Ahead of every championship fight, UFC staff writer E. Spencer Kyte will sit down with some of the sharpest coaching minds in the sport to break down the action and provide UFC fans with insights into each championship pairing from those that spend their days getting these elite athletes prepared to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.
For UFC 289, Kyte called upon independent striking coach Sean Madden and Eliot Marshall, co-owner and head instructor at Easton Training Center in Denver, Colorado, to provide their thoughts on four key points heading into the bantamweight championship main event between defending champ Amanda Nunes and dangerous challenger Irene Aldana.
Best Trait of Each Fighter
Kyte: At a time in the sport where everyone is pretty solid everywhere, generally speaking, what is the one thing that each of these competitors do better than anyone else?
Marshall: The best trait of Amanda? She’s very well-rounded, and when it comes down to it, it’s just her experience, in my opinion, and her power — she just has such overwhelming power to go along with that experience. She knows how to implement her will in fights.
For Irene, it’s her striking — she’s got crisp striking, and it’s serious, but we’ll have to see.
Main Event Preview | UFC 289: Nunes vs Aldana
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Main Event Preview | UFC 289: Nunes vs Aldana
Madden: For Nunes, it’s the power, but it’s the power on both sides. It’s not like she’s a right-handed fighter with power only in her right hand — she’s got power on both sides, and the fact that she can now switch her stance, show power from southpaw, as well, makes it even more difficult to prepare for her.
For Aldana, it’s the boxing — she has a great eye for openings, she builds really well off the jab. It’s her precision and her accuracy with her punches that makes her a threat.
Path to Victory for Each Fighter
Kyte: Everyone would love a 10-second knockout or a quick submission, but that’s not often how these things go, especially not at the championship level. Instead, it’s usually the competitor that has crafted the better game plan and did the better job of executing things inside the Octagon that comes away with their hand raised and the gold around their waist.
So, how does either woman get it done on Saturday night?
Madden: Honestly, for Nunes, I think it can be wherever she wants if she shows up, but specifically, I would like to see her fight southpaw like she did in the Pena rematch. Aldana has struggled with it a little bit in the past, and I think, for her, that lines up her right hook over the top of the jab, and I think she can time that. Her fighting from the southpaw stance is going to set up her left high kick really well, too.
Kyte: And for Aldana?
Madden: It’s gotta be on the feet — she needs to work behind her jab, move, and let Nunes know she’s in there with someone that isn’t going to cave under the pressure.
Kyte: It’s the Pena blueprint, right? Pena’s striking isn’t precise, isn’t clean, isn’t technical, but she got in Nunes’ face, stuck the jab out there, and it rattled Nunes, and Aldana has to see that and think, “I can do that! I’m a better striker than her!”
Marshall: Amanda can do whatever she wants, as long as she doesn’t f*** up! It’s her fight to lose in the sense that when she’s been beaten, she got beaten by Cat Zingano and she got beaten by (Julianna) Pena, and that was just all her wilting. Amanda didn’t put them away right away and she thought she was going to, and then when she didn’t, she fell apart.
I would say it’s more Amanda’s weakness that is going to play the factor in this fight. In the second fight with Julianna, she was ready to not put her away, which I think is just the downfall of a long-reigning champ. I hate to say it, but it gets boring sometimes.
Kyte: It’s not hard to be the challenger — it’s the fight of your life — but it’s hard to constantly get up for each consecutive challenger.
Marshall: If Irene catches her with a punch early, it could happen, because Irene can crack; she’s got good striking. That’s the whole fight. She needs to not get cracked because if you get cracked by Amanda, it’s a problem, and she (Aldana) needs to hit her hard — f***ing hard, early, so it’s like, “Yo — you’re in a fight!”
Kyte: If there was one thing that was going to significantly impact how this fight plays out — that swings it in one direction or the other — what would it be?
Marshall: The X factor is whether Amanda — once you start hinting at retirement and being done…
Kyte: Another kid on the way, she’s been champion for seven years, which is crazy.
Marshall: And she lost once, and she avenged that loss; it’s nuts. So that’s the X factor — there are a lot of Xs and Os, but they don’t really matter because Amanda is just better. Irene has knockout power, but Amanda is just better, and that’s just what it is.
Madden: New blood for Nunes — she’s been preparing for Pena since 2021, so let’s see if having a new opponent in front of her, even on short notice, brings out the best in her and gets her excited for the challenge.
You’ve heard guys like Dustin Poirier that have been in this game for a while, fought everybody, talk about needing something that gets him out of bed in the morning, that excites him, that scares him, and we’ll see if Nunes having a new challenger in front of her in Aldana gets her going for this one.
One Coaching Curiosity
Kyte: Coaches see the sport differently and look at the sport differently than anyone else, picking up on different things and paying attention to movements, habits, or intangible pieces that others might not notice, but that could have a significant impact on the action inside the Octagon.
Every matchup offers its own unique collection of elements that might pique a coach’s interest and get them paying a little closer attention to once the fight gets underway.
So what is that one thing in this matchup?
Madden: For Nunes, it’s kind of what I said before — I’m going to be interested to see what stance she comes out in. I would expect her, based on what I’ve seen with Aldana, to come out in that southpaw stance that she fought the last fight in, so that’s something I’ll be paying attention to.
For Aldana, it’s going to be what her and her team specifically prepared for with Nunes. Just because this is a short-notice fight doesn’t mean that they haven’t been studying Nunes before, getting ready for this kind of opportunity — they’ve been watching her for a long time, just like with Valentina (Shevchenko) and (Alexa) Grasso and the spinning back kick. They were seeing that from Valentina for a long time and knew exactly how they wanted to attack it when she threw it, and that was where the fight turned.
Amanda has been preparing for Julianna for the last couple years, and really just whoever has been in front of her; I doubt she’s given Aldana too much thought because she hasn’t had the time to do that. So I’m going to be paying attention to what Aldana and her team have specifically prepared for with Amanda in this fight.