I am willing to take Amanda Nunes at her word.
Heading into UFC 277, where she faces Julianna Pena for the second time, the former UFC women’s bantamweight champion said she had a rough go heading into her UFC 269 title defense against Pena. Nunes tested positive for COVID-19 in late July, causing the booking to be postponed. Nunes added that knee injuries hampered her training for the bout. Perhaps most significant, the (then) two-division UFC champ said she had become comfortable.
That last one, while understandable considering what Nunes had achieved, is often the precursor to heartbreak and disappointment.
Nunes held the UFC 135 and 145-pound titles heading into her bout against Pena. She was also on a 12-fight winning streak where she had earned stoppage wins over big-name fighters Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Cris Cyborg and Holly Holm. Further, no one outside of Valentina Shevchenko — who Nunes defeated twice via decision during that stretch — had come close to being a problem for her. So, yes, it’s not a stretch to think that Nunes was (over)confident she could beat Pena. After all, hadn’t Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie, both of whom Nunes had defeated, beat Pena via stoppage? (The answer to that question is yes)
As we know, Pena ran over Nunes at UFC 269, submitting her in the second round to take the bantamweight crown. Nunes had held owned that belt since she steamrolled Tate in July 2016.
The loss in December hurt Nunes, but that setback is not something she can’t recover from. The ex-champ has returned from each of her previous four career defeats with a first-round stoppage victory. None of those fights made it past the halfway point of the first stanza.
If Nunes can keep that streak alive at UFC 277, the talk that Pena “exposed” Nunes or that the division has caught up with her will die. And if it doesn’t die, those murmurs will at least be put on pause. However, if Pena successfully defends her title, even via a decision, Nunes’ future at bantamweight becomes uncertain.
The UFC needs to do its best to start turning over the names at the top of the 135-pound division. A Nunes loss will allow the promotion to begin that process.
Ketlen Vieira, who is coming off a win over Holm, is likely to get the next shot at the title should Pena defend on Saturday. Raquel Pennington, who is on a four-fight winning streak and recently defeated Aspen Ladd, could also be in the mix. Then there is the winner of the UFC 279 matchup between Irene Aldana and Macy Chiasson to consider. Which is to say that Nunes will likely land on the waiting list for another title shot, at least as long as Pena reigns atop the 135-pound weight class.
A loss at UFC 277 won’t be a career-ender for Nunes. She is still the UFC women’s featherweight champ and while it’s true that division still doesn’t warrant having a pool of fighters ranked by the UFC, the title is still something shiny the UFC can put on a pay-per-view poster. That counts for a great deal when it comes to the promotion’s deal with ESPN.
As for the (silly) GOAT debate, a Nunes loss will open the door to talk about how she is not the best woman to ever fight under the UFC banner. I know I’m not going to influence those who love to yammer on about something so nonsensical, but if I can offer my opinion on the subject, I will say that Nunes’ run from August 2015 when she submitted Sara McMann through her TKO of Holly Holm in July 2019, will always be one of the most impressive and dominant runs in MMA and that is something even the biggest naysayers can’t take away from Nunes.