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UFC 277 takeaways: The time for Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko 3 is now

The MMA world has regained its natural order. Amanda Nunes avenged her loss to Julianna Peña in dominant fashion on Saturday night, reclaiming her bantamweight title and status as a two-division champion with an overwhelming decision win in UFC 277’s main event. Her performance capped off a busy card that also saw Brandon Moreno capture the interim flyweight title, a new name emerge in the heavyweight contender mix, and more. With so much to discuss, let’s hit our five biggest takeaways from UFC 277.

1. Julianna Peña may be one of the toughest humans alive, but Amanda Nunes is still the greatest unarmed female combatant to ever do it. That truer now than it’s ever been.

Nunes had the kind of performance on Saturday many expected to see this past December. She torched Peña on the feet, mauled her on the ground, slapped together multiple 10-8 scorecards, and relegated Peña into little more than her own personal Matt Serra. Peña’s doggedness needs to be commended — it was the most tense blowout I can ever remember seeing; she never quit and nearly secured a few Hail Mary submissions that could’ve changed history forever — but ultimately it’s the old axiom of, if the post-fight chatter is largely crediting your toughness, it likely wasn’t a good night at the office.

The adjustments were brilliant. Numes’ counter right hook had Peña on ice stakes every time Peña bum-rushed inside, leading Nunes to become the first woman in UFC history to score three knockdowns in a fight — a feat she accomplished in a single round. Her constant stance switching and southpaw work had Peña off rhythm from jump, and at one point — in a particularly grisly sequence — she essentially juiced the blood out of Peña’s forehead on the mat. The latter rounds were a recipe we’ve seen before — once Nunes figures out she can outwrestle you, she’s more than happy to do exactly that — but the overall execution from pillar to post was sublime. The queen has returned; long live the queen.

Now that we’ve circled back to the status quo, though, there’s just one lingering question — what’s next? It’s a somewhat bizarre crossroads without an obvious answer. Nunes’ overpowering dominance on Saturday makes the Peña trilogy fight an impossible sell.

But there’s still one next step that trumps the rest: Valentina Shevchenko.

The time is now for the trilogy, partly because this past year has shown us that you have to capitalize on historically important fights like Nunes vs. Shevchenko 3 when you actually have the chance, and partly because there’s legitimately no better option. Think about it. Who’s a better option for Nunes? Ketlen Vieira at 135 pounds? Macy Chiasson at 145 pounds? I mean no disrespect when I write this, but we don’t know how many bouts we have left from Nunes, who’s obviously one of the most remarkable fighters we’ve ever seen, full stop. Neither of those humdrum divisional options inspires excitement for the time we have left with the women’s GOAT. The same applies for Shevchenko — who’s out there for her right now? Taila Santos is going to need time to heal her broken face, and “The Bullet” has demolished everyone else within sniffing distance of the belt.

It makes too much sense.

Regardless of the outcome of Nunes vs. Shevchenko 3, the Santos rematch will still be sitting there on the table for Shevchenko. Nunes even said on Saturday that she wants Shevchenko next. We need to see the conversation settled between the two preeminent women of this era at some point. This may be our last chance to get it done. Let’s not mess around anymore and miss the window like we’ve missed so many windows in the past. Anderson Silva vs. Jon Jones or Georges St-Pierre, Ronda Rousey vs. Gina Carano, Fedor Emelianenko vs. Randy Couture — MMA’s history is littered with forgotten superfights we lost by assuming there will be another opportunity to revisit them right around the corner.

Shevchenko expressed hesitance to jump up to 135 pounds after the Santos fight, but money has a way of changing minds. Pony up, UFC, and let’s not take any more unnecessarily risks that’ll lead to Nunes vs. Shevchenko 3 being added to that accursed list.

2. The flyweight division is officially on fire.

This isn’t breaking news, of course. If you’ve been paying attention, every leg of the Figueiredo vs. Moreno trilogy has been utterly amazing, and hell, Matt Schnell just lit the world aflame two weeks ago. The 125-pounders have been doing work for awhile now. UFC 277 was simply a natural extension of what we’ve been seeing, yet the main card turned a bona fide flyweight showcase. Brandon Moreno continues to be a delight both inside and outside of the cage. His move to Glory MMA to work under head coach James Krause looks like a match made in heaven, and his liver-kick melting of Kai Kara-France was genuine nightmare fuel. Somewhere out there, Bas Rutten shed a single tear watching that finish.

I even enjoyed the heartfelt post-fight exchange Moreno shared with Deiveson Figueiredo, despite UFC president Dana White not loving it. It capped off the moment perfectly — a show of genuine respect between two warriors who have tested each other for more than an hour of cage time. The Figueiredo vs. Moreno tetralogy is going to be sensational.

Then you add in Alexandre Pantoja — aka the man who’s a combined 3-0 over Saturday’s co-headliners and looked like a wrecking ball in his 91-second romp over Alex Perez — and the vibes at 125 pounds are immaculate right now. How can you not love it?

Thank the blood gods this wonderful division of Lilliputian berserkers still exists.

3. Speaking of flyweight, the disrespect of this division’s actual champion has gotten out of hand.

If you were a brand new fan who tuned into the start of UFC 277’s broadcast, here’s the first thing you would’ve learned about the reigning flyweight king, courtesy of one of the UFC’s most publicly recognized voices: Deiveson Figueiredo is the owner of a paper belt who isn’t coming back to 125 pounds, and really, he lost his last fight anyway. So Saturday’s interim title bout? Yeah, that’s the *real* championship fight of the division. Screw this other guy.

This, despite the fact that Figueiredo spent the entirety of UFC 277 fight week promising to any microphone that would listen that his next fight will, in fact, be against the Moreno vs. Kara-France winner. And you know what? Joe Rogan’s silly rhetoric worked. The online conversation was awash with sheep parroting Rogan’s claims that Figueiredo isn’t ever fighting at 125 pounds again and isn’t the legitimate champ because of...reasons?

Here’s the actual truth: Injuries kept “Figgy Smalls” out of UFC 277. He’ll be ready to return before the end of 2022. Whether the vocal minority likes it or not, he won the belt fair and square against Moreno in January’s trilogy match. He’s never been in a boring fight in his entire life and, yes, his gripes about pay are founded considering he earned less for his sixth consecutive UFC title bout than the cash wad Dana White handed out to one of the Nelk Boys. And again, it’s not even a discussion — Figueiredo’s next fight will be a flyweight title defense! All of this is baffling. Moreno may be beloved by the MMA world, but that doesn’t excuse straight up delegitimatizing the champ’s title on the official UFC broadcast.

4. It sucks that Derrick Lewis vs. Sergei Pavlovich ended how it did.

Look, refereeing is a challenging gig. I understand that. You’re making split-second decisions in the blink of an eye that instantly get critiqued by people who have ample use of instant replay and no actual skin in the game. But Derrick Lewis deserved a second or two more than what Dan Miragliotta gave him on Saturday night. The fact that 99 percent of Lewis’ fellow fighters agreed spoke volumes. To put it another way: Miragliotta’s decision was iffy enough that Sergei Pavlovich didn’t even get a $50,000 bonus for a 55-second knockout of the UFC’s all-time knockout king. On a pay-per-view main card, no less!

The majority of MMA’s greatest comebacks are predicated on a moment when it looked like the end had come. Hell, we’ve seen Lewis win fights where he’s seemingly been in more trouble than Saturday. Brock Lesnar would’ve lost to Shane Carwin 10 times over with the trigger Miragliotta gave Lewis at UFC 277. It’s entirely possible that fight was a second away from being over, but when the prevailing narrative coming out of a result like UFC 277’s is discussion about the stoppage, it does a disservice not only to the losing fighter, but also to a winner like Pavlovich, who instead of reveling in the best moment of his career, was left with zero bonus dollars and a barrage of unfair questions about the legitimacy of his win.

Just a crappy situation overall, but Pavlovich certainly feels like another hyper-intriguing young bruiser to add to a heavyweight mix already rapidly reloading for its next era. With the top guys already booked, I don’t hate the idea of giving him next month’s Alexandr Romanov vs. Marcin Tybura winner and keeping this goliath Russian as active as possible.

5. Jiri Prochazka vs. Glover Teixeira 2 needs to happen first. But then? Yeah, Magomed Ankalaev is probably winning that UFC light heavyweight title.

And he’ll likely be at least a 2-to-1 betting favorite by the time it’s booked.

His pay-per-view opener against Anthony Smith may not have ended in fireworks, but Dagestan’s latest UFC terror continues to cruise through the 205-pound division with nary a scratch on him. Despite Smith’s leg injury, UFC 277 was enough for Ankalaev to wash the stink off him still lingering from his dalliance with Thiago Santos. He’s officially in title contention now, he might be the most gifted technician alive at 205, and the division is set up perfectly for what’s next: Prochazka vs. Teixeira 2 and Jan Blachowicz vs. Ankalaev.

Throw all four of ‘em on the same card and we’re in the money. I love it when a plan comes together.

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