Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women's Bantamweight standouts Jessica Eye and Julianna Pena will throw down this Saturday (Oct. 3, 2015) at UFC 192 inside Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Though Eye had an excellent start to her mixed martial arts (MMA) career, her current UFC run hasn't been going all that well. She's just 1-2 (1) in her last four fights and likely needs this victory to remain in the title picture.
On the other hand, Pena largely ran through her competition on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 18 and inside the Octagon. This is a major opportunity for her to rise up through the ranks, and it could lead to her challenging for the strap in the near future.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both women:
Record: 11-3 (1)
Key Wins: Leslie Smith (UFC 180), Zoila Frausto Gurgel (Bellator 83)
Key Losses: Miesha Tate (UFC on FOX 16), Alexis Davis (UFC 170)
Keys to Victory: Eye is one of the better female boxers in MMA, relying on quick hands and combinations to carve up her opponents. She's also a pretty solid defensive wrestler, forcing most of her opponents to trade with her.
Eye's upcoming opponent is very similar to her most recent foe, Miesha Tate. Both women are primarily grapplers with aggressive takedowns, but they're more than willing to bite down on their mouth pieces and throw down. While Tate is the more technical of the two, Pena is the larger and perhaps more athletic woman.
With all that in mind, Eye needs to correct her mistakes from last time around. Eye does a nice job working with a fast jab from the outside, but Tate was willing to walk through her punches to throw power. When Eye failed to get her head off the center line, she was clipped by hard shots often.
Head movement should've been the biggest takeaway from that fight for "Evil Eye," and her improvement -- or lack thereof -- will likely determine the outcome of this fight. If Eye can avoid getting clocked, she has the technical boxing and takedown defense to win this fight without issue.
Key Wins: Milana Dudieva (UFC Fight Night 63)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Pena is a highly aggressive and quite athletic fighter. She's still rather young in her MMA career and fairly unpolished on her feet, but Pena has nonetheless been extremely successful so far.
Admittedly, this is a huge step up in competition.
Pena can't afford to waste any time screwing around at range. She's the bigger woman -- Pena is a legit Bantamweight, while Eye fought much of her career at Flyweight -- and needs to nullify her opponent's speed and boxing advantage.
To do that, Pena needs to press forward with heavy punches from the get-go. If Eye isn't allowed to establish her jab and range, Pena will have a much easier time landing shots and getting in on her takedowns.
Speaking of, Pena should constantly be threatening with the shot. Tate had great success with her overhand because of the takedown threat, and Pena can attempt the same thing here. Plus, it will make her actual shot far more likely to succeed.
Bottom Line: This is an important bout for the division and the winner will likely fight for the title within a year or two.
Eye has put on some strong performances, but she hasn't been winning consistently. If she wants to keep her position as the no. 6 ranked bantamweight in the world -- a position I'm not entirely sure she ever really earned -- she absolutely must win this fight. Otherwise, she can expect a significant drop.
Alternatively, Pena is perhaps the division's best prospect. If Eye can repel her climb, she's definitely solidified her position at the top of the division.
This has the potential to be Pena's breakout performance. She's proven herself to be a very physically gifted athlete, but her victories have come over pretty average competition. If she can maintain that level of dominance while stepping up to a Top 10-ranked fighter like Eye, it says very good things about her potential.
If Pena comes up short, it still isn't the worst thing in the world. After all, she's less than 10 fights into her professional career and is just 26 years old. Pena still has time to develop, and a loss simply means she needs more experience.
At UFC 192, Jessica Eye and Julianna Pena will fight in the opener of the main card. Which woman will have her hand raised?