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Our questions about UFC 224: Can Amanda Nunes sell PPVs?

UFC 224

Image: MMA Junkie

It’s a busy Saturday night in combat sports with two MMA shows and a boxing main event that has a lot of people interested. Let’s focus on Saturday’s UFC 224, a well-rounded PPV that has a lot of intrigue for the hardcore MMA crowd but doesn’t appear to be a big draw with anyone else.

Helping me answer a few questions about the show are fellow MMA scribes Paul Fontaine and Ryan Frederick.

Main Card

  • Women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes vs. Raquel Pennington
  • Jacare Souza vs. Kelvin Gastelum
  • Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Cooper (catchweight)
  • John Lineker vs. Brian Kelleher
  • Vitor Belfort vs. Lyoto Machida


  • Cezar Ferreira vs. Karl Roberson
  • Alexey Oleynik vs. Junior Albini
  • Davi Ramos vs. Nick Hein
  • EZ dos Santos vs. Sean Strickland
  • Warrley Alves vs. Sultan Aliev
  • Thales Leites vs. Jack Hermansson
  • Alberto Mina vs. Ramazan Emeev
  • Markus Perez vs. James Bochnovic

What are you most looking forward to?

Ryan: Jacare vs. Gastelum, followed closely by Lineker vs. Kelleher. I feel Jacare and Gastelum is the true main (sorry, Nunes and Pennington), and the winner should be next in line at 185 pounds. It has the potential to be a slugfest with a strong possibility someone goes to sleep. Lineker and Kelleher has war written all over it as Lineker is one of the most exciting fighters in the sport, and Kelleher isn’t too shabby in that category either.

Paul: The main event as I love excellence and that’s what Nunes is. She has looked unbeatable since winning the bantamweight title and I don’t care if she’s not a draw; I just love seeing her mow people down. And, she’s a very likeable person to boot, so there’s that.

Nason: Souza vs. Gastelum because a) it’s a compeitive bout and b) there are real stakes involved. I must admit that Dern vs. Cooper has an added element of intrigue given the weight issues Dern ran into and the promo Cooper cut. The whole main card is intriguing, but not in a ‘take my money!’ kinda way.

What is being overlooked?

Ryan: I don’t know that it is being overlooked, but more love and attention needs to be going to the fight between Belfort and Machida. It is supposedly Belfort’s last fight (although he says he’s not retiring but it is his last fight) in only a way that he can explain and justify. Machida is a good final opponent as hey are both stars, former champions, and future hall-of-famers. They deserve a better spotlight than opening the main card.

Paul: There’s a couple of real good welterweights fighting way down the card in Alberto Mina (13-0) and former middleweight Ramazan Emeev (16-3). These are the kinds of fighters that could be players in the division in a very short period of time.

Nason: The Lineker-Kelleher fight is hurt a bit because Kelleher isn’t really a well-known name although he’s 3-1 in the UFC with his most recent win coming over Renan Barao.

What’s not doing it for you?

Ryan: I’m not really excited for the main event, but that speaks to the overall depth of the women’s bantamweight division. Pennington is on a win streak and is the best contender in the division at the moment, but she just doesn’t feel spectacular. It just doesn’t seem like she’s a threat to Nunes, especially coming off of her major injury. Perhaps I’m overlooking her, and there were times we never would have imagined that Robbie Lawler or Rafael Dos Anjos would become UFC champions, and Pennington has a chance. I just don’t think it happens, and I don’t think the fight will be compelling at all.

Paul: Dern did not seem ready for UFC in her debut and they’ve already got her fighting on a PPV main card. Her opponent, Amanda Cooper, has a 3-3 record and probably doesn’t even belong in the UFC at all. Dern came into the UFC with superstar potential and she had better show something here or the company may have squandered another potential star.

Nason: To speak to Ryan’s comment above with Machida-Belfort being overlooked, I guess I don’t hold those guys in as much reverence. I think the placement is fine given where both guys are at, but honestly, Belfort should have retired years ago and Eryk Anders should have got the judges’ decision over Machida. They are what they are.

What’s the big intrigue with this show?

Ryan: I think the big intrigue is whether Nunes can pull a decent buyrate. She headlined two big events, but those really didn’t have a lot to do with her. Let’s just be honest: the one time she had a chance to headline a pay-per-view without it being UFC 200 or against Ronda Rousey, it failed badly. This is a second chance, probably the last one, and she doesn’t have a marquee opponent. This is tough to sell.

Paul: It’s whether Amanda Nunes is any kind of a draw. The show she headlined last summer vs. Valentina Shevchenko did the worst PPV numbers of the year, just barely hitting 100,000 buys. That followed two shows that did 1 million plus buys and she was KO’ing her opponents in the main event. I think she’s somewhere in between those two extremes and almost certainly closer to the bottom. The question is whether this show can do 250,000 or more buys with a fairly deep lineup or if the show does very poorly again and she’s established at the same level of non-draw that Demetrious Johnson is.

Nason: I don’t think there is any intrigue. I don’t really care about the buys because we already know the answer. Pennington hasn’t fought in nearly two years, so there’s nothing there for me. Souza-Gastelum is intriguing, but not enough to make me pay $60. The card is good, but it’s the type of show that I hope transitions off PPV next year onto ESPN+ or the broadcast partner. I think a show like this would do pretty well on either platform, but because it’s a PPV, it’s held to a standard that will do more harm than good.

At the end of the year, what will make this show matter looking back at it?

Ryan: It will be notable if it is the last fight for Belfort, the possible last fight for Machida, whether we have a new title challenger at 185 pounds, and whether an upset is pulled in the main event. I think a lot rides on Dern’s performance and whether she shows improvement. She has a new camp after being asked to leave her previous camp, and with new coaches, she is primed to be upset. If she can win, they’ll keep moving along her hype train. That’s probably the most watched storyline on this card.

Paul: This show exists to fill the UFC’s PPV quota and that’s pretty much it. Nunes vs. Pennington is not really a PPV main event so they’ve stacked the card with four other fights that look like a Fox main card. There is no reason to believe that Pennington won’t be just another name to add to Nunes’ resume and the real test for her seems to be moving up to face Cris Cyborg at 145.

Nason: If Pennington pulls off the big upset, that’s your story. Otherwise, it’s a main card filled up with ladder movers and a prelims card that is meh at best.

Who wins?

Nunes vs. Pennington

- Nunes: Paul, Ryan, Nason

Machida vs. Belfort

- Machida: Ryan, Nason
- Belfort: Paul

Jacare vs. Gastelum

- Jacare: Nason, Paul, Ryan

Keep up with our live coverage tonight.