Julianna Pena returned from a two-year layoff to defeat former flyweight champion Nicco Montano at UFC Sacramento.
Julianna Pena and Nicco Montano were both coming off long layoffs heading into their bantamweight showdown Saturday at UFC Sacramento. Pena hadn’t fought since January of 2017, when she lost to Valentina Shevchenko in the main event of UFC Denver. Prior to that bout, she was on a four-fight winning streak, which saw the former Ultimate Fighter winner defeat former title challengers Jessica Eye and Cat Zingano.
The last time Nicco Montano fought was also in 2017, however, in December of that year. A win over Roxanne Modafferi made her the first ever UFC flyweight champion. However, she would be stripped of the title in 2018 after she missed weight for her first title defense, against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 228. She would promptly pop for a banned substance after a USADA drug test, and wound up suspended for six months. The positive test was later linked to a contaminated supplement.
All that was in the rear view window Saturday at UFC Sacramento. Montano opened the fight by throwing some leg kicks to get inside; Pena countered with a clean right hand and looked fast on the feet. However, Montano would quickly get the clinch and would be relentless with her pursuit of the takedown. Pena would separate and shoot for a takedown of her own, a takedown that would be reversed by Montano. Montano would then get on top and look for positions of her own, however, Pena would work for an armbar. Montano would escape, and this led to the two getting back to their feet. Montano would keep control however and would drag Pena down to end the round on top.
Round two started as more of the same for Montano, taking down Pena to start. However, they would return to the feet where Pena would use a whizzer to get the fight to the ground and end up on top. Pena would then spend the duration of the round on top in half guard, dropping elbows on top of Montano, which would later open up a cut. Anytime Montano threatened to get to her feet, Pena would counter with a submission, not allowing Montano to get back to her feet for the rest of the round.
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The two would start the third round throwing some heat. Not for long, as Pena would take the fight to the ground. Pena would spend some time on top throwing short elbows and draining the clock in the process. Montano would use a heel hook to get back to the feet, where Pena would again shoot for a takedown that was reversed — and Montano landed on top. Pena would fight back to her feet where she was throwing some good hooks. In the last ten seconds, Montano would shoot for a takedown, that was countered into a guillotine attempt by Pena. That is where the fight would end.
A fun back and forth fight by both women. Montano looked incredibly strong and dominant in the first round, however, Pena would shake off the octagon rust in the second and third rounds to pick up the victory.
Julianna Pena def. Nicco Montano by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-27)