UFC 277: Julianna Pena vs. Amanda Nunes II Head-to-Toe Breakdown
Until December of last year, Brazil's Amanda Nunes was considered the greatest female fighter alive. She held the UFC's bantamweight and featherweight titles and had soundly beaten every other woman to hold the belt in either weight class, including Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm and Miesha Tate. And that's without even mentioning her two wins over flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko—another pound-for-pound star.
There was really just no debating her status as the sport's pound-for-pound queen. But then, in the co-main event of UFC 269, she was battered to a second-round submission loss by a massive underdog in Julianna Pena, losing her bantamweight belt in the process.
It was one of the biggest upsets in MMA history, and a fight that instantly divided fans. Some believed Nunes had simply gotten complacent. Others believed that Pena simply had Nunes' number.
It was clear from the outset that the only way to settle the debate was to book the pair for a rematch, so that's just what the UFC did.
After serving as rival coaches on the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter—hats off to you if you're still watching the show—Nunes and Pena are slated to meet again in the main event of Saturday's UFC 277 card in Dallas.
Will Nunes redeem herself and reclaim the bantamweight throne, or will lightning strike twice for Pena? As ever, there's no way to know until they're in the cage together, but taking a closer look at their respective games reveals some interesting information.
Keep scrolling to see how they match up on paper.
Julianna Pena lit Amanda Nunes up the first time they fought, which was pretty surprising considering she has never been a particularly effective striker—at least when compared to Nunes, who is one of the more vicious punchers in women's MMA.
Most of the key stats reflect this, but there's really only one that matters here: Pena has won just three fights by knockout or TKO. Nunes has won 13—several of them clean KOs.
Outside of the shocking result of their first fight, all relevant information suggests that Nunes will be just fine if she decides to strike with Pena in the rematch, even if she does leave herself open sometimes.
She may have to eat a few shots to make it happen—Pena is clearly still improving on the feet—but she should be able to close the distance and land the leg kicks and crackling power punches she's used to hurt so many other women.
Julianna Pena is at her best in the grappling phase of the game, and the stats again reflect this. She has seven submission wins on her record and attempts an average of 0.9 submissions per 15 minutes in the Octagon. If her opponents aren't careful, they risk finding themselves locked up in a guillotine or rear-naked choke—just like Nunes did last December.
However, Nunes is an excellent grappler herself. Maybe even better than Pena, which is, once again, totally contrary to everything their first fight suggested.
Nunes' submission attempts per 15 minutes sit just below Pena's at 0.8, and she has only won four fights by submission, but those rates are due in part to the fact that she doesn't need her jiu-jitsu very often. She's too good at knocking people out. Notably, she also has Pena beat in terms of belt rankings: she's a black belt, while the new champion is a purple belt.
Obviously, a fighter's belt ranking depends on a lot of factors, including where they're training and how much time they spend in a gi, but there's no understating the effort it takes to earn black. The mere fact that Nunes has done so is a testament to her submission skills.
It's definitely a close one, and it admittedly feels completely absurd to suggest any female fighter is better at anything than Amanda Nunes, but there's no ignoring that Pena won their first fight with her jiu-jitsu and that she's submitted more people than Nunes has.
So the edge in this matchup is hers, if only slightly.
Julianna Pena is a solid offensive wrestler, and she can look forward to having an advantage in this phase of the game in most matchups. But not against Nunes.
At a glance, the stats suggest the two bantamweight stars are pretty evenly matched in the wrestling department. Nunes completes slightly more takedowns on average per 15 minutes, notching 2.46 compared to Pena's 2.43, but Pena actually has the slightly better takedown success rate (55 percent to 54).
It's not until you look at the pair's takedown defense rates that the gap in their wrestling ability becomes clearer. Nunes has defended an impressive 82 percent of the takedowns attempts against her. Pena, meanwhile, has stopped just 22 percent.
Pena might be able to hit takedowns on Nunes in the rematch. But if Nunes want to, she can definitely hit takedowns on Pena, and bottom position under the Brazilian is a bad place to be. This one's easy.
Nunes' X-Factor: Get Your Head in the Game
There are a lot of theories as to why Amanda Nunes lost to Julianna Pena late last year. The most prevalent is that her head wasn't in it, whether it's because she had grown complacent after so many dominant wins, because she was distracted by the birth of her first child or because she's beginning to think about retirement.
Whatever the case, Nunes needs to be completely dialed in against Pena. That means putting in the miles in camp so her cardio is on point, keeping her hands up in the fight and everything in between. Anything less, and she could fall victim to the same mistakes that led to her downfall the first time around.
Pena's X-Factor: Expect a Much Harder Fight
Julianna Pena was brimming with confidence before her first fight with Nunes, and it came across as completely naive. She proved it was not by beating the decorated legend with shocking ease.
She's similarly confident heading into the rematch, and that could turn out to be a big problem. Whether she has Nunes' number or not, the Brazilian will most likely be much better prepared this time around, which means it's probably going to be a much tougher fight. Pena needs to be ready for that possibility, or she may be in for a big surprise.
Julianna Pena deserves all the respect in the world for beating Amanda Nunes last year. Nunes' headspace may have played a factor—we'll never know—but Pena did what she needed to do under those circumstances and won a world title as a result. There's no taking that away from her.
Still, unless Nunes has completely fallen off or lost all interest in training, it's really hard to imagine Pena winning this fight again. The Brazilian seems to have the advantage in nearly every facet of this matchup, from the areas we've reviewed to the others that we haven't, like her strength and athleticism. The only real question is which version of Nunes shows up.
If the one that beat the likes of Cyborg, Rousey and Shevchenko shows up, it's going to be a bad night for Pena.
Prediction: Nunes by KO, Rd. 2