The UFC had itself a fantastic fight card to close out 2021’s slate of pay-per-view cards. UFC 269 was an emotionally charged fight card, especially the two title fights at the top of the event.
In the co-headliner, Amanda Nunes’ lengthy reign at the top of the women’s bantamweight division came to an abrupt and unlikely end when she fell victim to the striking and then submission skills of her underdog opponent, Julianna Pena. Pena handed Nunes her first submission defeat since the former champ’s first professional fight in 2008.
In the main event, a battle between two highly respected lightweights, Charles Oliveira defended his 155-pound title with a submission win over Dustin Poirier.
By no means were the top two fights on the card the only bouts worth discussing from UFC 269. With that, read on for the winners and losers from the event, which took place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and streamed on ESPN+ pay-per-view with prelims on ESPN2 and early prelims on ESPN+.
Charles Oliveira: Charles Oliveira was on a nine-fight winning streak and had the UFC lightweight title wrapped around his waist when he entered the octagon to face Dustin Poirier at UFC 269. Despite that, some still had the outdated and ill-informed opinion that he was a quitter. Those who held that opinion before Saturday’s fight need to reassess what they think about Oliveira.
The lightweight champ took everything Poirier had during a frantic first round, dominated the second round and then wrapped things up with a submission in the third.
If anyone had any doubts about Charles Oliveira as a legit UFC champ, the Brazilian put those doubts to rest on Saturday night with an impressive performance in a fight where he was the underdog.
Julianna Pena: Julianna Pena is the new UFC women’s bantamweight champion. In what we might remember as the biggest upset in UFC title fight history, Pena used her striking to get Nunes off her game and then wrapped things up with a rear-naked choke.
Pena’s approach in the second round seemed to get Nunes off her game and once she was out of her element, Pena did not give Nunes the opportunity to reset.
I think it’s going to take some time to fully grasp what happened during the second round of the Nunes vs. Pena fight, the outcome was that shocking. One thing to be sure of, Pena won the fight, and no one should try to take that away from her.
Geoff Neal: Geoff Neal ended a two-fight losing skid with a solid performance against Santiago Ponzinibbio at UFC 269. Neal, who entered the contest as the No. 12 ranked welterweight, noted that the win was his first victory against a ranked opponent — Ponzinibbio was ranked No. 14.
The victory should be an enormous boost in confidence for Neal, who dealt with serious health issues around his losses to Stephen Thompson and Neil Magny in 2020 and earlier this year. The win over Ponzinibbio should give the 31-year-old something to build on heading into 2022.
Kai Kara-France: Kai Kara-France has two losses on his UFC record. The first came in 2019 when he lost to current flyweight champ Brandon Moreno. The second was a 2020 submission setback to Brandon Royval, who is the No. 5 ranked fighter in the official UFC flyweight rankings.
Kara-France was ranked No. 6 entering UFC 269. He made a huge statement on Saturday night with his knockout win over Cody Garbrandt. I’m not sure the win will get him the title fight he requested in the aftermath of his win, but Kara-France earned himself a shot at a top-five opponent in his next outing. The stoppage over Garbrandt was Kara-France’s second straight first-round knockout win.
Sean O’Malley: Sean O’Malley continued his walk up the bantamweight rankings with a memorable first-round knockout win over Raulian Paiva. O’Malley did a great job of establishing his jab and then finding a spot for a right that hurt Paiva and allowed him to unleash a flurry of strikes that ended the fight.
UFC president Dana White recently said that O’Malley is not ready for ranked opponents. I’m not sure that White is correct in that assessment.
Dominick Cruz vs. Pedro Munhoz: This was a great fight, with both men fighting to their strengths. Pedro Munhoz did a nice job catching Dominick Cruz coming in during the first round, but Cruz got back to scoring with his volume in the second stanza. Both fighters had their moments in the third stanza, but Cruz’s volume, shot selection and movement carried him to victory.
UFC 269 showed that a healthy Dominick Cruz, who let’s remember has only lost three fights, is still a threat in the bantamweight division.
Tai Tuivasa: Tai Tuivasa fought a controlled and smart first round against Augusto Sakai. He didn’t force the action or overextend himself, but when the second round started, Tuivasa hurt Sakai early and never let up. The beginning of the end came with a left that stunned Sakai. From there, Tuivasa unloaded a nasty barrage of strikes that brought the fight to an end.
Tuivasa is getting better as a fighter and at 28, if he continues to learn and progress, he’s someone to watch. At the very least, Tuivasa is an extremely entertaining scrapper.
Bruno Silva: Jordan Wright served as a lesson to everyone who gets booked against Bruno Silva. That lesson? Don’t test the power of Bruno Silva.
Andre Muniz: Andre Muniz scored his third straight first-round submission win under the UFC banner with an armbar on Eryk Anders. Muniz is a scary man on the ground and his win over Anders should elevate his standing in the middleweight division.
Erin Blanchfield: Erin Blanchfield was an underdog in her flyweight matchup against Miranda Maverick, but she completely dominated her favored opponent. Much of that dominance came via her wrestling and grappling skills.
Maverick was not a ranked opponent, but this was a fantastic opponent for the 22-year-old Blanchfield and she looks like she could develop into a threat.
Ryan Hall: Ryan Hall did Ryan Hall things on Saturday. Hall could not get a submission victory over Darrick Minner, but it wasn’t due to lack of effort as Hall ran up seven submission attempts in the 15-minute featherweight scrap.
Tony Kelley: Tony Kelley did a nice putting pressure on Randy Costa. Kelley put the pedal to the floor from the start of the fight and never let up. The kneed that Kelley landed to the body of his opponent in the second round led to Costa dropping to the mat and the ground strikes that finished the fight for Kelley.
Gillian Robertson: Gillian Robertson showed a great sense of awareness in her catchweight bout opposite Priscila Cachoeira. Robertson found a small opening during a transition and slickly sunk in the rear-naked choke that ended the fight.
James Krause: James Krause got caught on audio yelling, “What are you doing?” after his fighter Darrick Minner took down Ryan Hall. The shot was probably just muscle memory, but to engage Hall on the ground, under any circumstances, is a mistake.
Dustin Poirier: In the moments after he tapped to Charles Oliveira, the camera caught Poirier telling Oliveira he wanted to donate a substantial sum (I think it was $20,000) to a charity of Oliveira’s choice. That says a lot about who Dustin Poirier is as a person.
Dustin Poirier: Dustin Poirier had a game plan for his fight against Charles Oliveira. That game plan did not work out. Poirier thought his pace and power would ideally get Oliveira out of the fight in the first round. At worst, Poirier seemed to think he could tax the champ’s cardio and that his effort in the early going would pay off later in the fight. That plan did not work because Oliveira did not wilt. Yes, Poirier gave Oliveira problems in the early going, but he also gave his opponent time to reset and rack up an advantage of his own in the second round.
Did Poirier and his camp underestimate Oliveira? Did they overestimate Poirier’s own abilities? I don’t think either of those things happened. I think this fight was much more evenly matched than some people thought it was and that the better fighter on Saturday night won.
Regardless of how this fight ended, Dustin Poirier, who has been with the WEC/UFC since his eighth professional fight, deserves a lot of credit for what he has achieved over that time and how he has grown as both a fighter and a person.
Amanda Nunes: Amanda Nunes’ reign as UFC women’s bantamweight champion ended on Saturday night in a way that didn’t seem possible. After a first-round that looked like a sparring session, Nunes got beat up and then submitted by Julianna Pena, who was an enormous underdog. It feels like this loss will take some time to absorb for those who witnessed the shocking finish, but Nunes dealt well with her first setback since she lost to Cat Zingano in 2014.
Cody Garbrandt: Cody Garbrandt endured a big weight cut in the hope that he would reverse his fortunes. It did not. Kai Kara-France knocked out Garbrandt in the first-round of their flyweight matchup. Garbrandt is now on a 1-5 run with four of those fights ending via knockout.
I don’t think Garbrandt is done as a UFC fighter, but he is in a terrible spot following UFC 269.
Darrick Minner: Darrick Minner decided he was willing and able to engage Ryan Hall on the mat. He didn’t get submitted, but he didn’t win either. Minner not doing everything he could to keep the fight standing was a huge mistake.
Priscila Cachoeira: Priscila Cachoeira missed weight by three pounds and went for two eye pokes while she was getting choked by Gillian Robertson while fighting on the curtain jerker. That’s probably not going to be good for her career.