Former UFC bantamweight champ Julianna Pena said it wasn’t Amanda Nunes’ idea to compete a trilogy at UFC 289 – the two-division champ all but refused the idea, she said Wednesday on The MMA Hour.
“She said I had to go fight Irene [Aldana] to fight for the belt against her,” Pena said. “But I don’t know how Irene comes up in this conversation at all. We’re 1-1. This is the biggest women’s MMA fight in history. It’s a Rocky story.
“I think the UFC knows that. I think the UFC knows that they know how to do business, they know how to do big business and make big fights. It’s the only fight that I called for. And I said, ‘You know what, if you don’t want to fight me, Amanda, which the brass told me directly, she does not want to fight me.”
Pena, an energetic promoter of her fights, repeatedly accused Nunes of avoiding a showdown – and said the UFC should strip her of the belt for stalling – before they faced off in December 2021 at UFC 269. In a shocking upset, she won a second-round submission to capture the bantamweight belt. But a rematch seven months later at UFC 277 ended in a lopsided win for Nunes.
Reports indicated the promotion sought to book the surging Aldana against Nunes in March at UFC 285. The bout was never announced, however, and a heavyweight title fight between Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane took top booking.
According to Pena, she was asked to fight Aldana and clashed with the UFC over the choice. Eventually, the promotion shifted to a trilogy but couldn’t get Nunes to agree.
“I said [to the UFC], ‘I’m not fighting Irene, I’m fighting Amanda,’” Pena said. “‘When she decides that she’s gonna take that fight, you give me a call, because that’s the only fight that I’m taking.’ I said, ‘You know what, if you want, go ahead, put Irene in front of me, go ahead and make that Irene [vs.] Amanda [fight], and instead you can skip the fight that makes the most sense for everybody and go ahead and do Irene and Amanda.’
“They said that if she didn’t fight against me that she would be stripped, and so she had no choice but to fight me. She doesn’t wanna fight me. They told me she doesn’t want to fight me, and she’s being forced to fight me, because this is the only fight that makes sense.”
Pena outstruck Nunes in their first meeting but was battered in the rematch. Nunes opened a ghastly cut that bled throughout the fight. Were it not for that and an early knockdown, Pena said the result would have been different.
“It bothers me so much when people say that, ‘Oh, it was a fluke, and she just had an off night,’ and everything like that, because if you go back to any of my interviews and check any of my interviews from even five years ago, I was saying exactly how I was gonna beat her and exactly what my plan was to take her down,” Pena said. “And then I did that exact same thing when I fought her, and so there was no fluke there. You can’t call that a fluke when I’ve been saying exactly how I’m gonna get it done the first time.
“Then you take it to the second time. Look, the thing of it is, Amanda had to fire her entire team. She had to go build her own gym. She had to change and revamp her entire style, come out southpaw, she had to do massive changes in order to be me. So I said, ‘Listen, I give you the rematch within six months, turn around and do me the same favor.’ Allow me that same opportunity to make those adjustments, especially since we’re 1-1. You got finished, you tapped out, you wanted to go home. You saw me in that fight, and I don’t know if you remember or recall, but I had her dead rights in that armbar, and it must have been the blood in my eyes that made it so slippery that I couldn’t finish that armbar. But that fight was a lot closer than I think a lot of people are giving me credit for, and that bothers me, because I feel like if you go back and watch that fight – let’s just take out being dropped out of the equation. That fight was way closer than people want to give it credit for her, and she was in trouble the entire time.”
It’s for that reason that Pena said Nunes stalled again on agreeing to a fight.
“You have one fighter that can be finished and one fighter that cannot be finished,” she said. “We are 1-1, and she knows that it’s gonna be a long night. She knows that she’s gonna have to work hard for her money, and she doesn’t want to put herself in that risk.
“So it makes sense, clear as day, and especially when they’re telling me that she wants nothing to do with me. I mean, even people from her team are telling me she’s already one foot out the door. She wants to have babies, she wants to go visit her family in Brazil. She’s not, she’s not focused in it to win it, not like I am.”
“I’ve been trying to fight her since the day I got out of that octagon, and she had to get carried out by her team,” Pena added later. “She had the limp leg and crutch with one leg and one swollen eye shut to the press conference, and she told everybody, what did she say, that she could have finished me sooner and she was just trying to prove to everybody that she was leaps and bounds above me ... and that’s why she decided to fight 25 minutes. That doesn’t make any sense. I didn’t know she was trying out for Pirates of the Caribbean here with one eye and a peg leg. Like, who does that?”