Kayla Harrison no longer trains with Amanda Nunes on a daily basis, but she knows her former teammate well enough to recognize the performance Nunes had against Julianna Peña in their first encounter was wildly out of character.
While Nunes had her moments, she began running out of steam after the first round, and Peña’s perseverance allowed the Ultimate Fighter champion to weather an early storm and then completely shift the momentum in her favor in the second round. The end result was Peña tapping out Nunes to become UFC bantamweight champion.
Now they’ll meet again in Saturday’s UFC 277 main event — and Harrison expects a much different outcome in the rematch.
“I obviously don’t train with Amanda anymore so I don’t know how camp has gone, I don’t know what she’s doing, but she’s so talented, she’s so seasoned,” Harrison told MMA Fighting.
“I think that she learns from that mistake. I think it was just a fluke, to be honest. I can’t see it going the same way again. I can’t. Now I don’t how she’s training, I don’t know her cardio. I don’t know, but if I were going to bet, I’d bet on Amanda.”
Before Nunes split with American Top Team following the loss to Peña last year, Harrison spent a lot of time in the training room alongside the Brazilian. She understands just how good Nunes can be at her very best.
Harrison has also had some fiery exchanges with Peña in the past, but that won’t stop the two-time PFL champion from offering her praise for a job well done.
“I have nothing against Julianna,” Harrison said. “She’s another one that talks a lot of crap, and you’ve got to do something to sell, I get it. But we’ll see. That’s why we have fights. You’re right, you can become a victim of your own success [when it comes to Amanda].
“What I think happened also was she came and pressured Amanda hard, and Amanda was like ‘I’ll just knock her out,’ and Julianna’s tough. You can’t take that away from her. She’s tough. I respect that. I like that about her.”
Harrison ultimately sees that as what likely led to Nunes’ downfall in the first fight, because Peña just refused to go away even when faced with adversity.
Before the loss, Nunes had largely steamrolled her previous 12 opponents in a row outside of a pair of fights with Valentina Shevchenko. Harrison believes that might have come back to bite her when Pena didn’t fade during those early exchanges.
And Harrison doesn’t expect Nunes to make that same mistake again.
“When [Peña] didn’t go down, I think that maybe surprised Amanda a little bit,” Harrison said. “When she kept coming, I think that surprised Amanda a little bit. But she won’t be surprised this time.
“She’s not going to make that mistake again. She’s not going to take her lightly. It will be interesting to see how they both adapt. I’m very excited for that fight.”