UFC 224 Cheat Sheet: Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington


UFC female bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes will seek her third consecutive title defense on Saturday, at UFC 224 in her native Brazil.

The pay-per-view will take place at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro. Nunes, 29, currently lives and trains in Florida, but was born in Salvador, Brazil.

Colorado's Raquel Pennington will look to dethrone the 135-pound champion. Pennington hasn't fought since November 2016 because of multiple injuries. This title fight was actually supposed to happen in December but was postponed after Pennington broke her leg in a hunting accident.

It's here now though, and ESPN's Cheat Sheet has you covered on everything to know ahead of UFC 224's main event.

Amanda Nunes (15-4) vs. Raquel Pennington (9-5), Bantamweight Championship

Odds: Nunes -1000; Pennington +625

In the middle of one of her first amateur fights, back in 2009 in Casper, Wyoming, Pennington sensed something had just been thrown into the cage.

She didn't know for sure. It happened quick, and her focus was, obviously, on the fight. Afterwards, she got the full report from her mother, who was in attendance.

"Something happened in the second round," Pennington recalls. "I told my mom I thought something had been thrown in the cage and she was like, 'Yeah, it was a bottle of Crown Royal.' That was a fun one."

Pennington's rise to a UFC title shot is full of great details like that. Her mother Rose, for instance, has never missed a bout. And even though Brazil is not Pennington's first choice as far as the location of this championship fight, it was perfect for one reason. Her mother has always wanted to go.

"My mom has never been out of the country, and she said visiting Rio has always been a dream," Pennington said. "So, I told her this week that I was glad I could make her dreams come true. She got sentimental and told me, 'You're my dream come true.' It's pretty special."

There is no shortage of intriguing storylines around this fight. Pennington's recovery from last year's ATV accident. Nunes' humble beginnings in Brazil, the ties she's kept to the area and the ownership she's taken of this division.

Not to mention, Saturday will mark the first time in UFC history two openly gay athletes will compete for a title.

Both women know, however, their stories are not circulating through the masses this week. Certainly nothing like the last time this 135-pound title was on the line in this exact same building. That was back at UFC 190 in 2015, when Ronda Rousey took her fame to new heights by knocking out Bethe Correia in 34 seconds.

That was a global event. At times, UFC 224 has felt like an afterthought. Nunes actually took a swipe at one of the UFC's social media accounts last month, for promoting next month's pay-per-view instead of this one.

Whether or not this event captures mainstream attention, however, both are optimistic their profiles will continue to grow. Regardless, this fight is an important chapter in their respective stories, which are only getting better.

"I think it would be completely different, of course, if my title shot would have come during Rousey's title run," Pennington said. "You have athletes out there who have done what they needed to do to reach that level. It's not about that for me. The fact I'm sitting here, living my dream and chasing my passion, is rewarding enough.

"I feel, in my own way, I'm building my own little legacy. I'm going to have stories to share with my kids and grandkids, and this is something I'm extremely passionate about. I pray that one day my story will really open up light for other athletes, as well as myself, but I couldn't be more proud of where I stand right now."

Fight Breakdown

The most defining moments of Nunes' title reign have been overwhelming performances on the feet.

Once she gets the ball rolling, it's hard to turn it around. Former champions Miesha Tate and Rousey folded under Nunes' punches in a matter of seconds, really. Neither of those two are considered elite strikers, but still, those fights exemplified how quickly things can get out of hand in a Nunes fight.

That said, Pennington's best shot at defeating Nunes is probably to walk right into her.

Pennington's best skill is her boxing. She throws compact punches, and her jab looked terrific in her most recent fight. Her record doesn't suggest a ton of power (just one career KO, back in 2012), but when she's within that boxing range, she's almost always getting the better of exchanges.

Pennington's style demands she moves forward, and that's particularly important here. For one, she can't play into Nunes' reach advantage. Nunes is long and the more effective kickboxer, so she'll take distance if Pennington gives it to her. But aggression is also important for Pennington if she wants to test Nunes' cardio.

Nunes has faced questions about endurance in the past. They haven't been as loud heading into this one, because she just won a five-round bout against Valentina Shevchenko in September. But Shevchenko fights at one of the slowest paces in the sport. If Pennington turns that pace up, what happens to Nunes' cardio then?

You look at some of their respective metrics, and these two are actually pretty similar when it comes to striking accuracy, pace, takedown efficiency. The big difference is Nunes has finished 87 percent of her wins, nearly double Pennington's career mark.

Nunes will be dangerous early, as she always is. But if Pennington can smother her punches a little by closing the distance, and force Nunes to grapple a bit, it will be very interesting to see how the champion responds in later rounds. Not guaranteeing the later rounds would belong to Pennington, but they might.

Prediction: Nunes via TKO, third round.