Amanda Nunes at a crossroads.
In the main event of Saturday’s UFC 277, The Lioness has the opportunity to all but erase the bitter taste of losing to Julianne Peña, a loss that cost her the UFC bantamweight title, a seven-year unbeaten streak, and arguably her case to be unreservedly recognized as the greatest female fighter of all time.
If Nunes comes out and runs through Peña, as expected of her the first time around, and as she has done with many contenders in the past, the December upset will be remembered as a notable blip in a flawless career. If Peña wins again, suddenly one of MMA’s greatest upsets will be more like passing the baton to an opponent who has Nunes’ number on any given day of the week. Suffice it to say, there’s a lot more at stake in this rematch than a shiny piece of metal.
The co-main event features two of the world’s best flyweights battling it out for the interim title, with undisputed champion Deiveson Figueiredo temporarily out of the picture. On the one hand, former champion Brandon Moreno is looking to win gold again and set up a fourth fight with his Brazilian opponent; on the other hand, Kai Cara-France is looking to get revenge on Moreno for his 2019 loss and bring another title home to New Zealand gym City Kickboxing.
In another major card action, veteran heavyweight Derrick Lewis stands in the way of Sergei Pavlovich in a top 10 contender, Alexander Pantokha and Alex Perez face off in a flyweight bout that could create another contender for the Figueiredo title, and Magomed Ankalaev potentially could provide a championship opportunity with an outstanding performance against enduring light heavyweight Anthony Smith.
Which: UFC 277
Where: American Airlines Center in Dallas
When: Saturday, July 30 ESPN+ at 6:00 pm ET, followed by a four-fight tryout on ABC, ESPN and ESPN+ at 8:00 pm ET. The five-battle main map starts at 10:00 PM ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
(Numbers in brackets indicate that MMA fighting GlaboutBall Ratings)
Julianne Peña (1) vs. Amanda Nunes (2)
Is this a new beginning for Amanda Nunes or the beginning of the end?
Nunes has been open about being happy with everything she’s accomplished in her illustrious career, going as far as saying in a June 2020 interview that she’s considering retirement. She has won UFC titles in two divisions. She wants to coach someday. She is a mother. She’s happy. And if there’s one thing we know about fighting, it’s that contentment can lead to disaster when it’s time to get back into that cage.
None of these factors are the reason why Julianna Peña beat Nunes in their first meeting. Peña has a style built specifically to fight Nunes: great wrestling, a huge amount of well-deserved confidence and a bottomless gas tank. All of these strengths were on display when she upset Nunes, and there’s no reason to believe she can’t do it again, this time knowing that her strategy worked not only in theory but in reality.
In terms of skill, we know Nunes is a better fighter than Peña. She has the advantage in knockout power and is a better fighter, so I’m willing to accept the argument that she didn’t perform to her best at UFC 269. Ideally, Nunes saw this loss as a learning experience and we see new fire in her. .
I’ve just seen too many Nunes wins to count, and while I think she’ll be more methodical than dominant on Saturday with a focus on keeping her energy, this version of Nunes is good enough to beat Peña. The Venezuelan Vixen will do everything she has to beat Nunes again and while I expect her to give Nunes hell within 25 minutes, I also expect Nunes to win in a competitive decision.
To choose: Nunez
Brandon Moreno (2) vs. Kai Kara-France (T4)
Speaking of #AndAgain, I love Brandon Moreno’s chances of being a champion again.
Kai Cara-France has never looked better, but Moreno has also progressed by leaps and bounds since their first meeting, and then he already had the advantage. Moreno’s aggression is difficult to handle, not to mention the variety of his attacks. He has more ways to win this one.
On the other hand, Cara France has a heavy right hand and great timing on the feet. He also showed solid takedown defense against Askar Askarov, one of the top flyweight wrestlers, so if Moreno decides to throw in some wrestling, Cara France will be ready for it. The two are very close to each other and although Moreno won by clear decision for the first time, another 10 minutes of work could change the nature of this match.
The safe choice is to go with a fighter who has already danced this championship dance and that is Moreno. Actually three times. It is this advantage in a title fight that gives me confidence that he will beat Cara France again, although I am also sure that this will not be the last time we see Cara France fight for the UFC belt.
Moreno by decision.
To choose: Moreno
Derrick Lewis (6) vs. Sergei Pavlovich
At the risk of being the subject of his next roast, I’ll just say this: I don’t think Derrick Lewis can beat high level hitters anymore.
Here are Lewis’s recent victories: Chris Daukaus (Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist), Curtis Blaydes (greatly improved hands but a fighter at heart), Aleksey Oleinik (submission specialist with an aversion to standing) and Ilir Latifi (hard boxer, but already a lot of hasn’t threatened anyone with a knockout in years). We know that Lewis can knock opponents out of control. We don’t know if he can still win the battle on his feet.
We also don’t know how good Sergei Pavlovich’s punch actually is, but there is plenty of evidence that the clumsy Russian can do it with his hands. Twelve knockouts, all in the first round, is a recipe for success against the often slow starter Lewis. If Pavlovich finds time earlier, Lewis could be in serious danger of suffering a third knockout loss in his last four fights.
Lewis should work on closing the distance and intimidating Pavlovich at the fence looking for thrips to put him on his back. One thing we know for sure: Lewis’s ground and pound is deadlier than ever. Pavlovich is a plus with wrestling experience, much like Lewis himself, he can probably just get out of the bottom position, but ground wrestling is a good way for Lewis to damage his more distant opponent.
Pavlovich is not in the top 15 of the MMA Fighting Global Rankings and he is poised for a big jump up at the expense of Lewis. He takes this fight by knockout.
To choose: Pavlovich
Alexander Pantoia (7) vs. Alex Perez (8)
The flyweight division is incredibly deep right now.
Examples include Alexandre Pantoja and Alex Pérez in an interim title fight and while they are not as well known as Moreno and Cara France, the quality of the competition is just as great. Perez has already fought for the UFC title, albeit as a substitute, and Pantoja has won two victories over Moreno (one in a season). Ultimate Fighter).
I have Pantoja who is slipping into this next contender seat after defeating Perez on Saturday. Perez has quick hands and solid grappling, the latter of which could cause problems for Pantoja, but Pantoja has a hard hit when he starts throwing and his jiu-jitsu is elite. There aren’t many places where Perez can take this fight where Pantoja isn’t a threat.
Another factor to consider here is that Perez is susceptible to submissions while Pantoja never finished. If you like it when it ends in the distance, then Pantoja is the best choice all the way. I see the two having a lively exchange on the stand and on the ground in the 1st round before Pantoja pulls away and finds a submission in the 2nd round.
To choose: Pantokha
Magomed Ankalaev (7) vs. Anthony Smith (8)
I understand that “Anthony Smith is going to force Magomed Ankalaev to take the dog out” of this meeting and why it should be in Smith’s favor, but I think Ankalaev is ready to take on the challenge.
Keep in mind, Ankalaev is a reliable counter-striker who uses nimble moves to avoid firefights. Even if Smith’s plan is to make it sloppy, Ankalaev has a knack for keeping the action from turning into a slugfest. Note his precision and counter work to keep Smith’s early attempts to pick up the pace.
As the fight goes on, Smith’s great playing experience comes into play. You know what he means when he says there is nothing about Ankalaev that scares him and he is not afraid to take risks to stop Ankalaev’s eight-fight winning streak. Smith is Ankalaev’s most dangerous opponent: highly skilled, highly motivated, who wins more than he loses.
Ankalaev still needs to make a name for himself to become a clear contender for the top spot, and while I pick him to overcome the odds and defeat Smith by decision, I doubt he is dominating in a way that the matchmakers will push him forward. lines.
To choose: Ankalaev
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