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UFC 224 Best Bets
The Octagon returns to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Saturday night for UFC 224, a 13-fight card that’ll be headlined by women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes defending her strap against Raquel Pennington at Jeunesse Arena.

As of Friday afternoon, most betting shops had Nunes (15-4 MMA, 8-1 UFC) installed as an enormous -900 favorite, leaving Pennington as the +600 underdog (risk $100 to win $600). The total was 2.5 rounds (‘under’ -135, ‘over’ +115). For gamblers bullish on Nunes but wisely reluctant to lay the expensive price for a straight wager, they can back ‘The Lioness’ in other ways.

For instance, bettors can play a proposition bet for Nunes to win by KO/TKO for a +162 return at 5Dimes.eu. For the champ to win inside the distance, there’s a -172 price. Several shops are offering a +200 return for Nunes to win in Round 1.

Nunes won the 135-pound women’s title by dusting Miesha ‘Cupcake’ Tate by rear-naked choke at the 3:16 mark of the opening round in the UFC 200 main event. She made her first successful defense by trouncing Ronda Rousey with a 48-second, first-round KO. In her last time out, Nunes captured a split-decision triumph (47-48, 48-47, 48-47) over Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 215.

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Nunes has won six consecutive fights and hasn’t tasted defeat since losing by third-round KO to Cat Zingano at UFC 178 back on Sept. 27 of 2014.

Pennington (9-5 MMA, 5-2 UFC) is ranked second in the division behind only No. 1 contender and former champ, Holly Holm. Pennington has won four straight fights, including a unanimous-decision win over Tate at UFC 205. However, she hasn’t fought since the win over Tate at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Nov. 12 of 2016.

Pick: I’ll go with one unit on Nunes to win by KO/TKO for a +162 return. Also, give me one-half unit on ‘under’ 2.5 rounds at the -135 price.

The co-main event is a middleweight showdown between second-ranked Jacare Souza and fifth-ranked Kelvin Gastelum. Both fighters believe a victory will garner them a shot at the belt currently held by Robert Whittaker, who faces Yoel Romero in his next title defense at UFC 225 on June 9.

As of Friday afternoon, most spots had Souza (25-5-1 MMA, 8-2 UFC) listed as a -150 favorite with Gastelum available for a +135 payout at 5Dimes. The total was 1.5 rounds (‘over’ -175, ‘under’ +150).

Souza, at the age of 38, appears to still have plenty of gas left in the tank. This was evidenced in his bounce-back win over Derek Brunson in January when he won by first-round KO (head kick and punches). Souza’s only L’s in the Octagon have come against Whittaker and Romero (via split decision). He has tremendous submission skills, collecting 15 of his 25 career wins by submissions. Jacare’s last four wins have come in the first round and eight of his past 10 victories have come in the opening stanza.

Gastelum (14-3-1 MMA, 9-3-1 UFC) is The Ultimate Fighter 17 winner who is off a first-round KO win over former middleweight kingpin Michael ‘The Count’ Bisping at UFC Shanghai last November. Gastelum, who is still just 26 years old, owns notable career wins over the likes of Uriah Hall, Rick Story, Jake Ellenberger, Nate Marquardt, Johny Hendricks, Tim Kennedy and Vitor Belfort (although his first-round KO win over Belfort was ruled a no-contest after Gastelum tested positive for weed).

Pick: I like Gastelum as a +135 underdog for two units. Also, let’s go with two units on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds for the +150 return. With the underdog odds, we profit with a split, but I expect that we’ll sweep with Gastelum winning by KO late in Round 1 or early in Round 2.

**Other Picks**

-- Let’s go with one unit on Aleksei Oliynyk as a +140 underdog to defeat Junior Albini. Oliynyk has nine career wins by Ezekiel Choke and I think he’ll get his 10th in this spot. Oliynyk is 4-2 in the UFC to date. Let’s also go with 1.5 units on the ‘under’ (1.5 rounds for a +105 return).

**B.E.’s Octagon Nuggets**

-- Pennington is an openly gay lesbian who is engaged to UFC strawweight Tecia Torres. Nunes is openly gay as well and has been dating UFC strawweight Nina Ansaroff for four years.

-- Mackenzie Dern missed weight by seven pounds for her main-card battle tomorrow night against Amanda Cooper. Dern tipped the scales at 123 pounds for this women’s strawweight scrap. Cooper will get 20 percent of Dern’s purse and the fight will go on at a catchweight.

-- The Los Angeles Times reported early Friday that 11th-ranked featherweight contender Yair Rodriguez has been cut by the UFC for turning down fights against both Ricardo Lamas and Zabit Magomedsharipov. You can understand the UFC’s frustration with Rodriguez, who has been out for a year since getting destroyed by Frankie Edgar. Lamas is ranked seventh in the loop and has fought for the belt once, while Magomedsharipov is up-and-coming prospect that’s the 13th-ranked featherweight. However, the promotion is letting go of a talented young fighter (he’s only 25) who brought lots of excitement to the Octagon in his seven appearances that resulted in a 6-1 record, including main-event victories over both B.J. Penn and Alex Caceres.

-- Eddie Alvarez-Dustin Poirier II has been booked for the main event of UFC on FOX 30 in Calgary on July 28. Poirier was winning in their first clash when Alvarez landed an illegal knee to a downed opponent, leading to a no-contest.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.

  
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