Has Pena submitting Nunes at UFC 269 set up the ‘biggest women’s fight of all time’?

Experts are calling it the most shocking upset in the sport’s history. Fans are clamouring for a rematch between the former bantamweight champion, widely considered one of the greatest ever, and her conqueror. UFC president Dan White thinks it can eclipse Rousey-Holm

The first round of the women’s bantamweight title fight at UFC 269 went along expected lines. Champion Amanda Nunes, among the most accomplished fighters of all time, called the shots against heavy underdog Julianna Pena.

With powerful kicks and crisp jabs, Nunes had her opponent reeling. Pena’s corner feared a quick end to the fight, and were relieved when she made it out of the round.

The script featured a dramatic turnaround in the second round. Pena, unwilling to simply roll over, came out all guns blazing. She threw the kitchen sink at Nunes, landing a series of heavy punches.

Nunes, stunned at the unexpected assault, tried to deliver a few blows of her own, but it was Pena who won the exchange.

At the 3:26 mark in round two, Nunes threw in the towel. The 33-year-old, who also holds the featherweight title, tapped out to a rear-naked choke.

The packed crowd at the T-Mobile Arena in Nevada went wild. Nunes suffered her first defeat since 2014, while the unheralded Pena became the most unlikely champion.

Former UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and veteran fight analyst Joe Rogan, who were on commentary ringside, nearly jumped out of their seats. “That is the biggest upset in the history of the sport,” an excited Rogan exclaimed on air.

For Pena, the career-changing win was a long time coming. The 32-year-old, fighting out of Chicago (Illinois), came into the limelight in 2013, when she became the first woman to win the popular ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ reality television series.

After recording three wins and a loss to start her UFC career, Pena took a break in early 2017 to give birth to her daughter.

Pena, who had been pestering UFC president Dana White to give her this title shot, was ecstatic in the post-fight Octagon interview. “I told you — don’t ever doubt me again. Will-power, strength and determination will take you places. You literally have the ability to do anything you want in this life, and I just proved that tonight,” Pena said.

Nunes, meanwhile, has faced criticism for her sub-par performance. The fact that she wilted and mentally checked out in the face of fire has not gone down well with many. Rogan, on his podcast, was blunt in his assessment that Nunes did not show the heart of a champion.

“For you to be a world champion in two divisions and universally recognised as the greatest woman fighter of all time, which Amanda is, it’s inexcusable to be that tired in the second round. And just standing in front of her, just swinging in front of her. No movement side to side, standing right in front of her like you’re watching a regional fight..,” Rogan said.

Just a few days removed from the fight, calls for a rematch have already begun. In an interview with ESPN, White stated that the rematch will break all records. “The Pena rematch with Nunes will probably be the biggest women’s fight of all time. [Right now] it’s Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm [from UFC 193, when Holm famously upset Rousey]. Every way that it could possibly beat it, it will. I don’t think it. I know it. It will crush that fight,” White said.

Both Nunes and Pena are keen on running it back as well. Pena, while acknowledging that Nunes is an all-time great, is confident of getting the job done for the second time. “We can do it

next; I’m free next month, two months from now — whenever they want to do it, I’m ready. If she wants to do a rematch, we can do a rematch,” Pena said.

Nunes is in no mood to let her legacy be stained by this loss. “I undoubtedly accept the rematch,” she posted on Instagram, asking, however, for a “little time” to recoup and get her house in order.

Surprisingly, early opening odds have Nunes as the favourite in the possible rematch. Pena, who overcame doubters the first time around in grand style, is well poised to repeat her heroics.

When underdogs attack

A look at the biggest upsets in boxing and mixed martial arts:

1) Buster Douglas vs. Mike Tyson (heavyweight boxing, Tokyo, 1990)

Going into the fight, the fearsome Tyson was the undefeated and undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Fans were accustomed to seeing Tyson destroying all comers in the opening rounds, and expected the unheralded Douglas to meet the same fate. Douglas, however, put Tyson on the floor with a terrific combination in the 10th round. A dazed Tyson made it to his feet, but the referee wisely stopped the fight.

2) Hasim Rahman vs. Lennox Lewis (heavyweight boxing, Brakpan, 2001)

Champion Lewis only took this fight as an afterthought, as his first-choice opponent Tyson was issued a three-month suspension for marijuana use. Lewis, a 20-1 favourite, believed that he would cruise past Rahman on his way to the much anticipated fight with Tyson. A devastating right in the fifth round, however, saw Lewis crash to the floor. Rahman won by knockout, and became the new champion. Later that year, Lewis regained his crown with a knockout win in the rematch.

3) Andy Ruiz vs. Anthony Joshua (heavyweight boxing, New York, 2019)

Joshua was set to face American fighter Jarrel Miller, but the fight was called off after Miller tested positive for a banned substance. With tickets for the fight already sold, Joshua’s management hurriedly found a replacement in Ruiz. A 25-1 underdog, Ruiz shocked the world with a round seven technical knockout win to become the first Mexican-American and second Hispanic heavyweight champion in boxing history. Joshua would later win the rematch by unanimous decision.

4) Holly Holm vs. Ronda Rousey (UFC 193, Melbourne, 2015)

Entering the fight, Rousey was the toast of the town, with her marauding ways and utter domination of the women’s bantamweight division. Holm, who had started her career as a boxer, was not expected to provide much resistance. The fight, however, went off script when Holm landed a kick to Rousey’s neck. Rousey was knocked down, allowing Holm to pounce and finish the fight. The loss affected Rousey deeply, and following a defeat to Amanda Nunes in her next fight a year later, she quit the sport.

5) Matt Serra vs Georges St. Pierre (UFC 69, Houston, 2007)

Journeyman Serra, with an unassuming 9-4 record, should have been easy pickings for young star and UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. Three minutes and 25 seconds into the fight, however, Serra had St. Pierre out cold. A flurry of powerful hooks forced St. Pierre to the ground, before Serra sealed the deal with an equally ferocious ground and pound move. Unlike most others faced with his crushing situation, St. Pierre used the loss as motivation to improve his skills. He never lost a fight again, and is regarded as an all-time great.

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