As some of you might be acquainted with, the UFC is notorious for booking enticing rematches just about every year. Whether it’s a trilogy matchup or first-time rematch, the UFC has become wildly popular because of the repeat showdowns it sets up and has yet another thrilling one in store for its fans on July 30th.
This Saturday, Women’s Bantamweight Champion Julianna Peña will attempt to defend her belt for the first time against the very opponent she took it from, Amanda Nunes. After completing one of the greatest upsets in Women’s UFC history, Peña will have to prove once more that her first championship win wasn’t a coincidence and that she has what it takes to withstand the bantamweight prowess of the greatest women’s UFC mixed martial artist of all time.
Though the UFC has already given us plenty of exciting rematches this year, there’s something about this bitter rivalry that’s made this highly anticipated fight arguably the biggest one we might see all season. And with both bantamweights having coached against each other in the 30th Season of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show, the buildup around this bout has brewed an electrifying championship intensity that has everything to live up to the hype.
On that note, let’s dive right into the breakdown of each mixed martial artist and the conclusion we should expect to see come the end of UFC 277.
Julianna “The Venezuelan Vixen” Peña:
The new Women’s Bantamweight Champion Julianna Peña has turned into quite the marvel with her steady ascendence in the UFC. There’s a lot of different skills and strengths that come to mind when assessing Peña. But at the top of the list is the following: toughness. It might sound simple, generic, and maybe overused to describe many talented athletes. But Peña is a very tough mixed martial artist both mentally and physically, fitting that definition wholeheartedly.
Prior to setting foot in the UFC, Peña was on a four-fight win streak to start her MMA career, securing her fourth win by guillotine submission in December of 2011. The following year in February, Peña was involved in an accident with a drunk driver in Spokane, Washington, where she was knocked unconscious and sustained a broken nose. Despite such, Peña still showed up for her COTC matchup against Sarah Moras two months and a week later after the accident, where she would sustain a broken arm due to an armbar that would lead to a doctor’s stoppage TKO loss.
Though 2012 had its share of lows, Peña was driven to come back stronger in 2013. Logging in three fights that year, Peña lost by unanimous decision in her first but went on to win her next two that took place 17 days apart from each other that November for The Ultimate Fighter 18. After she first secured a big redemption victory over Moras in the semifinal by submission, Peña also went on to earn a TKO victory in the finale over Jessica Rakoczy.
After not competing at all in 2014 due to damaging her ACL, MCL, LCL, and meniscus in her right knee during training, Peña would go on to win her first three official UFC fights over 2015 and 2016. This included victories over Cat Zingano and Jessica Eye before she tasted defeat at the hands of current Women’s Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko. Following a win against Nicco Montano in 2019, Peña challenged herself again by going up against Germaine de Randamie but came up short once more by submission.
However, since her 2020 loss, Peña took out the current 8th-ranked women’s bantamweight in Sarah McMann before overcoming the former champion, Amanda Nunes. Be it sustaining brutal injuries to taking on some of the best women’s bantamweights we’ve ever seen (win or lose), Peña has learned a lot and evolved into a very dangerous talent that just might be at the cusp of proving how great she can be.
Carrying a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Peña possesses one elite grappling game that allows her to dominate her opponents, always a step ahead with her elusiveness and strategy to get the submission she wants in place. Though her striking is by no means her specialty (last knockout came in 2015), Peña can hold her own with a mean jab and uses her strong endurance to fuel a high-volume output that can slice up her foes.
That said, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Yes, Peña’s first title win was big and impressive. But if she stands a chance at pulling off the upset once more, Peña will need to produce a much better performance than her last one and demonstrate that there’s levels to the talent she has.
Amanda “The Lioness” Nunes:
Even after her first loss in over seven years, Amanda Nunes is still the greatest of all time in women’s MMA history, cementing that honor by winning 12-straight matchups from 2015 to 2021, nine of which were title fights (six bantamweight, three featherweight). This is a feat that no other woman has ever achieved in the UFC. And what’s even more astonishing to behold is that Nunes is still only 34 years old and has a few more years to continue her dominance over both divisions.
What’s made her so gifted comes down to two factors. The first is simply how high her level of completeness is as a mixed martial artist. Whether you attempt to work her on the ground, or try to circle around the octagon to ease her pressure, or stand with her, or test her stamina for five rounds, Nunes is nearly impossible to take out, more or less, break through no matter what you throw at her.
The first line of attack that Nunes has mastered is her boxing and knockout power she can deliver in one single punch or leg kick. If you scan up and down the UFC women’s bantamweight Top 15 rankings, there’s no one on that list that has the same special combo of force and precision with their striking than Nunes (though Irene Aldana is a relatively close second). We saw this when Nunes defeated Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, Raquel Pennington, and Cris Cyborg. With her speed and quickness to cover ground and close distances, Nunes has stamped her name as the best striker in this division for years, and that still hasn’t changed.
But to add to it, Nunes just so happens to be a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a brown belt in judo, possessing an incredible ground game that’s led her to secure three submissions during her time in the UFC. Using her overpowering strength, sharp sense of awareness, and deep understanding of both jiu-jitsu and judo, Nunes is just as good on the mat than she is a striker, containing an unrelenting cardio level that allows her to dominate and control fights from the ground.
Aside from her completeness, what’s made Nunes so revered and gifted, is her mentality of never being satisfied with her craft but also her discipline and dedication with her work ethic as a whole. When you have that kind of mindset and drive to be great, you operate differently, and the evolution of your talent can soar to incredible heights.
Nunes has showed what it means to be the best. If you’re looking for a living definition of what greatness means in this sport, she’s it folks, and as real as it gets. But her first loss in seven years served as a big wakeup call after having become so accustomed to dominating both 135 and 145 for so long. And although she has taken out some of the best mixed martial artists this division has ever had, Nunes’ attempt to reclaim the bantamweight belt could very well be her greatest test in her UFC career since she took on Valentina Shevchenko for the second time in 2017.
There’s an old saying that goes like so: “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” On December 11th, 2021, that’s precisely what happened between Nunes and Peña.
Peña was prepared as could be, considering this first bout against Nunes was her biggest matchup of her MMA career. But the golden opportunity that presented itself was the reality that Nunes was not physically and psychologically 100% that night. Aside from her knee injuries and a “mess” of a camp leading up to her fight, Nunes was not hungry for the challenge mentally and even admitted to UFC Analyst Joe Rogan that she “checked out,” something you don’t hear often from title holders if ever at all.
The point of the matter here is that, no, I’m not saying that Peña’s win was lucky because she did everything she needed to do to win that fight. But the version of Nunes she went up against was the worst one we’ve seen since she got knocked out by Cat Zingano back in 2014. And as Nunes clarified, she was by no means 100% that night. That’s the luck factor that played into the first title victory for Peña, and the lack thereof in their rematch, is the biggest reason why Nunes will take the belt back when they face each other a second time on Saturday.
Even before Nunes chose to make the second round into an all-out slugfest in their first matchup, she definitively won the first round, proving that she can hold her own against the current champion on the mat and take her into deep waters over the course of four to five rounds. To add to it, Peña’s never been in a four or five-round bout before in her MMA career, something that could prove to be a major test to her endurance should the fight go into the championship rounds.
Lastly, if Nunes was able to beat Shevchenko and de Randamie twice each (both of whom Peña lost to), there is no reason why she can’t take down Peña. If “The Lioness” is healthy, fit, and mentally sharp come Saturday night, she could very well be near impossible for Peña to overcome no matter how prepared she is this time.