UFC 277: Lightening in a Bottle or the Ushering of a New Era in Pena vs Nunes 2?

Amanda Nunes and Julianna Pena, UFC
Amanda Nunes and Julianna Pena, UFC 269 Pre-Fight Press Conference Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Pound-for-pound great Amanda Nunes is out to prove she is still as dangerous as ever while champion Julianna Peña is looking to prove that her last victory was no fluke when they meet at UFC 277.

The end was always going to be shocking.

Amanda Nunes, the owner of victories over every former female UFC champion 135 pounds and above (and one below,) was on a run that many believed would only be halted by Father Time.

In came Julianna Peña, 2-1 since 2017 and blatantly amongst the most unheralded challengers to face the demolition machine when she entered the cage with her last December.  It played out like a scene from a dramatic film, with Peña surviving an early onslaught and seemingly gaining momentum as the previously intimidating power of Nunes seemed to leave her as she struggled to deliver fight halting damage.  Then came the second round, and Peña secured the fight ending submission that seemed to come from exhaustion rather than a death grip upon the neck.  As uncharacteristic a performance as it was to witness, it did not change the fact that Peña secured one of the all-time historic upsets in the sport.

“The Venezuelan Vixen” has taken full advantage of the spotlight.  She has done her media tour, chopping it up with Mario Lopez in an appearance on the Ellen show and becoming the focus of a ZipRecruiter advertisement that airs before every episode of The Ultimate Fighter 30 that she stars in as one of the coaches.  Peña has taken full advantage of the spotlight, but she also enters the rematch without the full vote of confidence of the fan base.  When taking into account her performances leading up to the first bout, and the baffling showing from Nunes, there is a large contingent that maintains that Peña must prove the first fight was not a fluke.  Should she turn away Nunes a second time, then it would usher in a new chapter in the bantamweight division where there is a breath of fresh air in the title picture.

For Amanda Nunes, the loss immediately raised questions as to her own place in the pecking order.  After a listless outing against what was on paper an outmatched opponent, many began speculating as to the exact reason for it.  Had Father Time finally caught up to Nunes?  Was she still experiencing the after-effects of a bout with COVID-19 that withdrew her from the fight months prior?  Had becoming a mother taken away from her focus and competitive fire after all she had already accomplished?  Had she simply underestimated Peña?  Or the most widely believed answer, was it some combination of several of the aforementioned theories.

“The Lioness” has certainly gone back to the drawing board, though she insists it was a long time coming.  After becoming arguably the greatest female fighter of all-time, and one of the most decorated champions in the overall, she elected to leave the powerhouse American Top Team in order to open her own facility.  Per her admission, it was to take advantage of the luxuries she could now afford in her career to have a gym and team of coaches that only focused on her as opposed to sharing the coaches with the rest of high level talent that needed attention on a daily basis in Coconut Creek.  Exactly how much this will ultimately affect what she will execute when she is out in the cage will be found out on Saturday.

Stylistically, the two have several things to replicate from the first fight and several more to display that they did not the last time.  For Nunes, her advantage in explosive power was on display but went by the wayside after being hurt in the first fight.  Staying disciplined defensively and tying up Peña if she finds herself in trouble again will be crucial. Further, she had the grappling advantage in the first fight when in top position and from the back and pursuing a takedown should be part of the strategy if given the opportunity.  For Peña, a more cautious approach should be the strategy despite the fact that she won the brawl in the first fight.  She did not test Nunes off her back in the first fight, and doing so is still expected to be one of her best routes to victory if she can get the fight to the ground behind a solid jab and straight punches.

The women’s bantamweight division is arguably the most competitive that it has ever been and that leaves the winner in an interesting situation.  A fight with Ketlen Vieira or the winner of Irene Aldana and Macy Chiasson is a possible option for both women while Nunes victory could set up a possible trilogy with Peña as the featherweight division is without a strong contender to entice her to return at this time.


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