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July 10, 2023
By: Kirk Jackson
For most people outside of Julianna Peña (11-4 MMA, 7-2 UFC) and her camp, she completed one of the greatest upsets in UFC history at UFC 269 last December. Listed as a +700 underdog on BetMGM, Peña defeated double-champ Amanda Nunes (21-5 MMA, 14-2 UFC), who up at the time was regarded as unbeatable by most observers.
UFC 277 this time entering as the UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion, Peña is still listed as the underdog, but still remains confident.
The obvious question is can “The Venezuelan Vixen” once again slay the dragon – or the “Lioness?”
For Peña and her supporters, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic.
She came into the first fight fearless and unimpressed with Nunes’ power. Peña had been stating for several years she was the kryptonite for Nunes, she was her main target and wanted to prove she was the best mixed martial artist in the world today.
Amidst the criticism from MMA pundits and fans alike, battling through setbacks in the ring, trials outside the ring, devastating injuries (ACL, MCL, LCL, meniscus and hamstring), Peña remained vigilant.
She willed herself to that point in her career to where the opportunity was available and took full advantage.
The story of Nunes is well documented. Rising from humble beginnings, she ran through various MMA promotional companies (Strikeforce, Invicta FC), before finally rising to the top of the UFC, dethroning and destroying every fighter of significance, every notable name who dared challenge her for the title of “The Best.”
Those defeated include Germaine de Randamie, Shayna Baszler, Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm, Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Raquel Pennington, Megan Anderson and many others.
“The Lioness” had reigned supreme since 2016, after seizing the women’s bantamweight belt, defending it five times and eventually snatching and defending the featherweight title along the way.
Heading into UFC 266, many believed Nunes possessed an aura of invincibility, of not only finding ways to win, but doing so in devastating fashion. An aura similar to a prime Mike Tyson, or even of Ronda Rousey prior to being dethroned by Holly Holm and then again by Nunes herself.
Up until Peña, the only person to show resistance since Nunes found her groove, is current UFC Women’s Flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko (23-3).
But just like Rocky displayed against Drago, as Buster Douglas did against Tyson, as Peña, Cat Zingano and arguably Shevchenko displayed against the more recent form of Nunes, anyone can be defeated, and lions can be tamed.
The technical aspects of the fight are always key, but most important for their first encounter was the mental elements of the fight.
As aforementioned, Peña was not afraid of Nunes. She carried that hardened determination and mental tenacity, that ultimately overwhelmed the fighter known for overwhelming and overpowering her opposition.
When facing a pressure power puncher in boxing, typically you fight from the outside, move laterally and keep the puncher turning so they have constantly reset in which causes frustration and does not enable that puncher to sit down and frequently land power punches.
Or you can press forward with some niftiness, crowd their space and push the puncher back – in which simultaneously neglects some of the power and reverses the mental/physical pressure back.
Albeit MMA is a different sport, Peña somewhat implored the second tactic – given Nunes’ striking tendencies and proficiency. She weathered the storm in the first round against Nunes and made it somewhat of an unorganized brawl of chaos in the trenches the following round.
She avoided some of the heavier hooks and right crosses from Nunes, while landing stiff jabs in the process which sapped some of the strength of Nunes.
As Peña sensed the champion falter, she went in for the kill.
Some attribute the defeat from Nunes to a lack of preparation, some attribute the defeat to Nunes looking past Peña.
“Honestly, how I lost, I couldn’t take it. I went back home and I had to do this again,” said Nunes.
“I made all the adjustments and changes that I was supposed to do. I jumped right back into camp. I want the belt back, and this is what I love to do. This is the feeling that I like and cannot retire like that. That was my main reason. I’ve got to fight. I’ve got to be there 100 percent and do my best.”
Many believe Nunes will make the adjustments for the rematch and will show the world why she is regarded by many as the best mixed martial artist in the world.
“Saturday, I just have to be precise with my shots. Of course, everyone makes mistakes, and I made one. But I adjusted and got everything tight and sharp. Saturday, I will show you guys I deserve my title back,” said Nunes.
For Peña, she doesn’t want to hear of any excuses and aims to further cement her status by once again doing the impossible. She just wants respect, word to Aretha.
“It’s frustrating,” Peña, said Thursday during the prefight news conference.
“They say that she slipped on a banana peel and that’s why she lost that night, and I don’t think that’s the case. And that’s what we’re doing here. We’re going to run it back and do it again, and then maybe you guys will finally put some respect on my name.”