The aim of this article is not to disparage the new champion, Julianna Pena. All credit to “The Venezuelan Vixen,” who lived up to her pre-fight promises of standing her ground and taking the fight to Nunes. However, the focus here is not on Pena’s performance, which was ... reasonable? She didn’t bust out any new skills or do anything particularly shocking from a technical standpoint.
It was pretty standard Julianna Pena fighting.
Amanda Nunes’ performance was anything but usual “Lioness” work. It began as expected: Nunes dropped her foe twice in 90 seconds with a nasty calf kick and then stiff straight punch. She opted to grapple a bit with Pena, but hey, Nunes has never been afraid to enter her opponent’s strongest realm.
Everything fell apart in round two. Nunes had no sense of timing or distance, whiffing big on low kicks and punches at every turn. Pena stood her ground and threw, doing little in terms of feinting or setup. Nevertheless, Pena’s punches landed, whereas Nunes missed more often than not. Pena forced a takedown with short time remaining, and Nunes gave up her back and the choke with almost no defense at all.
There are realistically three options. First and foremost, Nunes is 13 years into her professional career. On average, professionals start falling off at about the 10-year mark, so perhaps age and wear-and-tear are catching up to the queen.
On a similar note, maybe Nunes didn’t put the work in. Maybe she saw Pena as an easy victory and didn’t put quite as much time in the gym; maybe she fell victim to the famous Marvin Hagler quote. It happens to long-time fighters, even (especially?) great ones.
There’s a problem with both of those explanations: Nunes looked fit as hell. In her first return to Bantamweight in years, Nunes was very clearly in great shape. Washed fighters do not achieve peak physical fitness, nor do athletes unwilling to put the hours in.
Much more likely — and the reason given by Nunes herself — was a mental issue. Nunes was asleep at the wheel last night and couldn’t turn it on. Her timing was off, she probably felt tired, and when the submission offered her a chance to try again on another night, she took it.
All fighters face a similar burden in having to compete on a scheduled date. There is no chance to rebook or delay if one wakes up and feels a bit off. When two belts rest heavy on one’s shoulders, that burden grows more formidable.
Imagine, for a moment, that it’s a regular Wednesday. Several of your good friends reach out and make plans that genuinely interest you for Saturday night. The plans are set, everyone is excited ... until Saturday morning, when you’re not really feeling it and just want to hang out on the couch. Now imagine your Saturday night plan involved fist-fighting someone, an opponent willing to die for victory, one that refuses to just go away.
There’s your recipe for one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. It’s not a sexy narrative, but an off-night ended an all-time great title reign.
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