Matches to Make After UFC 224

By Brian Knapp May 14, 2018

Pooled blood on the canvas told the story: The Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight title was going nowhere.

Amanda Nunes retained the 135-pound crown with yet another one-sided performance, as she disposed of Raquel Pennington with punches in the fifth round of their UFC 224 main event on Saturday at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro. Her nose mangled by an earlier knee strike from the clinch, Pennington succumbed to blows 2:36 into Round 5. It was as if the Octagon had become a crime scene, lacking only the yellow tape.

Nunes was in complete control for most of the fight, slowly walking her game but outmatched challenger into a trap from which there was no escape. According to FightMetric data, the champion nearly doubled Pennington in terms of significant strikes, 124-64, answered a takedown with three of her own and outperformed “The Ultimate Fighter 18” semifinalist in the following categories: head strikes (72-49), body strikes (31-10), leg strikes (21-5), strikes from distance (96-56), clinch strikes (15-7) and ground strikes (13-1).

In the aftermath of UFC 224 “Nunes vs. Pennington,” here are five matches that ought to be made:

Amanda Nunes vs. Ketlen Vieira: With Valentina Shevchenko having thrown out her anchor at 125 pounds, the UFC has begun running out of viable options for its bantamweight champion. Nunes has rattled off seven consecutive victories, two of them against Shevchenko, and continues to show improvement at age 29 -- a terrifying thought for any would-be suitors. The unbeaten Vieira improved to 10-0 as a professional at UFC 222, where she took a split decision from Cat Zingano on March 3. Zingano, ironically, was the last woman to defeat Nunes.

Kelvin Gastelum vs. Robert Whittaker-Yoel Romero winner: After his split decision win over Ronaldo Souza in the co-main event, Gastelum now looks like the next No. 1 contender at 185 pounds. The 26-year-old Arizonan overcame a rough start -- Souza mounted him twice and threatened with an armbar inside the first five minutes -- to take charge with superior standup skills, flooring the decorated grappler in the second round before maintaining his gains in the third. Whittaker will defend the middleweight championship in a rematch with Romero at UFC 225 on June 9.

Mackenzie Dern vs. Jessica Aguilar-Jodie Esquibel winner: Dern remains undefeated, but her issues with the scale and her ever-evolving accent have made her one of the more polarizing figures in the sport. The 2015 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist pushed her record to 7-0 with a rear-naked choke submission on Amanda Bobby Cooper, the fight-ending sequence set up by a crackling right cross in the first round. Dern missed weight for the match by seven pounds, prompting widespread criticism from the MMA universe. Provided she gets her diet and conditioning under control, the UFC could soon have a title contender on its hands. Aguilar and Esquibel will square off at UFC Fight Night 131 on June 1.

John Lineker vs. Jimmie Rivera-Marlon Moraes loser: The notoriously heavy-handed Lineker notched his first knockout win in almost two years, as he chopped down Brian Kelleher with a numbing left hook in the third round of their bantamweight showcase. Lineker, 27, has won eight of last nine fights, a decision loss to current champion T.J. Dillashaw his only misstep. Long established as one of the UFC’s most consistent lighter-weight performers, “Hands of Stone” figures to draw only high-profile assignments for the foreseeable future. Rivera and Moraes will collide in the UFC Fight Night 131 main event in June.

Lyoto Machida vs. Michael Bisping: Machida showed flashes of past greatness, as he front kicked Vitor Belfort into retirement in the second round of their legend-versus-legend scrap. An unconscious Belfort hit the deck 60 seconds into Round 2, “The Dragon” bowing nobly nearby. Machida, who turns 40 later this month, has posted consecutive victories for the first time since 2014, quieting talk of his own retirement. His 16 UFC wins tie him for 10th all-time. Only Georges St. Pierre (20), Michael Bisping (20), Donald Cerrone (20), Demian Maia (19), Matt Hughes (18), Anderson Silva (17), Frankie Edgar (17), Jim Miller (17) and Rafael dos Anjos (17) have more. Bisping has not competed since he was knocked out by Gastelum at UFC Fight Night 122 in November.

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