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Julianna Pena and Amanda Nunes face off during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter at UFC APEX on March 10, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
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Coach's Conversation | Julianna Peña vs Amanda Nunes 2

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 the men that spend their days getting these elite athletes prepared to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.

For UFC 277, Kyte called upon Marc Montoya, the head coach at Factory X Muay Thai, and striking coach Sean Madden, who is currently freelancing after spending several years with the Elevation Fight Team.

Order UFC 277: Peña vs Nunes 2

In this installment, the duo dissected the bantamweight championship main event between Julianna Peña and Amanda Nunes.

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?

Montoya: If you take Peña, I think her best feature is her grit. She has always exhibited in any fights that she’s ever had, whether in the UFC or prior to that, that she’s got a lot of grit. She’s unwilling to compromise that, and that’s a big reason why she’s been successful.

Grit is God-given, but it’s up to you to go and tap into it, and that’s something that she’s done. That’s the reason why when we saw her in that title fight she was able to win — she was real gritty, and her want to exhibit that, to prove to herself that she could win at the highest level is something that she can accomplish and she did it.

Watch Peña Defeat Nunes For The Belt At UFC 269

For Nunes, one of the attributes she has always shown is that she is head and tails above the competition when it came to her skills. She obviously shows a lot of power and has power, but she’s also technically sound.

Madden: For Peña, it’s her willpower and her belief. I think her willingness and her belief in herself — those things can go a really long way in this sport, and it showed in her last fight.

I think for Amanda, it’s her physicality. The way that she can use her body and her athleticism in these fights to create damage and really overwhelm her opponents — even in the first round of (the first fight with Peña) it was on display.

Path to Victory for Each Fighter

Amanda Nunes of Brazil looks on against Julianna Pena in their UFC bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 269 on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Amanda Nunes of Brazil looks on against Julianna Pena in their UFC bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 269 on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

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: I think for Peña, she’s going to have to grapple again. I think this fight is going to be quite a bit different than the first one, with a lot of changes coming from Nunes’ side of things. But for Peña, I don’t think a lot has to change: I think she did a really great job of what she was trying to implement — which is to make it a dogfight — and she just has to make this thing ugly and use her grappling like she did last time.

As for Nunes, she’s really going to have to stay disciplined. I really think skill-for-skill, she’s better almost everywhere on paper, and the things that she lacked in the last fight were mental and related to her lack of discipline in that fight.

UFC 277 Countdown: Full Episode | Peña vs Nunes 2Moreno vs Kara-France 2

If she stays disciplined like the former champ that she is, I think she will find success. She had a great first round last time, but then got caught brawling and caught up in whatever it was on the mental side of things in that fight, so if she can stay disciplined, and find a home for that right hand, that should take care of most of it in the fight for her.

Montoya: I would say that for Nunes it’s not even technical; it’s mental. Where are we at? Is she training like a savage and a hungry fighter or is she content with where she sits in life, and if she wins, she wins, and if she doesn’t, she doesn’t?

If you want to break it down and get real technical, if you allow Nunes to stay out at range and torque her punches, put you on the back foot, circle the perimeter, cut the cage off, and make that fight smaller than the entire Octagon — that’s the technical fight Nunes needs to have.

OTHER FREE FIGHTS: Moreno vs Kara-France 1 | Kara-France vs Garbrandt | Figueiredo vs Moreno 2 | Nunes vs Holm

With Peña, she showed in her last fight that she can get hit, withstand some of that, still keep the pressure going, and eventually find an opportunity to win.

I don’t really think the game plans switch a whole lot — I think it’s ultimately down to who can implement it again, and then mentally, where are both fighters? Are they both content or are they both just wanting to create a legacy and showcase that they’re going to hold this belt for a long time and no one is going to stop me?

X Factor

Amanda Nunes of Brazil fights Julianna Pena in their UFC bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 269 on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Amanda Nunes of Brazil fights Julianna Pena in their UFC bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 269 on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)


Kyte: If there were 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?

Montoya: I think the real question is can Nunes tap back into what gave Peña the title — her fire, her grit, her hungriness to just go win that?

There were a lot of things said after she lost the title about her focus, whether she was still hungry to hold and win titles, and that happens sometimes. Getting there isn’t the hard part — staying there is the hardest part, and she’s shown that she can do that over and over again, which is impressive. But sometimes when you take the foot off the gas, and you have life distractions and things, and somebody taps into what made you successful further than you did, (you get what happened with Nunes) and that’s a loss and the loss of her title.

She’s shown she has the technical ability. She’s shown she has the power. She’s shown in the past that she has that fire about her, but can she tap back into that and make it a bigger fire than what Peña has? That’s the big question.

How To Watch UFC 277: Peña vs Nunes 2

Madden: The biggest thing, really, is are you willing to be champ again? That’s a heavy crown to wear. There is a big burden and I know Rose (Namajunas) has talked about this quite a bit before, but you lose that belt and you’re like, ‘Whoa!’ and have this sigh of relief, a big weight off your shoulders.

She may be at the point of her career now, with Nina and the baby, where it’s like, ‘I don’t want to feel that pressure anymore.’ I think the big X factor in this fight is her mindset and willingness in the fight.

If she’s dialed in and wants to be champ again, it’s hard to pick against her.

One Coaching Curiosity

Amanda Nunes of Brazil and Julianna Pena meet during their UFC bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 269 on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Amanda Nunes of Brazil and Julianna Pena meet during their UFC bantamweight championship bout during the UFC 269 on December 11, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)


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: Nunes was so out of character, especially in that second round, so if we see her a little more composed and disciplined early in the second fight, to me, that’s the sign of the champion being back.

As a striking coach, what I would be looking for specifically is her staying behind the jab, not forcing the right hand, which she did a ton of times in that second round. I’ll be interested to see if she can pick her shots a little more this time around, be a little more composed and calculated with her strikes, waiting for openings. That will tell me if the emotion is coming out of it.

Montoya: The biggest thing I’m looking at with Peña is to eliminate any big misses, because a big miss is going to create an off-balance opportunity, and the off-balance opportunity is where Nunes has done exceptionally well in the past. You’re off-balance, she hits you, and next thing you know, you’re looking at the ceiling.

So can she create a mid-range fight, stay around from the long torque, and not put herself out of balance while imposing her will.

 

Marc Montoya is the head coach of Factory X Muay Thai in Englewood, Colorado, and leads a team that includes flyweight standout Brandon Royval and surging veteran Dustin Jacoby. He’ll be in the corner of Anthony Smith on Saturday night as “Lionheart” takes on Magomed Ankalaev.

Sean Madden teaches Muay Thai at Easton Training Center in Denver, Colorado and was a long-time coach with the Elevation Fight Team. Currently freelancing, he most recently worked with Lauren Murphy ahead of her dominant victory over Miesha Tate at UFC Long Island.

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!