UFC 277 will be headlined by a pair of rematches. The main event sees Julianna Pena put her bantamweight title on the line against her former foe, Amanda Nunes. Pena pulled off a huge upset at UFC 269 when the two met in December last year. Despite entering the bout as the champion, Pena will enter the bout as the underdog against one of the best to ever do it in Nunes. No one believed she had a chance back in December but after weathering the storm, she began to piece Nunes up on the feet before submitting her via rear-naked choke.
The c0-main event sees another rematch, this time for the interim flyweight title between Kai-Kara France and Brandon Moreno. This comes due to the current champion, Deiveson Figueiredo announced an injury would keep him out for a prolonged period of time. When the pair first met in 2019, it was the Mexican, Moreno who got his hand raised.
Elsewhere on the card, we have the return of Derrick Lewis as he takes on Sergei Pavlovich. Magomed Ankalaev faces Anthony Smith in an important light heavyweight clash and we also have plenty of other competitive match-ups.
We take a look at what Julianna Pena must do in order to keep hold of her bout and yet again defeat ‘The Lionness’, Amanda Nunes.
— Frazer Krohn (@frazerkrohnMMA) July 9, 2022
How Does Julianna Pena Retain her Belt?
Wrestle, Clinch, Look to Stall and Fatigue Nunes
One thing that was evident in their first fight is that the wrestling exchanges in the first round took the wind out of the sails of Nunes. She was visibly tired and this fatigue arguably lead to her getting into the wild exchange with Pena which eventually lead to the finish. She drifted away from methodically fighting due to her fatigue. Also, it is arguably why Pena secured the tap so easily. She was able to submit Nunes without any hooks in on the rear-naked choke using just her squeeze.
Nunes has notoriously had a questionable gas tank and Pena will look to use this to her advantage. Although Nunes has surprisingly switched teams, leaving ATT, don’t expect her gas tank to improve too much, just seven months after their first bout. No drastic changes can be expected in that area. What we can expect is that she will be more prepared for the fight to go deep.
So how can Pena look to fatigue Nunes in their rematch? It’s ‘simple’. Wrestle, clinch and look to lean on Nunes, especially early on. We saw the ease in which Pena took Nunes down in the second round after fatiguing her and this could massively play to her advantage in the rematch.
Before Pena, the last person to take Nunes down was Raquel Pennington, who achieved her takedown via the clinch. Once Nunes was on her back, Pennington was able to control her. Pena did the same thing when she faced Germaine de Randamie, so it is certainly a technique that she could utilise.
When she faced Cat Zingano in 2014, Nunes was taken down via the clinch and it was the beginning of the end for the Brazillian. She suffered a loss, however, and would then go on a historic run, only ended by Pena.
If Pena can’t get it down to the ground, force Nunes to clinch as much as possible she needs to lean on her, pummel under and look to stall the fight as much as possible.
Does she need to make it a fight of the year contender? A fight of the night even? No. She can hold Nunes up against the cage, drive her chin underneath the taller woman and look to possibly take her down from there, it will provide Pena her easiest way to victory. Not only will she likely fatigue Nunes, but she’ll get the fight to where she wants it, the ground.
Pena needs to fight using a Mexican boxing style. Push Nunes up towards the cage, stick her head to the chest of the featherweight champion and drive her head upwards. We can see from the screenshot below that Pena did this against de Randamie, with her whole body leaning into her opponent and dominating the position. Not only is it uncomfortable for the person defending, but it also is draining to try and fight off the attacker.
No one can deny that Pena did far better on the feet, at least in the second round, than everyone expected. The first round went as planned for Nunes, especially on the feet. The defending champion on the night constantly landed on the challenger as to be expected throughout the first round.
It was the second round, however, that surprised a lot of people. Pena naturally comes out heavy on the lead leg as she always does. It’s a stance that allows her to pump the jab out and this is exactly what she did, constantly throughout the second round. She faked a number of rear leg kicks but it was a counter check hook that rocked Nunes back onto her heels. She punched with the puncher and it certainly looked like it surprised Nunes.
The jab landed well throughout, however, it was the clubbing, looping overhand right that did the damage for Pena. She began to overwhelm Nunes with nine punches thrown with a minute gone in the round, all of which were in and around the target. She landed two left hooks, of which the first badly rocked Nunes and seemed to take the Brazillian by surprise. There is little doubt that Nunes and her new team will have watched the first fight back, looked at where Nunes got it wrong and where Pena capitalised. The new champion can use this to her advantage and sharpen her technique.
The looping hooks and overhands of Pena won her the fight, but realistically if Pena can sharpen her technique, straighten her shots and land the one-two down the pipe, it will provide her with a new weapon to her arsenal. It will keep Nunes guessing whether her shots will come straight or around the guard. There is little doubt that Pena will go back to the jab as it worked so well during the first fight, so why not put a stinging right hand behind it and look to hurt Nunes.
Tighten up her Defence
There is no doubt that alongside Cris Cyborg, Amanda Nunes is the heaviest-hitting female to ever make the walk into the Octagon. Although Pena wasn’t scared to get into a firefight with Nunes in their first bout, it would be wise to tighten up her defence ahead of the highly anticipated rematch. If Nunes catches her clean, it could be an early night and short championship reign for Pena.
Nunes landed 22 strikes in the first round of their previous bout of which the majority were damning shots. Pena received a number of huge leg kicks and was dropped the current champion with one early on. Nunes’ corner was calling for her to throw the ‘ones and twos and calf kicks’ between rounds, suggesting that this is something that they had worked on in training. If Pena is to be successful again in the rematch, she has to defend the low kick better. Nicco Montano was able able to time Pena with a leg kick and take her off her feet.
Similarly, she was hit with a big jab in the first round which also dropped her. Pena has to improve her head movement as she largely blocked the strikes coming her way in the first round. This will also open up her takedown opportunities as she will be able to catch Nunes off balance.
Nunes’ power is scary early on with 10 first-round knockout finishes, however, only one of her knockout wins has come after the 10-minute mark. This would possibly suggest that her power doesn’t carry late on into the fight, so if Pena can make sure her defence is on point early, she can be a little more reckless later on, once Nunes’ fatigue has set in.
Pena has only been stopped once via TKO and it was via a doctor’s stoppage in her fifth pro-fight. She has a striking defence of 53% and absorbs just 2.02 strikes per minute, however, with Nunes it only takes one to land clean to finish things.