Six years ago, it took Amanda Nunes less than one round to defeat Misha Tate at UFC 200 to become the women’s bantamweight champion. She quickly established herself as the most dangerous woman in MMA and became the third fighter in the promotion’s history to hold two titles at the same time. After knocking out Cris Cyborg for the featherweight belt, her biggest challenge was finding opponents who could push her to compete and advance her legacy. It may have taken more than half a century, but last December at UFC 269, she finally found her opponent. Julianne Peña holds the fourth longest title in UFC history.
As a huge +650 underdog, Peña shocked the entire MMA community by defeating Nunes in the second round. Peña’s implied moneyline odds gave her a slightly over 13% chance of winning, but you would never know by watching the fight. This Saturday night at UFC 277, she remains a smaller but significant underdog (+210) as she defends her title in a rematch against Nunes. The odds indicate that Peña’s incredible win was probably the exception, but is Nunes worth betting on as a big favourite? Here’s how I played in the main event, as well as my position in the clash of heavyweights on the main card.
The best version of Amanda Nunes wins this fight nine times out of 10, but the challenge is to determine the likelihood of this fighter appearing. We know Nunes’ cardio was the determining factor in the first meeting. The first round followed the path of her typical fights, with Amanda scoring knockdowns and controlling Peña on the ground. But Nunes never made it out of the second round, which is unusual for a fighter with experience in the championship rounds.
It was Nunes’ first weight reduction to 135 pounds in two years, and the original fight date was canceled when she contracted COVID-19 the week before. The circumstances surrounding her conditioning should be much more optimal this time around. This increases my confidence that cardio will be less of a factor in Saturday night’s main event.
Other aspects of the original fight didn’t fit with each fighter’s career. According to Richard Mann, Peña averaged 16.01 significant punches per minute and landed 78 punches from a distance. The exit from the race was more than her previous eight fights combined. Peña’s aggression was a tactical advantage, but to repeat it after Nunes had several months to come up with a counterattack, I’m in no hurry to bet.
Unless Nunez’s gas tank betrays her for the second time in a row, the punching and grappling advantages we saw in the first fight should prevail throughout the rematch. A more strategic approach to taking down Peña will help her get her revenge and regain her title. I think this fight takes place standing up with Nunes patiently mixing kicks and hard punches from the outside. After several rounds of methodically kicking her, Peña will have no choice but to shoot takedowns recklessly, shortening his path to victory before breaking Nunes’ historically solid 82% takedown defense.
Control will be the determining factor and I’m betting Amanda Nunes will shine on Saturday night. I’m sure we’ll see a more focused version of The Lioness as it leaves at least one more final mark on its legacy. Your money is probably safe on the money line, but I see a better bet on Nunes to get the finish line. It will be difficult for Peña to last all five rounds without being able to dictate the terms of the fight. I’ll be aiming for winning method props as soon as the market opens on BetMGM.
Bet: Amanda Nunes KO/TKO, Disqualification or Submission (-135)
No one snatches victory from the jaws of defeat like the Black Beast. His right hand is the perfect equalizer, making him a typical underdog live. We put Lewis in the perfect low buy-in position after losing two of his last three fights, and I’m happy to roll the dice with a knockout against a fighter who is taking a big step forward in the competition.
The line’s move to the favorite screams passing defenseman as Lewis is in the twilight of his career. However, his one-punch knockout power was already spoiling the UFC’s plans for rising stars. All of Pavlovich’s last three wins were stopped in the first round. An overly aggressive approach can be his worst enemy against a fighter who only needs one mistake to knock him out. Lewis has admittedly fought in front of his hometown but I think he will be a weaker fighter this time around. The way Pavlovich handles the adrenaline of his first UFC main card is an interesting dynamic that I think favors Lewis. This fight should be closer to a coin toss, so I’ll take +120 for a small bet with a 24 fight UFC veteran.
Bet: Derrick Lewis (+120)
*Statistics provided ufcstats.com