Julianna Pena vs. Amanda Nunes
Pena shocked the world in December of last year when she was able to out-strike long-time champion Nunes on the feet and then submit her to claim the bantamweight title, ending her 12-fight winning streak in the process.
It was a surreal experience watching that first fight unfold as though Pena is a tough, hard-headed battler she’s never been known for her striking prowess, while Nunes is considered the best female fighter of all-time and is held in the highest regard for her stand-up ability, yet inexplicably decided not to utilize those skills and instead was drawn into a careless brawl that she emerged second-best from.
The good news for Nunes is that she has all the tools to fix her glaring errors in that fight. Pena will gladly plant her feet and engage in a slug-fest, throwing punches straight down the pipe, but if Nunes utilizes her natural speed advantage, footwork, angles and head movement instead of just relentlessly marching forward then she should find a great deal more success in hitting without getting hit in return.
The other big issue for Nunes was cardio as she quickly began to run on empty when the action heated up on the feet in the second round. She’s since claimed that a knee injury had hampered her training prior to the fight and she had suffered from Covid-19 earlier that year, so perhaps that’s all it was, but her gas tank has been questioned in the past.
Pena will certainly be looking to exploit that and she has tools to do with good cardio and a naturally aggressive, pressure-heavy pace, while she generally does her best work in the clinch and grappling on the mat, which could well wear on Nunes energy reserves.
Nunes mindset will be another key factor. Pena is clearly still hungry for success and extremely confident in herself, but does Nunes still have that drive now that she’s rich, famous and has a family?
After her loss to Pena she left the elite ATT camp where she had been for many years to start her own personal gym with an attached apartment where she can be with her wife, fellow fighter Nina Nunes, and young daughter in-between training sessions. It’s a cosy set-up, but whether it is delivering the world-class training and mental focus she needs to get back on top remains to be seen.
In the end, despite the nagging doubts I still have to go with Nunes proven greatness here as on her day she’s still a far better, more skillful fighter than Pena and I believe with a smarter, sharper approach on the feet she can TKO her by the end of the second round.
Prediction: Amanda Nunes to win by TKO in Rd2 Bet @ Neds
Brandon Moreno vs. Kai Kara-France
With current flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo out injured, the UFC gave up on plans for a fourth fight with Moreno for now and instead have let his rival battle for the interim belt against Kara-France instead.
Moreno actually holds a 2019 unanimous decision win over Kara-France, but there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then and Kara-France is now coming off a trio of wins, including first round KO and TKO finishes against Rogerio Bontorin and Cody Garbrandt respectively.
Moreno always had a strong submission game, but his trio of title fights with Figueiredo showed he can also successfully trade with a highly-skilled, heavy-handed striker too, while also demonstrating a granite chin and excellent cardio.
Kara-France is a very good technical striker in his own right and wields genuine knockout power in his punches, though he does load up on his power strikes at times.
Moreno doesn’t hit as hard, but he pushes a hard pace and has a good jab with the speed to disrupt Kara-France when he does wind up for those heavier punches. Moreno is also the better fighter on the mat, though Kara-France has very solid takedown defense.
I expect another close fight like their first encounter here, but I think Moreno’s fights with Figueiredo really have only made him better and also crucially have offered him valuable five-round experience that Kara-France hasn’t yet had, and that will help him gain the upper-hand in the later rounds to emerge with a decision victory.
Prediction: Brandon Moreno to win by decision Bet @ Neds
Derrick Lewis vs. Sergei Pavlovich
Lewis lost out in a battle of the sluggers with Tai Tuivasa last time out after being KO’d in the second round and now he faces another in-form fighter in Pavlovich, who has strung together three first-round wins in a row via strikes over the past few years.
Of course we all know what Lewis brings to the table at this stage. He’s one of the heaviest-hitting punchers we’ve ever seen in the UFC and though he often operates at a sluggish pace and doesn’t throw much in the way of volume, when he does choose to engage he’s surprisingly fast and light on his feet for his size, even when his cardio seems to be running on empty – which is often the case if the fight goes beyond the first round!
Pavlovich has a sizeable 5″ reach advantage here despite being the same height as Lewis, and the 30-year-old has solid boxing with fast hands from range and will operate at a considerably higher pace than Lewis with much more emphasis on volume-striking. That’s particularly true if he gets a fighter hurt as he then swarms in aggressively with relentless left and right hands.
He can leave himself exposed defensively at times like that though and with Lewis having that thunderous one-punch knockout power I think this could be one of those fights where ‘The Black Beast’ is losing, right up until the moment he finds a home for a knockout blow.
Prediction: Derrick Lewis to win by KO in Rd2 Bet @ Neds
Alex Perez vs. Alexandre Pantoja
Perez hasn’t fought since fighting Deieveson Figueiredo for the flyweight title back in 2020, which he lost by unanimous decision. Now he goes up against the 4th ranked Pantoja, who is coming in off back-to-back victories.
Given the interim flyweight title fight further up on this card it’s worth noting that Pantoja actually holds two prior wins over Brandon Moreno, having submitted him on TUF all the way back in 2016 and then decisioned him in the UFC a couple of years.
That speaks to how good Pantoja is – a dangerous fighter wherever the fight goes, whether it’s via his strong submission game with a particularly potent rear-naked choke, or staying aggressive on the feet with considerable power in his strikes. He also holds the distinction of having never been finished in his 29-fight career to date.
That makes for a fun fight with Perez as he’s well-rounded too, with boxing ability on the feet backed up by solid wrestling on the canvas. He has a good number of submission wins on his record too, though it should also be noted that he’s been tapped out himself on four occasions.
This should be a competitive battle, but I feel Pantoja has the edge in both skill and power on the feet and is more than capable of holding his own on the mat too. Throw in the fact that Perez has had a long layoff and has had frequent issues even making weight at 125lbs and I feel that it’s ‘The Cannibal’ who emerges on top here, but will have to go to the scorecards to get his hand raised.
Prediction: Alexandre Pantoja to win by decision Bet @ Neds
Magomed Ankalaev vs. Anthony Smith
Ankalaev has amassed an 8-fight winning streak at 205lbs to climb up to No.4 in the rankings and will now fight a former title contender in Smith, who has racked up three stoppage wins in the past couple of years.
Ankalaev is a real force to be reckoned with as he has very assured technical kickboxing and stays calm and methodical under pressure while carrying respectable power, but also has a very good wrestling game to go along with it.
Meanwhile, Smith is a tried-and-tested finisher whether on the feet with his powerful muay-thai striking or on the mat with a strong submission game. Combine the two and your left with an impressive 34 finishes from 36 career wins.
That being said, over the course of his 52-fight career Smith has also lost 16 fights including 13 via either strikes or submission. That’s a stark contrast compared to Ankalaev, who has only lost once in 18 career fights, and that being an agonizing last-second submission courtesy of Paul Craig’s infamously deadly triangle choke.
I think this is a challenging fight for Smith as Ankalaev is not a man that’s easily phased on the feet and is hard to hit, while he’s equally cool, calm and collected on the mat with his strong wrestling likely to stifle ‘Lionheart’s’ attempts to get a submission going, and so I’ll take Ankalaev to emerge with a decision win here.
Prediction: Magomed Ankalaev to win by decision Bet @ Neds
UFC 277 Prelims
(Predicted winners in bold)
Drew Dober vs. Rafael Alves
Alex Morono vs. Matthew Semelsberger
Adam Fugitt vs. Michael Morales
Nicolae Negumereanu vs. Ihor Potieria
Joselyne Edwards vs. Ji Yeon Kim
Orion Cosce vs. Blood Diamond
Don’Tale Mayes vs. Hamdy Abdelwahab
About the Author: Ross Cole
Ross Cole is one of the most prolific mixed martial arts writers in the world, having written more than 17,000 MMA news stories for MMA Insight, which he founded in 2009 as a way to channel his passion for the sport of mixed martial arts, and reaching millions of die-hard MMA fans in the process. You can read more of Ross’s work at MMAInsight.com.