Julianna Pena (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

UFC 277: Peña vs. Nunes 2 Preview and Predictions

On Saturday, Jul. 30, the UFC will be back at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Tex., for the sixth time in 13 years. Two titles will be on the line.

Heading into UFC 269, Amanda Nunes had won 12 straight fights and looked poised to hold onto her bantamweight and featherweight titles for quite some time. Julianna Peña spoiled those plans by notching a second-round submission win over “The Lioness.” The pair will meet for the second time this weekend at UFC 277 as Nunes looks to settle the score, and Peña tries to prove to all of her doubters that she is more than an accidental champion. The pair were opposing coaches on the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter, only adding to the tension in the lead up to this showdown.

The penultimate bout of the night is an interim title bout in the men’s flyweight division, as former champion Brandon Moreno takes on surging New Zealander Kai Kara-France. Moreno lost a razor-thin decision to Deiveson Figueiredo in the pair’s third meeting, making the two fighters 1-1-1. With Figueiredo not ready for the pair’s fourth matchup, the UFC created an interim title for the well-deserving Moreno and Kara-France to fight in order to see who will be the next man to challenge for the undisputed belt. Kara-France has earned this shot by rattling off three straight wins, including a first-round knockout over former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt.


Also on the main card is a heavyweight affair that should delight fans as Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis takes on Sergei Pavlovich. The two heavy-handed sluggers combine for 33 career knockout victories, and, in all likelihood, this fight won’t go to the judges’ scorecards.

The UFC 277 early prelims air live on ESPN+ and UFC Fight Pass starting at 6 p.m. ET. The preliminary card follows on ESPN and UFC Fight Pass starting at 8 p.m. ET. The action then moves to ESPN+ pay-per-view for the main card at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go toe-to-toe.

Julianna Peña picked up one of the sport’s most stunning upsets the first time she faced Amanda Nunes; does “The Venezuelan Vixen” make it 2-0 against the consensus greatest female fighter of all time?

Sumian: Defending a UFC championship over and over has to be one of the most difficult tasks in all of combat sports. One can only imagine that the motivation and drive consistently diminishes with every title defense, as the champion goes through the same routine throughout every title fight. For the first time since winning the UFC women’s featherweight championship in 2018, Amanda Nunes is the challenger in a title fight. She is without a doubt the greatest women’s champion in MMA history and has consistently proven so year after year. This time around, the Brazilian will take the mantle of challenger and be motivated more than ever to defeat rival Peña in what should be the most anticipated rematch in recent UFC history.

Up until her unfathomable win over Nunes in Dec. 2021, Peña had looked like an okay fighter. She had certainly proved herself as a top-10 bantamweight contender, but lacked the overall package to become a UFC champion. Peña dismissed all doubt when she rallied a prolific comeback in Round 2 to defeat Nunes by submission. The win left the MMA world in awe and disbelief, as Nunes celebrated her victory inside the Octagon.

Peña had compiled a 6-2 record inside the UFC, but lacked a signature win that would normally earn her a title shot. A process of elimination is what ultimately earned a date with the double champ and led to the biggest win of her career. Despite finishing Nunes, Peña’s victory is still questioned, and many are eager to see her defend her belt. A second win over the greatest female fighter of all time will undeniably cement Peña as a reputable champion with a place in the history books.

Nunes was undoubtedly beating Peña going into the second round. The former champion utilized her superior boxing skills to consistently tag the challenger and win Round 1 in convincing fashion. In Round 2, Nunes ate several 1-2 combinations, courtesy of Peña, that seemed to rock her equilibrium. She was unable to recover and was eventually victim to Peña’s slick submission skills. Despite losing her belt, it is not unreasonable to assume that Nunes remains the superior fighter between the two women. She is the complete package and is capable of knocking out the best strikers or submitting the best grapplers. If Nunes comes to this fight hungry and calculated, fans should expect a wildly entertaining bout that may eventually set up a third meeting between the pair.

Peña’s success in the first meeting was widely due to her ability to land several precise 1-2 combinations on the dazed Nunes. Overall, Nunes is the superior striker and was likely caught by a combination that she was uncharacteristically unable to overcome. Nunes will reclaim her belt, plain and simple. She is the better mixed martial artist and will have something to prove in the second meeting. After having her way with Peña in the first round, Nunes will rock the champion with a powerful overhand and follow her to the ground. She will finish the fight by ground-and-pound or submission and reclaim her belt.

Petela: As much as this pains me, I have to agree on this one. Surely, at the highest level of mixed martial arts, it is tough to call any championship win a fluke, but the first meeting between Amanda Nunes and Julianna Peña was as close to a fluke as it comes. The former two-division champion undoubtedly took Peña lightly and didn’t look entirely like herself from the opening bell. Even so, Nunes was battering Peña early until fatigue and the precision striking of Peña forced the tides to turn.

The most telling part of the first fight was the end, and how quickly Nunes tapped to the choke. She knew she didn’t have the energy left to fend off the attack and submitted with hardly any resistance. That won’t be the case this time around. Expect Nunes’ cardio to be much improved this time out.

The one area where I do disagree with my colleague is when the finish will come. This is going to drag on into the later rounds, if for no other reason than Nunes wants to reclaim a bit of pride by showing fans, and herself, that she can keep pace over several rounds. The rematch will end with a fourth-round TKO, and Amanda Nunes once again becoming a two-division champion.

Brandon Moreno lost his flyweight title to Deiveson Figueiredo the last time he fought; does he recapture a piece of the title by defeating Kai Kara-France for the interim belt?

Petela: He does, and he will get a fourth fight with Deiveson Figueiredo, once he wraps the interim belt around his waist. Brandon Moreno has evolved tremendously since his time on The Ultimate Fighter. He is the feel-good story of last pick who didn’t have much success on the show. But, after growing into himself, and a short stint in the LFA after being cut by the UFC, he worked his way up to the title. Some may argue that he deserved the nod or at least a draw in the trilogy bout with Figueiredo and he will prove that he is a level ahead of Kai Kara-France on Saturday.

Kara-France is a very good fighter, but he eeked out a win over Askar Askarov in his last bout. He needs this fight to stay on the feet to pick up a win over Moreno but the tricky grappling of “Assassin Baby” will prove to be the difference maker in this contest. It won’t be a lopsided beatdown, but Moreno will be the definitively better grappler of the two. As the fight goes on, he will get the fight to the canvas more and more easily. While Kara-France will have a few moments here and there, expect the judges to have Moreno ahead at the end of the fight by a wide margin.

Sumian: Brandon Moreno is the superior fighter, period. He will defeat Kara-France decisively to claim the interim title and get a much deserved fourth fight with the champion. Moreno is likely the best flyweight in the world at this point, and his skill and superiority will be on full display come Saturday night.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 277?

Sumian: Bold take, but I am going with Sergei Pavlovich. The towering Russian boasts one of the most impressive frames at heavyweight and is widely underrated. He will use his superior skill to avoid the power of Lewis and pick up an impressive second-round TKO. Pavlovich has the opportunity to showcase himself as a top heavyweight and will do so in impressive fashion on Saturday night.

Petela: Magomed Ankalaev. Nobody beats Anthony Smith outside of the best of the best at light heavyweight. A statement victory for Ankalaev will have him knocking on the door of a title shot. With his combination of skills at such a high level, he will be trouble for whoever the incumbent is when he finally challenges for the belt.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 277?

Petela: Anthony Smith. He is riding a three-fight winning streak and is poised to make another run at the title, but, unfortunately, Magomed Ankalaev is standing in his way. Ankalaev has steadily climbed the rankings and has beaten increasingly impressive competition along the way. He will come away looking like a potential title challenger with a win over Smith and will force Smith back to the drawing board once again. Despite being only 34 years old, there are a lot of miles on Smith’s body, as he already has 52 professional fights on his resume heading into this weekend. This may be the real beginning of the end for Smith as a legitimate contender.

Sumian: Derrick Lewis. The longtime heavyweight contender will suffer and will be defeated by Sergei Pavlovich to fall out of the top five at heavyweight. Lewis has had one of the most successful heavyweight careers in UFC history and will continue to provide fans with memorable fights until the day he retires.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Sumian: Ji Yeon Kim. The South Korean native was robbed in her last UFC appearance and undoubtedly defeated Priscila Cachoeira. However, she is still on a three-fight losing streak and a convincing defeat to Joselyn Edwards will certainly put her on the chopping block.

Petela: It very well could be the end of the road for Derrick Lewis with a loss. Certainly, he brings excitement each and every time he fights, but, as the division progresses, his skills have remained stagnant. While he could very likely compete in the lower portion of the rankings for a few more years, it wouldn’t shock me to see the UFC part ways with the fan-favorite slugger if he drops this fight against Sergei Pavlovich. A home in BKFC might be the perfect spot for “The Black Beast” to finish out his career.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Petela: Drew Dober vs. Rafael Alves. Drew Dober had lost two in a row against Islam Makhachev and Brad Riddell, but then he picked up a victory in his last contest against Terrance McKinney. If he can make it two straight wins, he can start to make a run towards the top of the division and earn fights against more elite opponents. Rafael Alves won’t be a pushover, as the Brazilian notched his first UFC win the last time he fought. Alves will push Dober throughout a fight that is filled with pockets of excitement on the feet and entertaining scrambles. This is a fight that fans should be paying attention to early on in the night.

Sumian:Something about the Rafa Garcia-Drakkar Klose fight screams “Fight of the Night” candidate. Both are scrappy, skilled and willing to take risks. This fight should deliver a memorable lightweight clash.

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Sumian: Magomed Anklalaev. Anthony Smith is as tough as they come, but he has been finished 13 times in his career. Ankalaev had a dud performance against Thiago Santos, but he will make a claim for the number-one contender spot at 205 pounds when he finishes Smith by TKO. Ankalaev versus Prochazka should deliver a very entertaining title fight at light heavyweight.

Petela: Alexandre Pantoja. His fight with Alex Perez would have been my sleeper pick had it not been on the main card. It still isn’t getting enough attention, overshadowed by the two title fights atop the bill. This one is going to be all-action, but the one area where Pantoja will show a clear advantage is in the submission grappling. He has nine wins by submission, and Perez has fallen four times via submission. A late guillotine, after an entertaining technical brawl, will earn Pantoja post-fight honors.

Pair this card with…

Petela: Leftovers. The bottom portion of this fight card has kind of been thrown together with last minute scratches and late-notice opponents. So in that vein, throw together whatever you have sitting in the fridge and enjoy the best of the rest on the prelims.

Sumian: Rocky 3. In the film, Rocky loses his title after compiling a lengthy title reign to a new and hungry contender in Clubber Lang. Similar to this scenario, Amanda Nunes enters this bout as the challenger with the intention of reclaiming her belt with newfound motivation. Peña will be the confident and cocky champion who plans to make it 2-0 against the longtime great in Nunes.

Fight Sumian’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
Women’s BW Championship: Julianna Peña vs. Amanda Nunes Nunes Nunes
Interim FlyW Championship: Brandon Moreno vs. Kai Kara-France Moreno Moreno
HW: Derrick Lewis vs. Sergei Pavlovich Pavlovich Lewis
FlyW: Alexandre Pantoja vs. Alex Perez Pantoja Perez
LHW: Magomed Ankalaev vs. Anthony Smith Ankalaev Ankalaev
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Alex Morono vs. Matthew Semelsberger Semelsberger Semelsberger
LW: Drew Dober vs. Rafael Alves Dober Dober
HW: Hamdy Abdelwahab vs. Don’Tale Mayes Mayes Mayes
LW: Drakkar Klose vs. Rafa Garcia Klose Klose
Early Prelims (UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
WW: Adam Fugitt vs. Michael Morales Morales Morales
Women’s BW: Ji Yeon Kim vs. Joselyne Edwards Kim Edwards
LHW: Nicolae Negumereanu vs. Ihor Potieria Negumereanu Negumereanu
WW: Orion Cosce vs. Mike “Blood Diamond” Mathetha Blood Diamond Blood Diamond