UFC 224 Preview: Nunes vs Pennington
Bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes faces challenger Raquel Pennington for the Bantamweight belt on Saturday, May 12 in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 224 on Pay-Per-View.
Nunes is coming off of her re-match with Valentina Shevchenko in September, which resulted in a controversial split-decision victory for the Lioness.
Pennington’s last fight was all the way back at MSG in Nov 2016 at UFC 205. She unlike McGregor wasn’t inactive due to excessive partying or because of boxing matches, but due to multiple injuries, health issues, and an ATV accident that left her with a broken leg. She and Nunes were originally supposed to fight at UFC 219, but this injury forced their bout to be postponed until May.
There’s a lot of interesting factors going into this fight that I personally think most people are overlooking. In fact, most people are completely overlooking this fight altogether.
Tale of the Tape:
Let’s start with a look at a tale of the tape:
So we can see here that Nunes will have a height and reach advantage over Pennington, as well as some statistical advantages.
Nunes lands more and has better takedown defense although Pennington has the better defensive striking ability and more submissions, even though Nunes is known more as a grappler of the two of them.
Styles Make Fights:
Rocky tends to fight a lot on the feet, uses a boxing-heavy style, but is known to use her submission ability when the time comes for it.
Take her re-match over Jessica Andrade (who now fights at strawweight). She was game to brawl with the Brazilian on the feet, but was able to capitalize on position and get a submission victory over the former title challenger.
Against Ashlee Evans Smith, she was also able to pull off an impressive submission at 4:59 of round 1, with an aggressive bulldog choke that was a nominee for submission of the year.
What also sticks out to me here is the pacing, as Nunes is a fast starter and prefers to make quick work of her opponents with most of her finishes coming in the first round. Rocky however has more patience and tends to wear down her opponent with most of her wins coming by way of decision.
Cardio could be an interesting factor to consider for Pennington, as Nunes’ has been questioned before and Rocky has never fought 5 rounds.
Also, this goes back to the previous point about Pennington’s layoff. Ring Rust is a controversial topic in MMA- some people think it’s real, some people think it’s not, some people think it’s real if you believe it’s real, there’s no consensus. But, the idea of a long break from being in the competition is generally seen as a putting you at a disadvantage against your opponent.
Rocky’s 18-month layoff could potentially give her issues in this fight, especially because she’s going straight into a title fight with a lot of pressure against the highest level of competition out there.
Also looking at how these 2 matchup, it would behoove Nunes to pressure Rocky from the moment the bell rings so that she doesn’t have time to get comfortable or reacclimated and is forced into the fire from the getgo, much like in her fight against Ronda Rousey.
Although Miesha Tate wasn’t coming off of a layoff when they fought for the belt at UFC 200, she imposed the exact same type of pressure onto her.
For Rocky, she has a more cautious approach and is comfortable going where the fight takes her. She’s the type of fighter that capitalizes on her opponents mistakes and is well rounded enough to not operate defensively, in that she will wrestle, grapple, or strike depending on what the situation calls for.
Her only losses in the UFC have come by way of split decision, in a war with Jessica Andrade before she fought at strawweight and a kickboxing battle with Holly Holm.
Now to circle back to Nunes, her only loss inside of the UFC was to Cat Zingano, in a fight she dominated in the first two rounds. It was in round 3 that Cat was able to take over the fight after Nunes lost her power through a lack of cardio.
Although she was able to go all 5 rounds in her last fight with Shevchenko, the fight itself was very different, as it was a patient striking battle between these two. How much energy she exerted in a patient kickboxing fight versus a blood battle with Zingano is something that is worth mentioning and postulating.
For both ladies, the key to victory will be to take the other into uncomfortable territory. For Nunes, this means she must rush Pennington and put a lot of forward pressure on her in round 1. For Pennington, she has to let Nunes tire herself out in the first couple of rounds, staying patient and choosing her shots well. Forcing her into deep waters, increasing the pressure as the fight goes, should put the momentum more in her favor.
Who is going to win? It’s hard to say. With Pennington’s layoff it’s tough to assess how she’s going to look going into this fight. The betting odds of UFC 224 put Nunes as a heavy favorite at -550. If I had to choose, I would pick Nunes to win this fight, only because of how unstoppable she has looked in the past few years, as well as her finishing ability that could result in her putting Rocky in danger from the start, especially dealing with an injury and long layoff.