As we leave the longest break in MMA for 2018, we head into the stretch to International Fight Week. Kick starting this run is the return to Rio, Brazil.
Brazilian cards are usually stacked, and this is no different; I’ve gone for my top picks with 5Dimes, as always, supplying the odds.
Souza v Gastelum:
Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza is almost the definition of the nearly man, particularly during his UFC tenure. The former Strikeforce Middleweight champion lost his belt to Luke Rockhold and was never able to get another opportunity to regain it. As Strikeforce folded, Jacare headed to the UFC where five wins on the bounce was enough only to get a title eliminator against Yoel Romero. Unfortunately, Jacare wound upon on the wrong side of splitsville, albeit a highly contentious decision, and went to the back of the queue, back to back wins over Vitor Belfort and Tim Boetsch saw him matched up with Robert Whittaker, again in an eliminator. Bobby Knuckles halted the ride and yet again Jacare was shunted back. A win over Derek Brunson put him back in the win column, but he turns 39 on the day of the fight and really cannot afford any further setbacks in his career.
Kelvin Gastelum has been on a bit of a tear at 185lbs. Numerous botched weight cuts saw the TUF Winner despatched from the 170lb division by UFC President, Dana White, and it’s a move that seems to suit him. At this weight he has beaten former 170lb champion, Johny Hendricks, while retiring Tim Kennedy, knocking out Vitor Belfort (later overturned) and finishing former 185lb champion, Michael Bisping in what may well be his farewell fight. Gastelum is BJJ savvy but with very heavy hands, and at 185lbs only Chris Weidman has bested him. A win here and Gastelum needs to be taken very seriously.
This could very well be a passing of the torch moment as Gastelum has a potentially high ceiling, whereby Jacare could have already reached his. Undeniably, Jacare is one of, if not the best BJJ practitioners in MMA, but the way he was lit up by Whittaker leaves me a little fearful that his chin could now be exposed. Five years ago, I’d have taken Jacare without blinking, but he is deteriorating, and this could well be the upset of the night.
Recommendation: Kelvin Gastelum – 2 units at +130 (13/10) @ 5Dimes
Nunes v Pennington:
Amanda Nunes will always be remembered for the manner in which she retired Ronda Rousey from Professional MMA, but her achievements are likely to extend beyond that. Riding a 6-0 streak she holds the scalp of Rousey as well as Miesha Tate and Germaine de Randamie; both former champions in the UFC and all by stoppage. Add to this the deuce of victories over Valentina Shevchenko and you realise that she could be the first woman to lay down a serious challenge to Cyborg Santos. Nunes is unbeaten since 2014 and is only held back by a perceived lack of marketability. Truth is, she has pretty much cleaned out the realistic opponents at 135lbs and it may take a step up to 145lb to truly establish her into the mainstream.
Raquel Pennington has struggled to overcome a sluggish start to her career. Entering the UFC with an unremarkable 3-3 record she went 2-2 in her first four fights, taking her to 5-5 overall; hardly showstopping material. Since a narrow loss to Holly Holm she has reinvented herself, gaining revenge for an earlier loss to surging strawweight Jessica Andrade, as well as former title contender Bethe Correia, promotional newcomer Elizabeth Phillips while retiring the former champion, Miesha Tate. It was the Tate victory that secured the title shot, but even that has been over a year and a half in the making. To give it some context, she last competed on the same card as Conor McGregor did in MMA. Yes, it’s that long ago.
I simply cannot see beyond Nunes here, and the bookies completely agree. When the matchup was made it was tough to get decent odds on the champion, but recent weeks have seen that extend to the point where a bet on the winner simply doesn’t represent decent value. Opening odds of -530 have slid to -842 so I’m going to make a play on the overs. Pennington doesn’t get stopped very often and she is as durable as they come. I like the look of over 2.5 rounds at plus money here.
Recommendation: Over 2.5 Rounds – 2 units at +115 (23/20) @ 5Dimes