There was a time, not too long ago, when Amanda Nunes put a round on the field by such a margin that you almost felt sorry for her opponents when a fight was called off.
Those days are long gone, though on Saturday in the main event of UFC 277 at the sold-out American Airlines Center in Dallas, Nunes righted the wrongs and reclaimed her championship by defeating Julianna Peña in a much more competitive bout from him. appeared on the surface.
Nunes won by scores of 50-45, 50-44 and 50-43 to reclaim the women’s bantamweight belt she lost when Peña submitted her at UFC 269 in December in Las Vegas.
Nunes dropped Peña three times in the second round and was 6 of 8 in takedowns in the five-round bout. Nunes had 11 minutes, 48 seconds of control time in the 25-minute bout, and Peña had none. Each fighter had one submission attempt.
Look at these numbers on paper and you’ll shrug and think no further.
But Peña showed that she is perhaps the toughest fighter in the UFC as she absorbed an incredible amount of punishment but never stopped trying to win. Because she He made submitted Nunes in December with a rear naked choke in the second round in Las Vegas, no one could ever surpass her efforts on Saturday.
He tried triangle chokes and a back naked choke and an armbar and a Kimura. Nunes had great submission defense and she got it done, and that’s one of the reasons why she’s clearly the greatest fighter this sport has ever seen.
But seven months earlier, Peña reminded us what was possible, and so he should be at the back of everyone’s mind on Saturday in the rematch. Nunes dropped Peña an incredible three times in the second round, but didn’t follow her to the ground on any of those occasions.
Nunes knew. She knew this was the one area that could cause her problems, even though she has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
So Nunes fought cautiously, strategically, and didn’t go down with Peña until the fourth, when she changed her plan and started fighting harder. And when he did, Peña started threatening.
The show didn’t get much love from her boss, UFC president Dana White. He didn’t win a post-fight bonus, as Fight of the Night went to Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France and Performances of the Night went to Alexandre Pantoja and Drew Dober.
Just being as dominant as she was over a great fighter like Peña would seemingly be enough to earn her, at worst, a Performance of the Night bonus, but White was strangely cool in her effort.
“Two things: I think Giuliana is tough as nails and her will to win is second to none,” White said when asked at the post-fight press conference about his impressions of Nunes’ performance. “He wanted to win. As dominant as Amanda was, and she was dominant tonight, I didn’t think she was close in any way, shape or form. It was a complete shutdown, but she still seemed a little shy to me.”
White went on to mention how Nunes performed when she won the featherweight title from Cris Cyborg at UFC 232 in Los Angeles on December 29, 2018. She hurt Cyborg early in stand-up and stood her ground and flustered until leave Cyborg to no one else.
But there were a few differences between this match and Saturday’s match. First, Nunes was fighting a woman who had taken her best punches and then submitted her. Even if it was only subconsciously, that he had to influence her. More importantly, the 2018 version of Nunes was 30 years old. This version is 34 and age is no doubt a factor.
Now, don’t take this as a suggestion that Nunes is ready for the glue factory, because she’s not.
Nunes is also a married mother now, which is another factor. Before her daughter, Reagan, was born, all that mattered to Nunes was fighting. But now, she has something else taking some of her attention away from the battle.
She told the Octagon on Saturday that she wants a vacation and some time away from the cage, and no one could deny her that. She is an active champion and deserves time away.
There is therefore a chance that she will be 35 the next time she fights, given that her birthday is on May 30. But even if it isn’t, it will be very close to this birthday. Of the 11 people who hold a UFC title today (Nunes has two), they are clustered between the ages of 28 and 35.
So that suggests she’s at the back of her prime. Now, Nunes is so good, there are only a few fighters who could compete fairly with her.
Peña, apparently, is one of them. So, too, is flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, who lost a pair of close decisions to Nunes at bantamweight.
But who else? Nunes beat Cyborg in 51 seconds, but a rematch between them isn’t a slam dunk in Nunes’ favor. But Cyborg is now with Bellator and there is no chance she will fight Nunes again in the UFC. Kayla Harrison might be the one who could beat her, but Harrison fights at lightweight, so the only weight that Nunes could meet would be at featherweight, and she’s with the PFL, so again, almost no chance to have a battle between them.
So you have to wonder what Nunes will think after a few weeks of rest when she has time to think about her career. She said before the fight that she wants to fight until she’s 40 and that won’t be until May 28, 2028, however, it’s never wise to hold fighters to things they say before an important fight.
Does he survey the landscape and realize that there aren’t many fights out there that make sense? Maybe.
At bantamweight, the top contender is now Ketlen Vieira. No one who saw her fight Holly Holm would consider her a serious threat to beat Nunes. Who else? Holm? Irene Aldana? Raquel Pennington?
Nunes has beaten most of them and the pickings are slim.
He could come back and defend the title a few more times and collect some $2 million or $3 million on paydays. That money, of course, would come in handy.
But there really isn’t any fight other than a rubber match with either Peña or Shevchenko that would make her blood boil.
Walking away as the undisputed GOAT wouldn’t be the worst thing, though Nunes showed on Saturday that she still has a lot to give.
But he’s not a kid anymore, and it’s going to get harder and harder to reach the level he reached on Saturday.
This bears watching. It’s not shocking if he struggles again, but it also wouldn’t be surprising if he leaves rich, healthy and clearly, arguably, at the top of his game.