Julianna Pena and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 269

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2021

Julianna Pena and the Real Winners and Losers from UFC 269

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    Chase Stevens/Associated Press

    Who says 13 has got to be unlucky?

    Not the UFC.

    The mixed martial arts conglomerate wrapped the pay-per-view calendar year with its 13th event of 2021 on Saturday night in Las Vegas, producing an intensity-sopped 14-bout card from the T-Mobile Arena.

    UFC 269 included title bouts in the lightweight and bantamweight divisions, alongside several other matches that included ex-titleholders, established commodities and rising stars. It had been scheduled for 15 bouts, but a would-be flyweight encounter between Matt Schnell and Alex Perez was scrubbed.

    Challenger Dustin Poirier made his third PPV walk of the year after high-profile defeats of Conor McGregor in January and July. Meanwhile, champion Charles Oliveira defended his 155-pound title for the first time since ascending to a then-vacant throne by beating Michael Chandler in May.

    As for the 135-pounders, consensus GOAT Amanda Nunes risked her strap for the sixth time against third-ranked challenger Julianna Pena, who competed for a championship for the first time in her ninth fight since arriving to the promotion in 2013.

    Blow-by-blow man Jon Anik worked alongside analysts Daniel Cormier and Joe Rogan on the ESPN+ broadcast, which also included Megan Olivi working the room for breaking news and features and Din Thomas dropping in for technical commentary.

    The B/R combat sports team was in position for the entire show and used that vantage point to produce a comprehensive list of the show's true winners and losers. Click through to see what we came up with, and drop a thought or two of your own in the comments section.

Winner: Living the Dream

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    Fairy tales can come true. It can happen to you.

    If you're Julianna Pena.

    The third-ranked bantamweight contender essentially trash-talked herself into a title shot with Nunes but was generally dismissed as just another no-hoper—a prohibitive underdog, in this case—who'd become the 10th victim of the Lioness in a championship-fight scenario.

    Until she wasn't.

    Instead, the 32-year-old survived a first round in which she was taken down and punished, then pressed forward with a badly swollen left eye to engage Nunes in a firefight in Round 2 and quickly seized the advantage.

    She rattled the Brazilian-born Nunes with powerful blows from both hands, sent her backward to the cage and scored a takedown by tossing the champion down onto her right hip.

    Pena immediately pounced from there, took Nunes' back and locked in a rear-naked choke that brought a speedy and historic tap-out at 3:23 of the round.

    "That's the biggest upset in the history of the sport," Rogan said, putting it ahead of Holly Holm's second-round stop of Ronda Rousey six years ago.

    "(Pena) did exactly what she said she was going to do."

    Pena agreed, pointing to the broadcast table and saying, "I told you."

    It was just the second loss in 16 UFC bouts for Nunes, who'd beaten six champions—including both Holm and Rousey—since her last defeat in 2014.

    Pena, on the other hand, won for the seventh time in nine UFC bouts and third time in four bouts since returning from a significant knee injury in 2018.

    "I thought she'd have fought longer," the new champ said. "I asked the commissioner if it was over and he said, ‘Yes.'

    "Don't ever doubt me again. It's all willpower, strength and determination. You literally have the ability to do anything in the world you want."

Loser: Underestimating an Incumbent

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    Yes, Oliveira was the undisputed champion.

    But he was the underdog. And he was the subject of suggestions that he didn't have the heart to go through a knock-down, drag-out fight and emerge the winner, especially against a top foe.

    Until now.

    The Brazilian veteran faced a rugged No. 1 contender and former interim champion in Poirier, was dropped and frequently hurt in the first round, but he rallied and took over in the second before getting a finish by rear-naked choke just 62 seconds into the third round.

    "He doesn't quit on himself. He's a champ through and through," Cormier said. "It's time to put some respect on this guy's name."

    Oliveira, predictably, agreed.

    "I'm a world champion. I'm the man. They talk, I do it," he said. "They can hit me a lot, but I'm going to walk forward."

    Poirier obliged him in the first, rattling his cage often with lefts and rights.

    Oliveira responded well with counters and knees when the fighters got in close, but the challenger looked like the fresher and stronger commodity when they began the second.

    Still, the champion quickly went for a takedown in the and kept Poirier down for the majority of the session, landing a series of hard elbows as the challenger kept a close guard rather than risking a submission position. Oliveira went for the same strategy to begin the third, quickly got on Poirier's back once again and was able to get his right arm under Poirier's chin.

    Seconds later, Poirier tapped out for just the third time in his 35-fight career.

    "His durability surprised me," Poirier said. "I thought I was going to put him away in the first round."

    Oliveira is now 21-8 with a no contest in the UFC.

    "He's so good. He's so technical," Rogan said. "I tell young fighters all the time that if you want to mirror a fighter, look at Charles Oliveira. He's so smooth, and tonight he reached a new level."

Loser: Career Reinvention

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    Sometimes, reinvention doesn't go so well.

    Ex-bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt learned that lesson the hard way in the PPV show's second bout, moving down to flyweight but encountering slugger Kai Kara-France and losing via brutal first-round TKO.

    Garbrandt, now 30, was a titleholder at 135 pounds after beating Dominick Cruz in 2016 before losing in his first defense and a subsequent rematch—both by TKOs—to TJ Dillashaw.

    He had won one of three bouts before deciding on the 10-pound weight drop to flyweight, where he met the sixth-ranked New Zealander in his first bout.

    Garbrandt moved well and looked strong in the opening moments of the fight but was clipped by an overhand right about three minutes in and immediately in danger.

    He reeled around the cage and tried to reengage with Kara-France after the initial exchange but was drilled with another right hand. Garbrandt was on the receiving end of an eight-punch combination that left him flat on his side in the center of the cage as referee Herb Dean stepped in at 3:21.

    It was his fifth loss in 11 UFC bouts and fifth in 17 bouts as a pro.

    Kara-France landed 23 strikes to Garbrandt's nine and scored two knockdowns on the way to his sixth win in eight UFC bouts.

    "I know I'm the best in the world," Kara-France said. "Taking on a former champ put me in line, and in 2022, you see a new flyweight champ right here."

Winner: Passing a Test

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    Suddenly, it's getting a lot harder to doubt Sean O'Malley.

    Suga was facing a foe in Brazilian fighter Raulian Paiva, whom many suggested would be his most difficult test as a pro. The 27-year-old aced it in typically memorable style, though, with a first-round TKO of a streaking foe in the PPV card's opening bout.

    Paiva had entered with three straight victories and four wins in six UFC bouts.

    "That was one of the biggest tests of his career, and he smashed him," Rogan said. "He will not be unranked next week. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Sean O'Malley, bantamweight contender."

    The Arizona-based fighter had won 14 of 15 pro fights and seven of eight fights in the UFC, but he'd never been ranked and never beaten a ranked opponent.

    Paiva had briefly climbed as high as No. 15 in the 135-pound rankings, but he didn't resemble a contender when O'Malley connected with an overhand right that sent him reeling backward to the cage. O'Malley pressed the advantage with a follow-up flurry that kept Paiva in trouble, then landed a left hook to the body and a right to the head that prompted an intervention from referee Jason Herzog.

    The official time was 4:42 of the first.

    "The kid ups the ante every time he steps in there," Cormier said. "Sean O'Malley told us that this matchup provided the backdrop for a spectacular KO, and there it was."

    O'Malley connected on 39 of 62 significant strike attempts, keeping up with his career rate of 63 percent that ranks among the best in UFC history.

    "I think (Paiva is) one of the toughest guys I have fought," O'Malley said, "but when I land those hard shots, these guys are going to go out. I wanted to put him up against the cage and punish him."

Winner: A Championship Heart

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    He may never again wear a champion's belt.

    But it'd be hard to argue Dominick Cruz doesn't still possess a champion's mettle.

    Already a former two-time titleholder at 135 pounds, the now-36-year-old continued his march toward renewed relevance among the bantamweights with a gritty three-round decision over eighth-ranked contender Pedro Munhoz in the penultimate fight on the preliminary card.

    "That was vintage Dominick Cruz," Anik said. "(Munhoz) had him hurt bad in the first round, and he didn't think he'd be here taking these shots from him in the last two rounds.

    "What a champion's response."

    Indeed, Cruz was blasted by a straight left hand just past the midway point of the first round that sent him careening to the mat and subject to follow-up shots by the amped-up Brazilian.

    But Cruz, thanks in part to the patience of referee Marc Goddard, was able to withstand the barrage and finish the session on his feet.

    Munhoz came out looking for a repeat in the second but instead found a beguiling veteran using expert in-and-out footwork and blending it with combination punching augmented by superior hand speed.

    Munhoz was bleeding from a cut on the right side of his forehead by the end of the second and looked confused and winded in the third as Cruz continued to land the cleaner and flashier shots—establishing strike margins of 35-27 and 43-26 in the final two rounds.

    "If you get hurt like he got hurt in the first round, and if you're not in tremendous share and you don't recover, you're not able to do what Dominick Cruz has done in the last two rounds," Cormier said.

    "That was vintage Dominick Cruz."

    Overall, Cruz held a 105-79 edge in overall strikes and a 103-74 margin in significant strikes.

    He swept the scorecards with three 29-28 counts to secure his seventh win in nine UFC fights.

    "Honestly, I thought I slipped (in the first round), so I guess that tells you where I was at," Cruz said. "Thanks to the ref for giving me a chance to continue tonight."

Winner: Playing to the Crowd

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    Hygiene. Schmygiene.

    Fan favorite Tai Tuivasa worked the Las Vegas crowd in his signature fashion in the second bout of the prelim show, pounding ranked opponent Augusto Sakai into a second-round pulp and following it up by climbing the cage and pounding a beer out of a high-top sneaker.

    The "shoey" has become Tuivasa's signature post-fight celebration, and he got to it after just 26 seconds of the second round, wobbling Sakai with a left hook that landed alongside his forehead and rendered semiconscious by a follow-up 12-punch flurry.

    He shared several more beers with fans as he headed back to the locker room.

    "They love the shoey out here," Cormier said. "I've never seen so many people excited to see a guy drink a beer out of a shoe."

    It was Tuivasa's fourth straight win since he'd begun his stay in the UFC by splitting his first six fights.

    "I feel like I'm getting better and better," he said. "I've said it before, I'm a banger from Western Sydney, and I'll bang with anyone. When I come here, I put a show on for the crowd, and I'll fight anyone."

Loser: Playing Favorites

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    Sometimes, the numbers don't matter.

    The official record shows that favorites won five of the nine bouts across the preliminary and main portions of Saturday's show. But it's not how many fights you win, it's winning the right ones.

    Bettors going against the chalk in all nine fights emerged with a $460 profit, thanks to the enormous +650 payout of Pena in the bantamweight title fight and a follow-up $120 from Oliveira's defeat of Poirier.

    The Pena win was the fourth-biggest betting upset in UFC history and second in women's fights.

    Also winning as underdogs were Kara France as a +110 pick against Garbrandt and the +100 payout for Cruz against Munhoz.

    Meanwhile, bets on all nine favorites resulted in bettors being down $890.

    O'Malley and Bruno Silva were the most reliable choices as favorites, beating Paiva and Jordan Wright as -350 and -335 selections.

UFC 269 Full Card Results

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    Main Card

    Charles Oliveira def. Dustin Poirier by submission (rear-naked choke), 1:02, Round 3

    Julianna Peña def. Amanda Nunes by submission (rear-naked choke), 3:23, Round 2

    Geoff Neal def. Santiago Ponzinibbio by split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29)

    Kai Kara-France def. Cody Garbrandt by TKO (punches), 3:21, Round 1

    Sean O'Malley def. Raulian Paiva by TKO (punches), 4:42, Round 1


    Preliminary Card

    Josh Emmett def. Dan Ige by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)

    Dominick Cruz def. Pedro Munhoz by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)

    Tai Tuivasa def. Augusto Sakai by KO (punches), 0:26, Round 2

    Bruno Silva def. Jordan Wright by TKO (punches), 1:28, Round 1


    Early Preliminary Card

    Andre Muniz def. Eryk Anders by submission (armbar), 3:13, Round 1

    Erin Blanchfield def. Miranda Maverick by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

    Ryan Hall def. Darrick Minner by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-27)

    Tony Kelley def. Randy Costa by TKO (elbows), 4:15, Round 2

    Gillian Robertson def. Priscila Cachoeira by submission (rear-naked choke), 4:59, Round 1