UFC 289’s Amanda Nunes: “Everybody Got Happy” When Pena Was Replaced with Aldana

Vancouver, Canada — UFC women’s bantamweight (and let’s not forget featherweight) champion Amanda Nunes took some time to assure fans her head was in the right spot ahead of UFC 289, where she faces Irene Aldana in the Pay-Per-View card’s main event.

Nunes (22-5) had spoken about possibly retiring after losing her title to Julianna Pena in December 2021, but ultimately decided against hanging up the gloves. Instead, she avenged that loss, reclaiming her 135lb title last summer.

At Wednesday’s UFC 289 media day, Nunes explained her thinking at the time.

“When you hold the belt for so long and then lost that thing, you get sad, and you don’t know what to do, honestly. Because you work so hard,” said Nunes, a ferocious fighter considered by many the women’s fighting GOAT, regardless of sport. “I worked my whole life for that thing, and to see it go away like that, with somebody that I know I’m better [than], that was hard to see and to watch after.”

Nunes spent some time on the journey home after that Pena loss contemplating her future. Her motivation to carry on fighting seems to be linked with who she lost the belt to, at least in part.

“Retire, leave my belt with Julianna? No way, no way. No way. It can be with somebody else, but with Julianna? No. And I know I can kick her ass any time I want. That day was like, I’m thinking she was supposed to win that day. I was supposed to make the mistake that I made, to fight without really being in great shape. And I paid for it, and I’m never going to do that again. Ever. Ever ever ever.”

Nunes fighting Mexico’s Aldana this weekend is a course correction of sorts, necessitated by an injury to rival Pena. When the UFC 289 main event was first announced, it was a trilogy fight between “The Lioness” and Pena. One that was met with eye rolls from fans, who, as much as they might love trilogies, saw little point in having a rubber match so soon.

The double-champ was not deaf to those complaints. “Anything can happen. Training for a championship fight, there’s so many things. Especially to fight me. And especially how she went down, the second fight. When the replacement came, I feel like everybody, even the fans, were very happy about it,” admitted Nunes. “They want to see this fight happen. They want to go watch in Vancouver, they want this main event. I saw a lot things, a lot of bad comments when they [announced] me and Julianna, and people didn’t want it. When everything changed, everybody got happy.”

Is Nunes more motivated for Aldana than she was for the third Pena fight? “I am,” said Nunes, who was quick to add “I’m motivated— if it was Julianna too, I would have been too. Because to compete is what makes me excited. So no matter who steps in front of me, that makes me excited.”

Watch the full UFC 289 media day appearance by Amanda Nunes above.