Amanda Nunes has the firmest of grips on the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s bantamweight title.
The American Top Team standout retained her championship with relative ease, as she dispatched Raquel Pennington with fifth-round punches in the UFC 224 headliner on Saturday at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro. Pennington (9-6, 6-3 UFC) finally withered 2:36 into Round 5, her nose broken and bleeding profusely.
Nunes (16-4, 9-1 UFC) fought with poise, patience and purpose. She spent the first half of the fight tearing into Pennington’s lower lead leg with punishing kicks, compromising the challenger’s base and limiting her movement. As the bout drifted into the later rounds, Nunes focused more and more on the head. She obliterated Pennington with clinch knees, one of which appeared to break “The Ultimate Fighter 18” semifinalist’s nose in the fourth round. Nunes offered no refuge in the fifth, where she secured a takedown and targeted the face with elbows and forearm strikes from above. With blood pouring from her Nose, Pennington surrendered her back and made no attempt to defend herself from the punches that followed, forcing referee Marc Goddard’s hand.
The 29-year-old Nunes has won seven fights in a row, five of them finishes.
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Gastelum Edges Souza on Scorecards
“The Ultimate Fighter 17” winner Kelvin Gastelum made his latest move toward a title shot at 185 pounds, as he eked out a split decision against former Strikeforce champion Ronaldo Souza in the co-main event. All three cageside judges scored it 29-28: Guilherme Bravo and Chris Lee for Gastelum, Sal D’Amato for Souza.
It did not start well for Gastelum (15-3, 10-3 UFC), who was forced to survive a harrowing ground exchange with the submission savant in the first round. Souza (25-6, 8-3 UFC) swept into top position under threat of a leg lock, advanced to full mount on two occasions, chipped away with ground-and-pound and pursued an armbar for the better part of a minute. However, all the work was a drag on his gas tank.
Gastelum turned the tide in the middle stanza, where he sat down “Jacare” with a left cross, stayed out of clinch range and had the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt teetering on the end of his punches. The third round was too close to call, as the middleweight contenders fired away at one another. Gastelum flurried late on the exhausted Souza, perhaps tipping the scales in his favor.
Dern Choke Dismisses Cooper
Mackenzie Dern kept her perfect professional record intact, as she submitted “The Ultimate Fighter 23” finalist Amanda Bobby Cooper with a rear-naked choke in the first round of their women’s strawweight battle. Cooper (3-4, 2-3 UFC) conceded defeat 2:27 into Round 1.
Dern (7-0, 2-0 UFC) was once again content to stand and trade. The 2015 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist clipped and dazed Cooper with a sweeping right hand, bullied her to the mat and applied her ground-and-pound before climbing to full mount. Dern then shifted to the back and cinched the choke for the finish.
The polarizing Dern missed weight for the match by seven pounds.
Lineker Wrecks Game Kelleher
Former Jungle Fight champion John Lineker wiped out Brian Kelleher with a left hook in the third round of their bantamweight feature. Kelleher (19-9, 3-2 UFC) met his end 3:43 into Round 3, his modest two-fight winning streak having run its course.
Lineker (31-8, 12-3 UFC) took a business-as-usual approach, pairing devastating punches upstairs with brutal, rib-rattling shots to the body. Kelleher held his own for a time, obliging the Brazilian with various standup exchanges. Lineker locked down on an ill-advised guillotine in the third round and wound up pinned beneath his counterpart. However, Kelleher failed to capitalize on the good fortune. Lineker escaped to his feet, let his hand go and flattened the onetime Ring of Combat titleholder with a wicked left hook.
Lineker, 27, has won eight of his last nine fights.
Machida Front Kick KOs Belfort
Lyoto Machida knocked out UFC 12 tournament winner Vitor Belfort with a front kick in the second round of their middleweight showcase. Belfort (26-14, 15-10 UFC) hit the deck 60 seconds into Round 2, his hall-of-fame career brought to an unceremonious conclusion. No follow-up shots were required.
Machida (24-8, 16-8 UFC) lulled “The Phenom” into a false sense of security through a tepid and uneventful first round. Early in the second, the Shotokan karate black belt fired a rear-leg front kick to the jaw that short-circuited Belfort where he stood and sent him crashing to the canvas. Afterward, he reaffirmed his plan to retire.
The 39-year-old Machida has recorded back-to-back victories for the first time since 2014.
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