature an awesome Middleweight bout between “Jacare” Ronaldo Souza and Kelvin Gastelum, as well as Brazilian jiu-jitsu great Mackenzie Dern against The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) finalist Amanda Cooper.
Four of UFC 224’s eight “Prelims” undercard bouts will take place on FX. The rest will stream online via Fight Pass, so let’s start there.
170 lbs.: Warlley Alves vs. Sultan Aliev
Warlley Alves (11-2) turned heads in his rampage through TUF: “Brazil” 3 and looked poised to make good on his potential with four consecutive UFC victories. Rough losses to Bryan Barberena and Kamaru Usman slowed his roll, though he did defeat Polish striker Salim Touahri last time out.
His last four submission wins, including his 86-second defeat of Colby Covington, have come by guillotine.
A controversial split decision loss to Doug Marshall led to Sultan Aliev (14-2) leaving Bellator and knocking out four straight opponents on his way to UFC. Kenny Robertson welcomed him to the Octagon with a vicious knockout, after which Aliev spent almost two years on the sidelines before edging Bojan Velickovic in Dec. 2017.
Ten of his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) wins have come by knockout.
Alves hasn’t panned out as I’d hoped, but much like Bantamweight equivalent Pedro Munhoz, his athleticism, power and murderous guillotine make him a dangerous out for anyone in the division. He’s got the speed edge here, and his rough boxing isn’t a major issue considering Aliev’s own lack of striking craft.
The key will be how Alves responds to Aliev’s takedowns as the Brazilian’s two UFC losses came against strong wrestlers. As Aliev doesn’t do a great job of setting up his shots, though, I expect Alves to catch him in an early guillotine.
Prediction: Alves via first-round submission
185 lbs.: Thales Leites vs. Jack Hermansson
Following rough losses to Anderson Silva, Alessio Sakara and Matt Horwich, Thales Leites (27-8) fought his way back to UFC and immediately put together a five-fight win streak. He’s since struggled to maintain that consistency, however, losing four of his last six bouts.
Fifteen of his 19 stoppage wins have come by submission, eight of them arm-triangles.
Jack Hermansson (16-5) went from European standout to UFC contender with wins in three of his first four Octagon bouts, among them ground-and-pound beatdowns of Alex Nicholson and Brad Scott. Thiago Santos’ power proved too much for “The Joker” to handle, as “Marreta” wiped him out in the waning seconds of the first round.
Just two of his last 11 fights have gone the distance.
It’s difficult to get a bead on Leites’ mental fortitude in the cage. Sometimes he’ll come out swinging, as he did to break down Francis Carmont and bust up Michael Bisping in defeat, and sometimes he’ll give up and start fruitlessly pulling guard as he did against Gegard Mousasi and Krzysztof Jotko. He has to be willing to fight through adversity here, as Hermansson’s wrestling and footwork make him an extremely tough target for both strikes and takedowns. Stylistically, Leites might just be too plodding to catch “The Joker” and his inconsistent wrestling mean his vaunted jiu-jitsu won’t be a factor. So long as Hermansson’s confidence wasn’t broken by the Santos debacle, he potshots his way to victory.
Prediction: Hermansson via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Alberto Mina vs. Ramazan Emeev
The UFC appearances for Alberto Mina (13-0) have been sparse, but entertaining. Fighting once each in 2014, 2015 and 2016, the other “Soldier of God” scored brutal knockouts of Shinsho Anzai and Mike Pyle, sandwiching a razor-thin decision over Yoshihiro Akiyama in Seoul.
He has knocked out and submitted six opponents apiece.
Ramazan Emeev (16-3) entered UFC with wins in 12 of his previous 13 fights, falling only to Vyacheslav Vasilevsky in a loss he avenged seven months later. “Gorets” was originally set to fight Trevor Smith in Gdansk, but instead faced and defeated Sam Alvey in a snoozer.
This will be his Welterweight debut.
Mina is athletic, well-rounded and plenty entertaining, but he’s also 36 years old and painfully inactive. Worse, he slowed down badly when forced to go past two rounds, an issue I don’t see him fixing at this stage in his career.
Emeev’s grinding style seems well-suited to sapping his energy.
I expect “Gorets” to find a lot more success muscling around Welterweight competition. It may be a bit hairy in the early going, but expect Emeev to survive an early blitz to break Mina’s will against the cage and ultimately run away with it on the mat.
Prediction Emeev by unanimous decision
185 lbs.: Markus Perez vs. James Bochnovic
Markus Perez (9-1) punched his ticket to the big show with an upset submission of Ian Heinisch to win the LFA Middleweight title, having beaten UFC vets Paulo Thiago and Ildemar Alcantara in previous bouts. Three months later, “Maluko” stepped up on short notice to face Eryk Anders in Fresno, ultimately losing a wide decision.
His wins are split evenly between knockouts, submissions and decisions.
James Bochnovic (8-2) — a training partner of Ben Rothwell — fell in his professional debut before rattling off eight consecutive first-round finishes, seven of them by submission. This set up an Octagon debut opposite Trevin Giles, who thoroughly overpowered Bochnovic before knocking him cold with ground-and-pound.
He stands three inches taller than Perez at 6’3.”
Two guys coming off of losses to athletic up-and-comers. It’s as good a match up theme as any, I suppose.
Against Giles, Bochnovic looked like a prototypical submission specialist with nowhere near the wrestling to consistently apply those skills, while Perez seemed like he was improvising against Anders. Neither has solid wrestling or a complete striking game, so anything could happen here. I favor Perez, though. He’s more proven, more dangerous on the feet, and is capable of holding his own on the mat. He outstrikes and outlasts Bochnovic for a decision.
Prediction: Perez via unanimous decision
Four more UFC 224 “Prelims” fights remain to preview and predict, including an ADCC champ and a Welterweight with three “Fight of the Night” bonuses in his last four fights. Same time as always, 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.