With all the attention and hype surrounding the upcoming (and admittedly stacked) UFC 225 and UFC 226 events, many were too quick to look past the UFC’s most recent visit to Rio. And like so many previously overlooked and undervalued cards, UFC 224 responded with a dazzling, jaw-dropping slate of performances, many of which will go down forever in MMA lore. Of the thirteen bouts, eleven ended with a finish, tying the modern UFC era record (previously held by UFC Fight Night 55: Bisping vs. Rockhold). Aside from being a satisfying spectacle for viewers worldwide, it left us with a preponderance of story lines.
These are the UFC 224 talking points.
Nunes Reigns Supreme
It’s an uncomfortable relic of history that Amanda Nunes claiming the bantamweight title from Miesha Tate, and then retiring Ronda Rousey in her next fight resulted in an abundance of press that was more about how Tate and Rousey had lost instead of how Nunes had won.
If Nunes has not been given the credit and acclaim she deserves, now is the time to change the narrative. Aside from absolutely dominating the best opponents in the division, Nunes continues to visibly improve, evolve and get stronger every single fight.
Her last loss was in 2014, and her victory last Saturday over Pennington passes Ronda Rousey for most finishes in women's UFC history with seven. With the win, she also ties Jessica Andrade for the most wins in women’s UFC history with nine.
People are again clamoring for a fight with Cris Cyborg, and it makes sense; with continued ascension like Nunes has been showing, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the game that could give her a better challenge.
MORE FROM UFC 224: Octagon Interviews - Amanda Nunes | Kelvin Gastelum | Lyoto Machida
When the final bell sounded on the co-main event between Jacare Souza and Kelvin Gastelum, everyone watching around the world sat forward to hear who had won, because in reality, nobody in their heart of hearts knew who would win one of only two decisions fights of the evening.
The fact that it was a split decision was one of the least surprising outcomes in recent memory; the fight was that close. Both fighter dug way down deep to get through it, both teetering on the edge of victory and disaster throughout.
The win, coupled with the movement of some fighters up to light heavyweight, leaves a newly resurgent Kelvin Gastelum sitting pretty for a title shot. “I definitely feel like a title shot should be next. I feel like I deserve it,” he confirmed at the post-fight presser. “I will sit out until my [title] shot is next.”
Souza has nothing to hang his head about, and many had their scorecards going for him after a dominant first round. Although a loss, the effort reestablished his threat to the entire division.
Regardless of who either fights next, you can add Gastelum vs Souza 2 to the list of fights everyone wants to happen.
Legends at Divergent Crossroads
The first round of the fight between Lyoto Machida and Vitor Belfort quickly devolved from riotous celebration of two of Brazil’s favorite sons to impatient restlessness when the combatants seemed hesitant to throw any punches at all. Then just as quickly, the mood swung back in the other direction with the sound of ten thousand jaws hitting the floor when Machida retired Belfort with one beautifully timed front kick to the head.
It wasn’t the end anyone, even Machida, had pictured for living legend Belfort, who debuted in the UFC more than two hundred pay per views earlier. Nonetheless, that crowd got to their feet and gave him a hero’s sendoff.
Machida is now on a two-fight win streak and still has aspirations in the division for a last crack at the belt, although he’s realistic that his own MMA career is closer to the end than the beginning. Almost mischievously, he called out Michael Bisping, himself contemplating retirement, unable to escape the desire to retire another legend with that famous karate kick.
Dern Goes 2-0 Despite Setback
Much has been made of Mackenzie Dern missing weight ahead of her sophomore UFC outing against Amanda Cooper. Cooper did agree to take the fight, regardless of the disparity in their weights, and the debate around this topic is unlikely to go away in the short term.
What is not debatable, however, it the Brazilian jiu-jitsu prowess that led Dern to this moment in the UFC. Upon knocking Cooper to the mat in the first round, it was literally like watching a demonstration of how to submit an opponent. There was no doubt as they went to the ground what was about to transpire.
Dern has expressed regret for the weight issue, and has stated she’s open to using the guidance of the UFC’s Performance Institute to avoid similar pitfalls in the future. That’s a good sign. If that bonafide talent can be married with an MMA fighter’s discipline, the sky is the limit for Dern.
Steve Latrell is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TheUFSteve