Many fans breathed a huge sigh of relief when Julianna Pena was forced to pull out of her scheduled trilogy with Amanda Nunes at UFC 289. It isn’t anything personal, at least not from my end. It’s that the rematch was one of the most one-sided beatdowns in a title fight in recent memory that there was no interest for most to see the rivalry culminate in a trilogy right away. My thoughts were to have Pena win a fight or two before getting another crack. There’s no guarantee that proves to be the case — Pena appears to have Uncle Dana’s ear — but at least we’re getting a fresh matchup for Nunes for now.
Of course, the fact Irene Aldana wasn’t immediately penciled in to face Nunes is a strong indication she hasn’t done enough to firmly convince the UFC brass she deserved the crack ahead of a healthy Pena. Then again, Pena wasn’t seen as the strongest challenge to dethrone Nunes the first time they fought. It’s fair to question how this UFC 289 fight will play out with that as a factor. Wonder no more. I’ve got the lowdown on how it’ll play out.
Amanda Nunes vs. Irene Aldana | Women’s Bantamweight
For several years now, there has been rabid talks about when Nunes might retire. The loss to Pena may have extended her career, wanting to do more than just get the belt back to wash the bad taste out of her mouth from that loss. However, given we were all questioning how much longer she was going to continue fighting should have been a big red flag that an upset was in the making. Nunes could very well be checked out once again at UFC 289 as Aldana isn’t guaranteed to be an opponent who will bring out the best in Nunes.
In fact, Nunes has struggled the most against opposition on the lower end of the name value scale. She blew through Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, and Holly Holm with minimal resistance, stopping them all in the first round. It was nip and tuck with Valentina Shevchenko the second time they fought, which was before Shevchenko went on her long reign at flyweight. She struggled with Germaine de Randamie more than anyone thought she would in their second matchup. She went the distance with Felicia Spencer. I’m not saying Nunes isn’t the women’s GOAT, but she does fight to her competition to a degree.
There’s further reason to believe Aldana can replicate Pena’s upset of Nunes at UFC 289. Aldana is far more skilled on the feet than Pena, which was where Pena turned the tide on Nunes. Aldana also has a better cardio history than Pena. Some might argue it’s better than Nunes’. Throw in that Aldana hasn’t been finished in eight years – when she was less than three years into her professional career – and all the ingredients are there to believe an upset is brewing. All the Mexican native might need at UFC 289 is an opening….
However, just because the ingredients are there, it doesn’t mean filet mignon is about to be made. For one, Nunes has to be exceptionally alert to all those concerns at this point. She might have dismissed those kind of concerns prior to her first fight with Pena, but it’s hard to believe she would do so now at UFC 289 when the stench of her upset loss is still relatively fresh. She might let her guard down again once she has another extended winning streak. Nunes might be having motivation issues getting up for the fight, but it isn’t going to be overconfidence this time around that does her in.
Nunes claimed the bantamweight title in the summer of 2016 – before Aldana’s UFC debut — meaning she’s been fighting the best for a long time. She can make small tweaks here and there that will result in some improvements, but most would agree she’s likely to be going downhill if she’s heading in any direction. Those same people would probably agree Aldana still has room to grow. But does she? Aldana has been fighting professionally for over a decade and is actually older than Nunes. I’m not convinced Aldana has the room for growth that many seem to believe.
Most damning is the dominance Nunes has shown on the mat when she chooses to take the fight in that direction. In the rematch, Nunes took Pena down whenever she wanted. Nunes also took Spencer and de Randamie at will. When Nunes is in the mind frame to hit the mat, there isn’t much that will stop her from accomplishing that. Aldana’s takedown defense has been impressive, but so was de Randamie’s. And while I don’t want to insult Aldana’s grappling, I’d be flat out lying if I tried to claim it rivals Nunes’ credentials.
Even if Nunes chooses to stand with Aldana at UFC 289, it’s not like Nunes is a poor striker. While it’s true she was overconfident against Pena, that’s been the only occasion in her UFC career where she was outclassed on the feet. Nunes has plenty of power, being the only one to put away Cris Cyborg. That’s no small accomplishment. Even as Aldana is at her best on the feet — perhaps even the more technical boxer — there’s no guarantee she is the better fighter in that department against Nunes.
As an MMA prognosticator, there’s few things that bring me greater professional joy than accurately picking a major upset. As a result, I’m typically looking for every reason why I should pick the underdog when there’s a clear favorite in a major fight. I’ve found reasons to pick Aldana at UFC 289. Good reasons to pick Aldana. I just don’t think it’s enough good reasons to really pick her. Given Nunes was upset by Pena, it’s obvious she would have been ripe for the taking had that loss never happened. It did and now Nunes has refocused herself… for now. I believe the timing of the title shot at UFC 289 is what is most working against Aldana.
UFC 289 Prediction: Nunes via decision
You know you can count on us for quick, consistent quality UFC 289 coverage. Bloody Elbow is an independent, reader supported publication. Please subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with our best work and learn how you can support the site.
Join the new Bloody Elbow
Our Substack is where we feature the work of writers like Zach Arnold, John Nash and Karim Zidan. We’re fighting for the sport, the fighters and the fans. Please help us by subscribing today.
About the author