Six years ago, Amanda Nunes took less than one round to batter Miesha Tate into submission at UFC 200 and become champion of the women's bantamweight division. She quickly asserted herself as the most-feared woman in MMA and became the promotion's third fighter in history to hold two titles simultaneously. After knocking out Cris Cyborg for the featherweight belt, her biggest challenge was finding contenders that could push her competitively and advance her legacy. It may have taken over half of a decade, but last December, at UFC 269, she finally found that opponent. And Julianna Peña snapped the fourth-longest single title reign in UFC history.
As a massive +650 underdog, Peña shocked the entire MMA community by submitting Nunes in the second round. The implied moneyline odds for Peña gave her a win probability of slightly above 13%, but you would never have known by watching how the fight played out. This Saturday night at UFC 277, she remains a smaller but significant underdog (+210) as she defends her title in the rematch against Nunes. The odds indicate that Peña's improbable win was likely an outlier, but is it worth betting on Nunes as a big favorite? Here is how I played the main event, plus my position on the main card's heavyweight clash.
The best version of Amanda Nunes wins this fight nine out of 10 times, but the challenge lies in determining the likelihood of that fighter showing up. We know that Nunes' cardio was a determining factor in the first meeting. The first round went the way of her typical fights, with Amanda scoring knockdowns and controlling Peña on the ground. But Nunes never could make it out of the second round, which is uncharacteristic of a fighter with experience competing in the championship rounds.
It was Nunes' first cut to 135 pounds in two years, and the initial fight date was called off when she contracted COVID-19 a week prior. The circumstances surrounding her conditioning should be much more optimal this time around. That increases my confidence that cardio will be less of a factor in Saturday night's main event.
Other aspects of the original fight were inconsistent with each fighter's career performances. Per Richard Mann, Peña averaged 16.01 significant strikes per minute and landed 78 at distance. The output from range was more than her previous eight fights combined. Peña's aggression was a tactical advantage, but duplicating it after Nunes has months to devise a counter is not something I am rushing to bet.
Unless Nunes' gas tank betrays her for a second consecutive time, the striking and grappling advantages we witnessed in the first fight should prevail throughout the rematch. A more strategic approach to dismantling Peña will go a long way in exacting her revenge and reclaiming the title. I think this fight takes place standing, with Nunes patiently mixing in leg kicks and unleashing big power shots from the outside. After a few rounds of methodically breaking her down on the feet, Peña will have no choice but to recklessly shoot for takedowns, reducing her path to victory to cracking Nunes' historically stout 82% takedown defense.
Control will be the determining factor, and I am betting Amanda Nunes will deliver in a big way Saturday night. I am confident we will see a more focused version of "The Lioness" as she makes at least one more final stamp on her legacy. Your cash is probably safe on the moneyline, but I see better value in betting Nunes to get the finish. It will be tough for Peña to last all five rounds without being able to dictate the terms of the fight. I will target the method-of-victory props once the market opens at BetMGM.
The Bet: Amanda Nunes by KO/TKO, DQ or Submission (-135)
Nobody snatches victory from the jaws of defeat quite like "Black Beast." His right hand is the ultimate equalizer, making him the quintessential live underdog. We are getting Lewis in a perfect buy-low spot after dropping two of his last three fights, and I am happy to roll the dice with the knockout artist against a fighter making a big step up in competition.
The line movement towards the favorite screams passing of the guard, with Lewis on the back-end of his career. However, his one-punch knockout power has a history of spoiling the UFC's plans for its rising stars. Pavlovich's last three wins have all come by way of first-round stoppage. An overly aggressive approach may be his worst enemy against a fighter who only needs one mistake to shut an opponent's lights out. Lewis has admittedly struggled in front of his hometown, but I think he will be the looser fighter this time. How Pavlovich handles the adrenaline of his first UFC main card is an interesting dynamic that favors Lewis in my opinion. This fight should be closer to a coin flip, so I will take the value at +120 for a small stake with the 24-fight UFC veteran.
The Bet: Derrick Lewis (+120)
*Stats provided by ufcstats.com