What an Upset!
Broadcasting live from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, UFC 269 featured Amanda Nunes, the UFC’s women’s bantamweight champion, defending her title against “The Venezuelan Vixen” in front of a packed crowd.
Pena stepped into the Octagon as a +600 underdog. As the first round played out, it appeared we were in for another dominant performance from the general consensus GOAT of women’s MMA. The fight went to the ground early in the first, and while Nunes did not land many strikes, she was clearly in control.
As the fighters stepped to the center of the cage for round two, Pena willingly stepped into the pocket and traded blows with Nunes. The champ landed clean, but Pena walked through every single one and countered with combinations of her own. Nunes was stunned, forcing her to back away, but Pena just kept coming forward. Pena grabbed Nunes while she was on her bicycle and dragged her to the ground, immediately taking the champ’s back.
Pena locked in the rear-naked choke, and Nunes had no choice but to tap out. Pena herself was even shocked, getting confirmation from the officials that the bout was over. Pena wasn’t alone as the entire MMA community shouted, “what just happened?!”
What Just Happened?!
MMA Twitter was in disarray, and the T-Mobile arena came completely unglued as Pena was officially crowned the new UFC bantamweight champion. It was a genuinely surreal moment for fans and fighters. After the dust settled, Amanda Nunes (21-5) commented on the loss graciously.
“Honestly, it’s no surprise at all,” Nunes said in the post-fight interview. “I know she’s a warrior. I know she can come forward, and I know she can get hit and still keep moving forward. I just checked out. I still need to work on a couple of things. I’m going to keep working until I fix them, and soon I will come back to the gym and come back here. Thank you guys for all the cheers. I’ll see you guys all soon again.”
Nunes gave no indication of a possible retirement, something that is relatively common among fighters when speaking directly after a disappointing loss. Instead, she admitted there was still work to do and gave every reason to believe that she will be back and better than ever. The question now is, where does Nunes go from here?
The Road Ahead
In addition to delivering a massive upset and capturing UFC gold, Julianna Pena also played spoiler at UFC 269.
Prior to the championship bout, two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time PFL champion Kayla Harrison was shown sitting in the crowd. This only fueled speculation that Dana White was in active discussions with Harrison to sign with the UFC.
Previous reports indicated that the UFC was not interested in Harrison as both she and Nunes train with American Top Team, and they would likely shy away from facing each other. Leading up to fight week, new reports emerged indicating the UFC was, in fact interested in Harrison’s services. With the shocking turn of events at UFC 269, it’s possible those talks may cool.
“For Kayla Harrison, the Amanda Nunes fight was huge,” White said. “If they would have faced off, it would have been a massive, mega-million dollar fight. Let me tell you, if Amanda Nunes had won tonight, the Kayla Harrison fight would have been one of the biggest fights that you would have ever seen.”
Harrison signing with the UFC is still on the table, but the mystique behind a potential Nunes vs. Harrison showdown took a significant hit with Pena’s upset. Nunes is still the UFC featherweight women’s champion, so a title fight is there for Harrison should she sign with the UFC. However, the first order of business appears to be an immediate rematch between Nunes and Pena.
“We can do it next; I’m free next month, two months from now – whenever they want to do it,” Pena said during the UFC 269 post-fight press conference. “I’m ready. If she wants to do a rematch, we can do a rematch.”
Dana White also confirmed that an immediate rematch is the plan should Nunes want it. “It’s a big rematch if she wants it,” said White.
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