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UFC 277: Pena vs. Nunes 2 staff picks and predictions

Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for UFC 277.

The Bloody Elbow staff has made its picks for Saturday’s UFC 277 event in Texas, and the majority of us are picking Amanda Nunes to take the women’s bantamweight title back from Julianna Pena. As for the co-main, most of us are picking Brandon Moreno to win his rematch over Kai Kara-France to win the interim men’s flyweight title.

To see the latest betting lines for these fights, head over to DraftKings Sportsbook.

Julianna Pena vs. Amanda Nunes

Anton Tabuena: Has Nunes fallen in love with her power that she’ll again just go on an all out brawl, with no respect for her opponent? Because that was clearly not a good idea against a faster, and more tenacious foe. On paper, it looks like minor adjustments and sticking to a smarter game plan is very achievable, but bad habits and possible complacency can always hinder that. Nunes is also 34 and has been doing this for 14 years, so I guess it all boils down to which Nunes shows up. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a repeat, but Nunes should have more than enough tools available to beat Pena, so to me she’s still the logical pick. Amanda Nunes by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: My concerns about Nunes are more mental than they are physical, but there are still worries physically. She had COVID-19 and she hadn’t cut weight to 135 in two years when she lost to Pena. Mentally, she’s left ATT, has accomplished pretty much everything she’s set out to accomplish in the sport, and may already have one foot in the retirement door. and I think there’s more than enough precedent to suggest that she just completely falls apart when someone sustains a pace on her and can exhaust her. Pena might not be a technical marvel on the feet but her strategy of just throwing a bunch of shit worked! And it also helps that she’s very durable. But with that said... I mean Nunes at her best still wins this, right? She’s the more well-rounded fighter, better striker (although she didn’t look it the last time), and an underrated top game grappler. She won the first round pretty clearly and then Pena just went berserk and hurt and exhausted Nunes into submission. Pena isn’t that far removed from rallying to beat Sara McMann and getting submitted by Germaine de Randamie (!!!). Nunes doesn’t have to make too many tactical adjustments to win — for god’s sake, don’t sloppily brawl again — but is she going to succumb to Pena’s pace and determination again? I think it’s possible but I’m still going with Amanda Nunes by submission, round 1. I wouldn’t be shocked if Nunes’ correction was to go aggressively for an opening round finish.

Zane Simon: My immediate thought in the aftermath of UFC 269 is that I wouldn’t pick Julianna Pena to win that fight nine times out of ten. So, I’m not going to. She got dropped, she got taken down, she got beat up and eventually she battled her way through a bunch of 50-50 exchanges with a bigger puncher to overwhelm Nunes based purely on heart and grit. Could she do it all again? Yes, definitely. Nunes has been beatable this way before in the past. And while she’s faced a few opponents in her title run who have the style to force that same kind of issue, few have had the raw strength and speed that Pena does. But, I also have to give some stock to the idea that Nunes really did have a miserable camp last time, trying to run things on her own for the first time maybe ever. If she’s had a better run up I have to believe she’d also be in a better place to battle through what adversity she may face. More than that though, she could simply take Pena down and submit her in the first round. Amanda Nunes via submission, round 1.

Staff picking Pena: Victor, Connor, Lewis
Staff picking Nunes: Mookie, Anton, Zane, Dayne, Stephie

Brandon Moreno vs. Kai Kara-France

Anton Tabuena: Kai Kara-France has made a lot of improvements and strides since their first meeting in 2019, and I think it’ll be a lot tougher to beat him if this remains mostly on the feet again. Moreno is insanely durable and should be the more well rounded fighter, but I’m not sure if he’ll be able — or even want — to keep this on the mat for long stretches, and that could be what decides this. Will Moreno’s relentless pace and output prevail on the feet, or will Kara-France be able to pick and land his shots better now en-route to another (interim) gold for that City Kickboxing team? I think it’s the latter and we could be in for an upset. Kai Kara-France by Decision.

Mookie Alexander: The first fight was pretty much a kickboxing match which Moreno very clearly won. I actually don’t think that’s the best way to go a second time around given Kara-France’s edge in power, but even still it’s likely Moreno would be able to just outwork and outland Kara-France to take the fight again through 25 minutes. I expect Moreno to mix in some more takedowns and keep Kara-France guessing and reacting differently than he did against Askar Askarov, who’s got a bit of a one track mind when it comes to his style. No doubt that Kara-France has improved a lot since even the Royval fight, but I think Moreno is always going to be a difficult matchup for him because of how well-rounded and durable he is, not to mention his unrelenting pace can’t be matched by most at flyweight. Brandon Moreno by decision.

Zane Simon: I like the changes that have come over Kara-France’s game in the past couple years more than Moreno’s, if I’m being honest. While Moreno has sharpened up his technical boxing, his bouts with Figueiredo have felt awfully difficult and attritive, like maybe he’s losing some small part of the pure doggedness that brought him to the title. It wouldn’t be unusual, it’s something that often gets lost when fighters reach a championship and find themselves fighting to defend rather than acquire, but it is worth some slight pause. On the other hand, Kara-France seems more confident about pressing his power striking than ever, less willing to wait for counters, and better about putting long combos together while moving forward. For a big puncher who isn’t the tallest guy at 125, that’s a great adjustment to see. But, I do wonder how much it will all change the basic dynamic of their first fight, which was mostly predicated around the fact that Moreno fights a little longer and always made sure he was the last man throwing in an exchange. If he’s lost a little of that willingness to stand in, and Kara-France has added more of it, it could be enough, but I don’t think it’ll create a whole new narrative, frankly. And if I couple that with Moreno’s toughness, tirelessness and amazing scrambling grappling game, and he’s just got too much potential to stick out a tough couple rounds before starting to turn things his way, possibly even with the help of a couple takedowns. Brandon Moreno by decision.

Staff picking Moreno: Mookie, Stephie, Zane, Dayne, Connor, Lewis
Staff picking Kara-France: Victor, Anton

Derrick Lewis vs. Sergei Pavlovich

Anton Tabuena: Say what you want about Derrick Lewis, but his only losses in half a decade have been to former champions and top contenders. Heavyweight can get wildly unpredictable, but I don’t think Pavlovich is in that group. Derrick Lewis by KO.

Mookie Alexander: It’s possible we’re seeing the end of Lewis as a relevant heavyweight but I feel like he’s actually getting better? It strips away some of what makes The Black Beast so fun but I think he’s still good enough to beat the likes of Pavlovich. No doubt that Pavlovich is powerful but I wonder if there’s a chance he’ll be a little too willing to wrestle, which has often proven the downfall for many non-Daniel Cormier opponents. Then there’s the question of whether he can take Lewis’ best shot, and I don’t think he can. Derrick Lewis by KO, round 2.

Zane Simon: There’s every reason to think that Pavlovich can go out there, work behind his jab, especially to the body, and just pick Lewis off on his way to a TKO win. It’s a tried and tested method and even Curtis Blaydes was working it perfectly until he decided he needed to shoot a takedown instead. But, given time and space to have his kind of fight, Pavlovich isn’t really known for pressing the action. He tends to pick his shots carefully or clinch up to slow people down. Both of those things should give Lewis maximum time to find his own bombs. The more time and chances Lewis has, the more likely he is to land one huge crushing shot that totally changes the fight. Derrick Lewis via KO, Round 2.

Staff picking Lewis: Mookie, Stephie, Victor, Anton, Zane, Dayne, Connor, Lewis
Staff picking Pavlovich:

Alexandre Pantoja vs. Alex Perez

Mookie Alexander: I’m biased because I’m a Pantoja fan, but I admit this isn’t as easy a pick as I thought. Perez is the more powerful striker and his low kicks and wrestling could pose serious problems for Pantoja. With that said, Perez’s defense ain’t the best and if he’s going to be a willing grappler against Pantoja he risks getting caught in a bad spot in a scramble. This might be one where Perez is winning up until he isn’t. Also keep in mind he hasn’t fought for 20 months so there may be a chance he’s rusty after a long layoff (through umpteen fight cancellations). Alexandre Pantoja by submission, round 2.

Zane Simon: I gotta give Connor some credit for reminding me that, over the bulk of his career, Alex Perez has mostly been a front runner. If you let him get started on his kicking game early, or let him hit key takedowns and start controlling you on the mat, he can build some great momentum. But Pantoja is rarely a fighter to let someone just out-maneuver him with ease. Standing he tends to throw with wild power and consistent, controlled aggression, and on the mat, he’s an absolute scrambling terror, with great back take ability. If Pantoja can start turning the momentum of the fight, it seems more than likely that he’ll find a way to finish it as well. Alexandre Pantoja via submission, round 3.

Staff picking Pantoja: Mookie, Stephie, Victor, Anton, Zane, Dayne, Connor
Staff picking Perez:

Anthony Smith vs. Magomed Ankalaev

Mookie Alexander: I don’t think Ankalaev should be as big a favorite as he is at the moment, but maybe that’s just me always willing to give Smith a decent chance at victory. Ankalaev’s output is low but he has plenty of his power in his striking, but where he’s most likely to win is through his wrestling. No doubt that Smith will try and make life difficult for him with an active guard but I’d like to think Ankalaev won’t get Paul Craig’d again. Smith’s got a real chance if he can capitalize on Ankalaev’s tendency to drift away from anything offensive, but the pick is Magomed Ankalaev by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: I do have some slight concerns about Ankalaev as a regularly winning elite contender. It’s not that he’s not that he isn’t consistent or controlled, but just that he may be to a fault. He’s had several recent fights now where it felt like he had opponents obviously outclassed, but let them hang around all the way to the final bell, testing him over and over again in 50/50 exchanges. And, when I’ve seen Ankalaev really commit to trying to take over a bout with his standup, that’s often been the moment he gets caught by surprised and hurt. It may be that his consistent caution is covering up for the fact that he can actually be made quite uncomfortable by an elite opponent really willing to go to war with him. That could be Anthony Smith. Smith isn’t nearly so controlled as Ankalaev, but he’s a very hot starter who will press the action right off the bat if he sees an opening. Still, Smith’s also been a fighter who can just be entirely tracked out of a bout for multiple rounds if his opponent is dominating and controlling enough. And if Ankalaev starts hitting takedowns, it’s not hard for me to see Smith getting stuck on his back for 3 rounds, unable to find a way into the fight. Magomed Ankalaev by decision.

Staff picking Smith: Victor
Staff picking Ankalaev: Mookie, Stephie, Anton, Dayne, Zane, Connor

Alex Morono vs. Matthew Semelsberger

Zane Simon: I like a lot of the game Semelsberger is building. A high output power striking game built to challenge less imposing athletes. That certainly could work against Morono, who always has the potential to get caught out, even in fights he’s winning. But I think it’s still very much a work in progress for ‘Semi the Jedi’. He’s had fights over his whole career where a well prepared, aggressive opponent can take him off his game early and force him to have to battle back into the fight. And Morono is someone who always seems well prepared, and with just the right approach to tackle whoever’s standing across from him. He may not be the prettiest striker or most dominating grappler out there, but he can find the path to victory and stick to it or even adjust as needed. A chance for Semelsberger to really introduce himself at welterweight, but I’ll take Morono to prove why he’s an excellent gatekeeper. Alex Morono by decision.

Staff picking Morono: Mookie, Anton, Zane, Connor
Staff picking Semelsberger: Dayne, Stephie

Drew Dober vs. Rafael Alves

Zane Simon: Alves is extremely dangerous and Drew Dober will absolutely press a fight that gets him hit hard, especially early on. But, to date, Dober has also proven himself to be just about the toughest guy to put away in the lightweight division, at least with strikes. And while Alves has some subs to his name, it’s not really an option he’s going to press if Dober just wants to have a kickboxing bout with him. Assuming Dober doesn’t suffer a spectacular KO loss, I have a lot more faith in him to stay consistent and press the action for 3 whole rounds. Drew Dober via decision.

Staff picking Dober: Mookie, Anton, Dayne, Zane, Connor, Stephie
Staff picking Alves:

Don’Tale Mayes vs. Hamdy Abdelwahab

Zane Simon: Mayes isn’t exactly a world beater in the UFC, but he’s still a huge step up from the kinds of dudes that Abdelwahab has been beating in the past. While there’s some great power and some solid technique in the Egyptian’s game, it’s very much a style in progress. Heavy takedowns without any real GnP or grappling, single strikes without clean followups or footwork. If Mayes can hang tough for a round, I think he’ll be able to catch Abdelwahab flagging hard. Don’Tale Mayes via TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Mayes: Mookie, Anton, Zane, Connor, Stephie
Staff picking Abdelwahab: Dayne

Drakkar Klose vs. Rafa Garcia

Zane Simon: When everything is clicking for Garcia, he’s got a very hard style to handle; big punches in to heavy takedowns, into a controlling grappling game. But Klose is very hard to handle in the clinch or to take down and keep there. And if he can shut that half of Garcia’s gem off, then the striking Garcia has to offer becomes a lot more rote and predictable. Drakkar Klose via decision.

Staff picking Klose: Mookie, Anton, Dayne, Zane, Connor, Stephie
Staff picking Garcia:

Michael Morales vs. Adam Fugitt

Zane Simon: Fugitt has some fun funk to his game, but I expect Morales will hit takedowns and make him pay for the short notice nature of the bout. Michael Morales via submission, round 1.

Staff picking Morales: Mookie, Anton, Dayne, Zane, Connor, Stephie
Staff picking Fugitt:

Joselyne Edwards vs. Ji Yeon Kim

Zane Simon: Really don’t have faith in Ji Yeon Kim moving up a division, considering that she seemed to be at a power deficit last time out against Priscila Cachoeira. Edwards’ overall game is kind of a mess, but she hits hard and Kim will just keep having the same exchange over and over if that’s what Edwards wants. Joselyne Edwards by decision.

Staff picking Edwards: Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Connor, Stephie
Staff picking Kim: Anton

Nicolae Negumereanu vs. Ihor Potieria

Zane Simon: Not at all convinced that Potieria is ready to stand and trade with someone he can’t easily knock out over 15 minutes. Negumereanu isn’t the most skilled LHW out there, but he’s among the most durable. Nicolae Negumereanu via decision.

Staff picking Negumereanu: Dayne, Zane, Connor, Stephie
Staff picking Potieria: Mookie, Anton

Orion Cosce vs. Blood Diamond

Zane Simon: I don’t have any reason to believe that Cosce can’t hit the exact same takedown Wells got on Mr. Diamond in his Octagon debut. Cosce hit it immediately on Rowe in their bout and Diamond will absolutely give him the chance to get a bodylock and make it happen again. Orion Cosce via submission, round 1.

Staff picking Cosce: Dayne, Zane, Connor
Staff picking Diamond: Mookie, Anton, Stephie

Poll

Who wins?

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    Pena and Moreno
    (172 votes)
  • 14%
    Pena and Kara-France
    (103 votes)
  • 40%
    Nunes and Moreno
    (289 votes)
  • 21%
    Nunes and Kara-France
    (158 votes)
722 votes total Vote Now