Can Amanda Nunes reclaim the UFC bantamweight belt? Will Brandon Moreno capture the interim title against Kai Kara-France to clinch a fourth fight with flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo? UFC 277 will answer those questions and more Saturday — and two-time UFC title challenger Kenny Florian has his picks.
A color commentator and analyst for the PFL, Florian broke down the championship bouts on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting podcast Trocação Franca.
“When you’re ahead of everybody else and is fighting so many great fighters, everybody else in the division is watching you,” Florian said of Nunes. “You can see how they’re going to win. Every time you fight, other people and their teams can watch you and see what’s the best strategy to beat you. For Amanda, I think it’s hard to stay ahead of everybody else for such a long time.”
Nunes was on a roll heading into her first match with Peña in December 2021, having beaten every women who’d previously held the UFC bantamweight and featherweight titles. She even appeared to be cruising against Peña before slowing down in the second round, getting tagged on the feet, then submitted on the ground.
“It’s hard to say why Amanda Nunes lost,” Florian said. “I think she’s so skilled to stay on the feet to win by knockout, but I think she wasn’t very calm at that moment. I think Peña was expecting that, and [Nunes] had so much pressure over her. When you’re champion for so long, sometimes — I don’t know if that’s the case with Amanda Nunes — champions no longer respect the other people in the division.”
Nunes decided to leave American Top Team shortly after losing at UFC 269 to open her own gym in Florida. Florian thinks the decision could be a positive one now that the Brazilian has a group of coaches focused solely on her, but the final answer will come Saturday.
“Amanda has more experience and power, is very tough and smart too, and is good on the ground,” he said. “I think [Peña] was waiting for Amanda to get tired, and when that happened, she had more energy and pressure, [and Nunes] lost. But I think you have to look at the skills, and Amanda has more power and experience. I think the most important thing for the rematch is if she can stay calm and be more patient instead of forcing things.
“I think Peña has more heart. Amanda has a lot of experience, but we don’t know if she really wants to be there as champion. If she has in her heart to fight again and get her belt back, I think Amanda will win. I think she’s better than Peña on the feet. She’s a jiu-jitsu black belt on the ground too, but she has to be in shape and training hard. If she’s in shape, I think Amanda will win.”
In the end, Florian believes Nunes is competing for more than a UFC belt in Dallas, but also the right to once again be called the greatest women to ever compete in MMA.
“If she beats Peña, she can [erase that first] fight. But it’s hard,” Florian said. “I think Amanda was the world’s greatest fighter of all-time. If you look at how she was finishing her fights on the ground and on the feet, the women she’s beaten, like [Cris] Cyborg and Holly Holm and all the others, she’s definitely the greatest. But losing this one to Peña, I think it’s hard to come back from this.”
Florian, who once challenged for the featherweight and lightweight belts in the UFC, also weighed in on the co-main event rematch between Moreno and Kara-France.
The veteran noted that he generally doesn’t when the UFC creates an interim belt just for the purpose of marketing rather of waiting for Figueiredo to recover from his injury, but he understands the move to attract more eyeballs to an event like UFC 277.
“Brandon Moreno lost to Deiveson and it was a great fight, and Kai Kara-France is very, very good, very technical, and has many wins,” he said. “His team is possibly the best in the world right now, when you look at Israel Adesanya and [Alexander] Volkanovski. They are at such a high level. I think Kai Kara-France is a very tough fight for Brandon, but Brandon is training so hard. I’ve trained with Brandon before and he’s so focused and good on the ground, but it’s a very difficult fight with Kai Kara-France.”
Moreno won a decision the first time he fought Kara-France back in 2019, and Florian is predicting the same outcome on Saturday.
“They are both good on the feet and on the ground, but the edge for Moreno to win is on the ground,” he said. “Brandon has more experience, Kara-France has a lot of confidence now. It’s hard to pick, but I think Brandon can win again.”
A win for Moreno would set up a fourth clash with Figueiredo. If that happens, Florian ultimately expects the Brazilian to win one more time.
“I think Deiveson has more power with his striking,” Florian said. “Brandon Moreno was better in mixing it up. Deiveson was a very different fighter last time they fought, though. If I had to choose now who would win between Moreno and Deiveson, it’s hard, but I think Deiveson has a bit of an edge. He’s gotten better with his wrestling and became more patient on the feet with his striking.”