On Saturday at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Nunes rematches Peña for the bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 277. In their first encounter, Peña pulled off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, submitting Nunes in the second round after drawing the champion into a wild brawl.
In the aftermath, Nunes blamed the loss on injuries and a bad training camp that she simply tried to push through. Anderson, who lost to Nunes at UFC 259, tends to agree that something was certainly off with “The Lioness” that night.
“The Amanda that I saw in that fight was not the Amanda that I fought,” Anderson said on The MMA Hour. “She didn’t look like herself. The best way for me to describe it is, I remember once I trained with a head cold. ... It literally felt like my whole body was discombobulated. I would try to throw as fast as I could, it felt slow, it felt sluggish, the lightest jab felt like my head was bouncing around inside of my skull. The lightest punches literally felt like they were going to knock me out. So that’s kind of what it looked like when you watch Amanda in that second round. It’s like she couldn’t really move her body correctly.
“There’s obviously a reason for that. Was she training enough? Was it the weight cut? That’s the first time she’d cut to 135 pounds in two years. She’s not a small bantamweight, and we’ve seen her have issues making that weight before, so could it be the length of time between cutting that amount of weight? Was she able to rehydrate properly? [COVID-19]. She had COVID before. A lot of people have come out and said that they’ve had respiratory and cardio issues post having COVID for awhile, and that’s just a long-term side effect. ... So I think it really just depends on a lot of different factors.
“I like that she’s changed up her training, because that could be a good thing. That could be the reason; she could have had a lot of ‘yes’ people around her and she needed to change that up. Who knows? Only her and her team. But I definitely think this fight’s going to look very different, because I don’t think Amanda was 100 percent herself in that fight fight.”
Since losing to Peña, Nunes has made changes to her preparation, leaving her longtime camp, American Top Team, to open up her own gym.
It’s a big change, departing from the gym that made her a two-division champion, and it’s one that Anderson says carries serious risk.
“I think it’s kind of one of those situations where she just wants to immediately like, ‘Okay, it was a fluke,’” Anderson said. “I can understand where Amanda’s reasoning is ... [but] you changed so many things about your camp, how do you know how well it’s going to perform in an actual fight, all of these changes that you’ve made? So obviously big risk for her, but sometimes that can be a positive thing.”
While the odds are certainly closer than the first fight, Nunes is still a sizable favorite for the rematch. And while Anderson stops short of predicting that Nunes will reclaim the title, she believes that UFC 277 will at least play out very differently than their first bout.
“This is a fight. Anything can happen,” Anderson said. “But I think if Amanda goes into this fight 100 percent, there shouldn’t be any area that she is at a disadvantage. She’s very well-rounded. She’s got a tremendous amount of power, but she can also go five rounds... She has the ability to so that’s why it was very odd the way that it worked out...
“I got Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk I vibes from [the first fight]. You know how Joanna came out, she was like, ‘I had a horrible weight cut, I didn’t rehydrate properly.’ Then she came back and she obviously didn’t win the rematch but it was a lot more competitive, a closer fight, and it also went the distance. So I’m not saying Amanda will win it, but if she comes in at 100 percent it can play more into her favor because I feel like she has more well-rounded skills to beat Julianna than Julianna has to beat Nunes.”