Fights fall apart all the time, and that has been especially true over these last few years. In most instances, it’s par for the course.
A preliminary card fight needs to get rescheduled or a late replacement needs to be brought in? No big deal. A main card pairing has to be pushed back or scuttled because one party got injured or sick? These things happen.
But it’s different when a championship fight gets delayed. Expectations lead folks to make outlandish statements, levy accusations, talk all kinds of nonsense, and when the competitor that is asking for the continuance has already been through the wringer as a result of a title fight being postponed, knowing the right thing to do and actually making that call are two very different things.
Now imagine feeling like you needed to ask for two postponements back-to-back?
Amanda Nunes | Journey to UFC Champion
Amanda Nunes | Journey to UFC Champion
“I had a bad knee injury leading up to that fight,” Amanda Nunes said, reflecting on the lead up to her bout with Julianna Pena at UFC 269. “I tried to push, push, push, and I was trying to do it. In my head, I thought I was going to be able to beat Julianna with how my training was going, and obviously, I should have prepared better.
“I should have let the fight fall through again,” said Nunes. “If the UFC wanted to make an interim belt, I should have let them do it, get 100 percent, and then jump into camp to fight Julianna.
“But that didn’t happen and it cost me my belt.”
The duo was originally scheduled to on August 7, 2021, at UFC 265 in Houston, but the bantamweight champion was forced to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19. The bout was rescheduled for December, and Pena went on the offensive, questioning whether Nunes was genuinely ill or simply avoiding her.
Four years earlier, Nunes was forced to withdraw from her highly anticipated championship clash with Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 213 on the morning of the fight after being hospitalized with chronic sinusitis.
The reaction was vicious.
The bantamweight champion was bombarded with criticism from all angles, many challenging the veracity of her illness and questioning her character, her heart. Now, after already postponing the fight with Pena once, she was dealing with the lingering impact of her bout with COVID and a knee injury she’d picked up in training camp.
Nunes knew the right thing to do was to postpone the fight for a second time, but the hard-headed Brazilian couldn’t bring herself to make that call.
“I jumped into training for the fight and I was still feeling pretty bad from COVID,
explained Nunes, who started well, but faded quickly in the second before tapping out late in the frame. “My lungs were weak, but I wanted to do it.
“I pushed myself a lot in that camp, knowing I wasn’t 100 percent, and I ended up getting hurt; I hurt my knee pretty bad. I wasn’t able to train consistently. Everything was trying to not let that fight fall through again. I’m not supposed to do that, but my hard head was much stronger than me, and it ended up costing me my belt.”
Some will hear this and say it’s simply a beaten fighter offering up excuses after the fact. Others will argue no one goes into a fight 100 percent, and that if Nunes was truly as banged up as she says, she should have withdrawn again.
Any of them could be right.
What we do know is that Nunes certainly didn’t look like the unstoppable juggernaut that has ruled the bantamweight and featherweight divisions simultaneously, piling up nine consecutive championship fight victories across two weight classes prior to stepping in against Pena at the end of last year.
She was hurried and wild; throwing rushed shots and looking to land bombs when her title reigns had been defined by an incredible ability to pick the right shot at the right time and land with force.
“I didn’t have a game plan for that fight, honestly,” admitted Nunes, who coached opposite Pena on Season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter in the build to this weekend’s main event rematch. “I was just thinking, ‘I’m going to step in and fight.’ I didn’t have any strategy.
“What went wrong in that fight was my timing was off and I got caught with a bunch of punches that I could have avoided if my timing was right,” she said when asked about that fateful December night when she was forced from the bantamweight throne. “I feel like if I had a plan and trained well, I would have been able to beat Julianna that night. I almost did, but it literally slipped from my hand that fight.”
In the immediate aftermath of the bout, Nunes contemplated retirement, and it’s easy to understand why.
She and her wife, UFC flyweight Nina Nunes, had welcomed their first child, a baby girl named Raegan, 16 months earlier, and the Brazilian superstar had already etched her name in the UFC record books many times over, crafting an incredible legacy inside the Octagon.
Nunes had accomplished everything she set out to accomplish — and then some — and had nothing left to prove inside the cage.
Bonus Résumé | Amanda Nunes
Bonus Résumé | Amanda Nunes
She decided in the hotel room after the fight to wait before making her decision, looking into what it would take to outfit her own gym, as things with American Top Team had started to sour. The process was easier than she thought it would be, and the idea of building something of her own prompted Nunes to shift her focus from walking away to running it back with Pena.
“I started looking at things on the Internet — cage, mats, equipment — and things were so easy to put together, I said, ‘I’m gonna do it again. I’m gonna get my belt back. My belt is not going to stay in Julianna’s hands,’” said Nunes. “My loss has made me so motivated and I feel like I did in the beginning again.
“I’m excited to learn new things, put more work in, and do things the right way.”
That very much includes when she steps into the Octagon on Saturday night to face Pena for the second time.
“She’s the kind of fighter that comes forward no matter what happens,” Nunes said of her chief rival. “She has good wrestling, has gotten a lot better with her striking, and I feel for the next fight, she’s going to push the pace more because she’s going to be more fearless.
“I feel like she’s going to be more confident now because she has the belt, but I know everything she’s feeling right now because I’m still a champion; I still have one belt.
“I feel like it’s going to be a great fight, and I can’t wait,” she added. “I’m going to be ready for everything that she’s going to bring.”
And naturally, she’s going to bring her back belt home, where it belongs.
“I feel like I still have a lot of things to do, and I need to get my belt back; I can’t let Julianna stay with that belt,” said Nunes. “I see myself beating Julianna everywhere — I can knock her out, I can finish her on the floor, so I just have to get those moments at the right time.
“My prediction is that this is going to be a finish; no way this fight is going the full way,” she added. “I have 25 minutes to finish her. I’m going to take my time and do whatever I can do to get my belt back, and I will finish her — on the feet or on the floor; no matter where this fight goes, I’m going to finish her.”
UFC 277: Peña vs Nunes, took place on Saturday, July 30, 2022 live from the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards, and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!