In a night where two fighters reclaimed championship gold and rising stars made their cases for title shots, what were the biggest moments at UFC 277? Jeff Wagenheim, Marc Raimondi and Brett Okamoto offer up their takeaways from a highlight-packed event in Dallas.
The world is once again steady on its axis, gravity has regained its pull and oxygen has returned to the atmosphere. All is normal in the world. The previously declawed GOAT of women’s MMA is back to being The Greatest of Right Now.
Amanda Nunes battered and bloodied Julianna Peña for five brutally one-sided rounds on Saturday night to regain her women’s bantamweight championship in the main event of UFC 277 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. Thus Nunes, who also is a featherweight champ, is back to her status as a rare champion reigning simultaneously in two weight classes.
Nunes, who left American Top Team after her December loss to Peña and started her own gym, showed off a new wrinkle in her game and displayed her well-established Octagon smarts. Paired with her physical skills and toughness, Nunes’ poise and command inside the cage made her the best in the game.
The new look was Nunes fighting almost exclusively as a southpaw, and it successfully made Peña hesitant with her advances. That allowed Nunes to operate from a distance where she could hurt her opponent — which she did on several occasions, including three knockdowns in Round 2 — while not putting herself in unnecessary danger.
Nunes got into such a flow that after using Peña for target practice during several stretches, she switched things up by taking the fight to the canvas, where Nunes landed big elbows from top position to make Peña a bloody mess.
Peña kept fighting like the champion that she was. She continually attempted submissions, and she appeared to be close to locking something in on a few occasions. But Nunes defended well each time, and after every escape, she landed a punishing elbow or punch as payback. It was a virtuosic performance, gritty and graceful.
At age 34, Nunes still is a fearsome force. And after 26 pro fights, she still is motivated.
“I feel like I can grow even more,” Nunes said in the Octagon after the win.
Watch out, top 135-pound women. And you, too, 145-pounders.
Among Nunes’ accomplishments on this night, she did something few former UFC champions have. She was the 13th to lose a title and get an immediate rematch, and 10 have failed to regain the belt. Before Nunes climbed back on top of the world this weekend, only Deiveson Figueiredo and Randy Couture had seen that success.
“Making history again!” Nunes said afterward. “Double champ again, baby. Let’s go!” — Jeff Wagenheim
Figueiredo vs. Moreno emerging as one of UFC’s best rivalries
Kai Kara-France is an excellent fighter. A championship-quality fighter. He has all the tools to succeed, including some beautiful striking and one of the world’s best gyms behind him in City Kickboxing. But he couldn’t get in the way of destiny: Figueiredo vs. Moreno 4 was meant to happen.
It should have all along, if not for Figueiredo’s hand injuries after their third fight in January. And now it will, in earnest, likely at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. Moreno even said he’d do it in Figueiredo’s home country of Brazil.
Let’s talk about that third fight for a second. Figueiredo won a close decision, and it could have gone either way. Many thought Moreno won. But nearly everyone agreed they should run it back. How many times has that ever happened? After a trilogy, there was so much business left unfinished that it was nearly unanimous that they had to get back out there for another potential 25 minutes.
It’s madness. And it’s legitimate. Figueiredo and Moreno are the two best flyweights in the world, and every fight they’ve had has been action-packed. From their 2020 draw that sparked it all, to Moreno choking out Figueiredo in 2021 to become the first Mexican-born champion in UFC history, or Figueiredo getting his revenge in the tightly contested bout at UFC 270 in January.
This rivalry isn’t the biggest draw in UFC history, surely. Flyweights have struggled to sell historically. Trash talk has been uttered, mostly from Figueiredo’s side. But the two seemed to make peace in the Octagon on Saturday night.
None of that matters, though. This series of fights highlights the skills both possess and will be looked at fondly for years to come. Figueiredo and Moreno will be inked together in the annals of UFC history. There’s something cool about not just a quadrilogy or a grudge match; this is a true generational rivalry.
Heck, let them do a best-of-seven series. Why not? — Marc Raimondi
Who’s next for the standout fighters after UFC 277?
So who’s up next for the titleholders and top contenders? How does the UFC book Magomed Ankalaev moving forward? Brett Okamoto plays matchmaker.
Amanda Nunes, bantamweight champion
Who should be next? Ketlen Vieira
You can do a third Nunes vs. Julianna Peña fight right away. Absolutely you can. The series is 1-1. Both fights were super entertaining. So, why am I suggesting we move on? I’m suggesting we move on for right now. During her bantamweight and featherweight title runs, we waited long to find someone who could come close to being Nunes’ equal. Now, when we finally find one, we’re going to make the same fight three times in one year? I think it would be a rush to do so.
Full credit to Peña for winning the first fight and full credit to her for making the second one competitive, but Nunes clearly won the rematch. There’s no controversy here. Let this story breathe for a minute. Build up anticipation for a third fight, rather than possibly feed fatigue of the matchup by booking it immediately. The champ now seems human and has realized she’s not invincible. Let’s give the next woman up a chance.
Wild card: Julianna Peña
As I said, you can absolutely do the trilogy next and I won’t complain. But personally, it’s not what I would do. I think there is a 100% chance we will see this fight a third time. It makes too much sense for it never to happen again. I think it would benefit from a bit of time to build up.
Brandon Moreno, interim flyweight champion
Who should be next? Deiveson Figueiredo
You rarely see a situation where the sport wants to see the same two fighters square off four times in less than three years, but that’s the situation we find ourselves in at 125 pounds. This was the fight to make even before Saturday. As good and as deserving as Kai Kara-France was of that opportunity, the premier matchup of this weight class is Figueiredo vs. Moreno. And even though they’ve fought three times, unfinished business is still here. The last fight was close. I wouldn’t say it was a robbery at all. I scored it for Figueiredo. But it left unanswered questions. It left us unsatisfied as to where the rivalry stood. Run it back. And January in Brazil sounds phenomenal.
Wild card: Alexandre Pantoja
If something unexpected happens with Figueiredo’s injury or contract, there is a good (terrific actually) backup option in Pantoja. Of course, this is a distant second regarding what should happen. It needs to be Figueiredo vs. Moreno to unify the belts. But again, if something were to happen, Pantoja is coming off a first-round win over Alex Perez on Saturday, he’s got a prior win against Moreno from 2018 and he’s won three in a row.
Magomed Ankalaev, light heavyweight
Who should be next? Glover Teixeira
It all depends on what route the UFC takes with its champion, Jiri Prochazka. Prochazka has asked to run a fight against Teixeira back immediately.
I’d rather see him fight Jan Blachowicz next. If that happens, you’d likely be looking at another fight for Teixeira, and I like this matchup. Some might accuse me of throwing Teixeira to the wolves, as Ankalaev looks like a tough matchup for anyone. But I’m done underestimating Teixeira just because he’s in his early 40s. The man has repeatedly proven that he’s still got it, and he’s currently ranked No. 2 in the division behind the champ. This is a fair fight for both.
Wild card: Jan Blachowicz
If the UFC opts to book Prochazka vs. Teixeira 2, then Ankalaev vs. Blachowicz as a No. 1 contender fight makes perfect sense.