Amanda Nunes returned to the bantamweight division for the first time in two years at UFC 269.
That’s a stat that had been overlooked somewhat heading into her title defense against Julianna Pena. The bad blood between the two — Pena had been taking potshots at the champ for months ahead of the fight — had been well documented. But Nunes’ absence in a division low on contenders appeared to be an afterthought.
Maybe it shouldn’t have been. In her absence, it’s clear that Pena had developed into a different sort of fighter.
The very first strike landed by Nunes — the very first strike of the fight — was an outside leg kick that took Pena’s legs out from under her. Pena was quickly back to her feet, but the tone was set. Nunes went back to her low kicks more than once, and Pena was left on the outside. A minute or so later, a jab sat Pena down, and the challenger was looking out-gunned. Nunes would opt to get on top, but Pena escaped out, then pressed the champ into the fence.
That didn’t work either; Nunes instead landed a trip, getting on top and threatening with a guillotine before Pena got out of harm’s way. Sort of. Trying to slip out the back, Pena instead gave up her back. Nunes had her arm across Pena’s mouth, but the challenger escaped, and regained half-guard. Pena looked for a kimura from bottom. Nunes was in position for a guillotine, and seemed to be smiling — “The Lioness” was playing with her food.
The second round saw a drastic shift, as the tide turned almost immediately.
Round two saw some heavy exchanges in the opening minute. Pena was getting her licks in; her jab landed more than once. Pena then opened up, tagging the champ. Nunes fired back, landing hard. Nunes was taking some big swings, and soon, they were trading haymakers! Both women were hurt, and they continued to trade! Pena began walking forward, hitting the champ again. Nunes clinched, exhausted, but Pena reversed and took her down! From there, Pena took the back, got a rear-naked choke in place, and forced the tap!
— UFC (@ufc) December 12, 2021
The upset of the year, and perhaps the biggest upset in women’s MMA history. Pena had been written off as cannon fodder, much as Nunes herself had been all those years ago against Ronda Rousey. She proved herself worthy of the title shot and then some on Saturday. As to what comes next — a rematch is almost a certainty.
Official Result: Julianna Pena def. Amanda Nunes by submission (rear-naked choke), Round 2, 3:26