A former UFC women’s bantamweight champion, Peña was originally slated to face Nunes on Saturday in UFC 289’s main event. The matchup would’ve been a trilogy bout after the rivals split their first two meetings, with Peña claiming the title in stunning fashion in December 2021 and Nunes retaking her belt in the July 2022 rematch. However, plans changed once Peña withdrew in early May due to a rib injury, opening the door for Irene Aldana to step up as a replacement opponent to challenge for Nunes’ 135-pound title.
There’s been no love lost since between Peña and Nunes, and Peña can’t help but laugh at the attention the champ has been paying her throughout UFC 289 fight week.
“It cracks me up, honestly,” Peña said Friday at the UFC’s fan Q&A in Vancouver. “I think I saw in a clip, she said, ‘I can kick her ass anytime I want.’ Except for the time that you couldn’t and that it really counted? So I really don’t know what she’s talking about. As far as I’m concerned, we’re 1-1 and I actually have a leg up on her because I was not stopped, I was not finished, I was never down and out. Like Rocky said, it’s not about how many times you get hit, it’s about how many times you get hit and keep coming forward.
“She did not stop me. I was able to stop her, I was able to put her in the hospital, and nobody else can say that. I said on [The MMA Hour] that she was one foot out the door already and that she was already planning her retirement and going off into the sunset — and not if I have my way. Absolutely not. I’m not done with her. This is unfinished business.”
Peña, 33, shocked the MMA world at UFC 269 when she pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history by ending Nunes’ five-year reign atop the division with a second-round rear-naked choke submission. After talking plenty of trash about Nunes prior to the fight, Peña delivered on her promises by flipping the division upside-down overnight.
She was not as fortunate in the rematch, however. At UFC 277, Nunes made the necessary adjustments and recaptured her belt with a dominant unanimous decision victory.
“I can say that mentally the [second] fight for me was lost in the first 10 seconds of the fight, because I was thrown for a complete loop,” Peña said. “And I think it’s funny that she says, ‘I can kick her ass at any time, blah, blah, blah, and I could’ve done all of this.’ The fact is this, here’s the reality: You had to fire your entire team, and then you had to quit your gym and change your entire fighting style in order to beat me. You had to revamp everything.
“And I wasn’t on it, she caught me off-guard, I knew that fight was lost in the first 10 seconds because I was completely shell-shocked right away when she came out in southpaw, and I was never able to make the adjustments. Next time, I will be ready if she comes out southpaw, orthodox, standing on her head, walking on her tippy-toes. Whatever you want to call it, I will be ready, absolutely, there’s no doubt about it.”
That being said, Peña has not been impressed the buzz — or lack thereof — Nunes has been able to generate for UFC 289’s replacement main event.
“Ronda [Rousey] had such a massive following. She was main-eventing everything. And then if you go to Amanda’s last seven fights, she’s only main-evented twice,” Peña said. “One of them was because of an injury ... and the second one was me — and this third one was going to be me but I had to fall out due to injury myself. Me beating her made her relevant again because she hasn’t had the ability to main event in any of her title fights.
“In the last seven, literally only two main events. If you look at the Countdown numbers, if you look at the Embedded numbers — I mean, the co-main event has seven times more views than Amanda’s and she’s the main event. So she can’t draw flies. I’m just saying.”
Julianna Peña questions Amanda Nunes' star power: "She can’t draw flies" #UFC289— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) June 10, 2023
"I mean the co-main event has seven times more views than Amanda’s [fight] and she’s the main event." pic.twitter.com/5LKTB74dtO
Despite all of that, Peña remains honest about her rooting interests for Saturday.
With Nunes already opening courting retirement, Peña is about to become the biggest Nunes fan in the world once UFC 289’s main event starts — if for one night only.
“Yeah, absolutely [I’m rooting for Nunes to win],” Peña said. “OK, so she pulled out of the fight the first time and obviously we waited six more months until that fight could occur. I needed six weeks [to recover], maybe eight for the grappling, but either way I messed up.
“I have a lot of integrity, a lot of honesty, and right when I got injured I called the machine and I told them, ‘Hey, I broke a rib. I’m out.’ I should’ve waited for Irene and ‘Rocky’ [Raquel Pennington] to fight and then they would’ve not been able to find a replacement on two weeks’ notice for Amanda, so that she wouldn’t have had any choice but to fight me and to push the fight back out later. But that’s not the way that it works.
“My integrity got in the way and they replaced me right away, and it’s a bummer that I lost that fight. But like I said a million times, we’re 1-1, there’s unfinished business there, and yes, from the hours of 9 [p.m.] to 10 [p.m. on Saturday], I will be Amanda’s biggest fan.”