It is getting damn hard to convince people that anyone has a chance against Amanda Nunes

So there I was, catching up on my UFC Embeddeds, hoping to get my fill of haircut footage and people arriving at airport baggage claim, when I stumbled across the sections dedicated to UFC bantamweight title challenger Julianna Pena. This ought to be interesting, I thought. With what will they hope to convince me that Pena has a good or even decent chance of dethroning longtime champ Amanda Nunes?

And the answer Embedded came up with was … well she’s been in the gym, at least. Seriously, if you’re looking for visual pre-fight evidence that Pena is bringing something Nunes has never seen before, it ain’t here. Granted, it would be a dick move for Embedded to give away a fighter’s top secret game plan in the days before the fight. (Pssst, call the Young Serge instant knockout play!) And, hey, Nunes has to lose some time, right? Even the greatest female fighter in MMA history can’t be perfect forever.

But when you’re listening to Pena’s boxing coach talk about how they’re preparing for Nunes’ big right hand while you’re simultaneously watching Pena eat right hands from a sparring partner who is, we’re just going to guess, somewhere below Nunes’ skill level? Yeah, that feeling that comes flooding in is not overwhelming optimism.

Which is not us trying to dunk on Pena. She’s a good fighter. She’s tough, resilient, and has some legit skills. She hasn’t won two or more fights in a row in the UFC in over five years, but still, was there any other better choice who Nunes hasn’t already thumped? At least Pena was adamant about asking for the fight.

And that’s pretty much what a lot of the UFC’s promotional material has chosen to focus on. Pena called Nunes out. So here, watch these highlights of Pena landing some good strikes on Germaine de Randamie and try to forget that she actually lost that fight via third-round submission.

Really, you’ve got to feel for the people whose job it is to sell this one. Just according to what we’ve seen from each of them, there is no sane reason to think Pena beats Nunes. What’s she going to do, submit the champ? Pena has exactly one submission victory in the UFC. Knock her out? Pena has two UFC wins that way, and the last one came against Milana Dudieva in 2015. Nunes has more UFC title fight wins than Pena has UFC fights. She has almost as many title fight wins as Pena has professional victories.

So if you’re trying to pitch Pena as a live dog here, you really have to veer into the realm of fantasy and imagination. The official recorded evidence offers zero help. In fact, the best reason to think Pena has a chance is that the fight seems so one-sided on paper. Knowing how the MMA gods love to fuck with us, and how hard it is to stay at the top for so very, very long, you might be tempted to think Pena will shock the world just because it seems so implausible. So then the best possible hype job is not ‘Pena might win because of the skills she has’ but rather ‘Pena might win because MMA does occasionally fuck with us in this specific way.’

Maybe it’s no wonder that so much of the pre-fight stuff has leaned on Pena’s willingness to talk that shit to and about Nunes. She’s been out here accusing Nunes of ducking her, calling for the most dominant women’s champ in UFC history to be stripped. (Nunes, for her part, has responded by calling Pena “delusional,” which actually seems pretty understated).

It’s a page out of the Chael Sonnen playbook, where a fighter basically says, ‘maybe I can’t convince you to believe I’ll win, but I can convince you to believe I’ll make the champ mad enough that she’ll do something awful and memorable to me.’ As title fight sales pitches go, that’s the one you go with when you can’t think of anything else that makes even a little bit of sense.

And really, what else is there at the moment? You look at Nunes’ last few title defenses at both bantamweight and featherweight, and what you see is a lot of long odds followed by a lot of one-sided beatdowns. She was a 6-1 favorite over Felicia Spencer, a 10-1 favorite over Megan Anderson. Even against former champs like de Randamie and Holly “Holms” Holm she was a hefty 4-1. What the fuck can you even say anymore to convince us that these fights might be competitive?

These are fights that are happening, is the most realistic and factual way of putting it. This is a person who will fight for the UFC women’s bantamweight title because someone has to. Claiming anything beyond that is just hoping and wishing. At least as long as this version of Nunes is still here.

Hey, if you made it this far and didn’t hate it, you should consider signing up for the Co-Main Event Patreon. There you can comment on these posts, argue with other people about them, even call us names or whatever. You also help support the CME and keep the discourse free and unfuckingfettered.

Further reading

Support the CME

With a helping hand from you, the discourse is free and the corporate fat cats are kept away from the door. We love you for that.

Patrons get exclusive access to:

Livestream events

Audio extras

CME Power Hour

CME Movie Club

Drape those old bones in some CME merchandise …

Show those around you that you’re a not-to-be-messed-with, third-dan Dundasso master, or perhaps that you have a very refined taste in tobacco products that are definitely not for kids. Straight up repping your fav MMA-themed podcast is also an option.

Shop merch

Read a book, if you nasty

“Two deadly acts of arson, over a decade apart bind this mystery of an army veteran’s return home. In Chad Dundas’ assured hands, one man’s search for answers makes for a lyrical, riveting meditation on memory.”
Entertainment Weekly, on The Blaze

Shop books

Email the Podcast