Julianna Pena pulled off one of the biggest upsets MMA has ever seen as she submitted Amanda Nunes in the second round of their bantamweight title fight at UFC 269 in Las Vegas.
Heading into the co-main event at the T-Mobile Arena, two-weight champion Nunes was the overwhelming favorite to steam through yet another helpless victim and retain the 135lbs title she has held for more than five years.
But Pena flipped the narrative on its head, weathering pressure from Nunes in the first round – during which the Brazilian was even caught smiling – before finding success on the feet with some heavy shots in the second.
What a combo.
— Cody FN Powers (@NaturdayDelight) December 12, 2021
Pena herself was forced to eat some big punches from Nunes but pressed forward as the defending champion visibly wilted.
The Venezuelan Vixen sensed her chance, securing a takedown before locking in a rear-naked choke to become the first woman in more than seven years to hand Nunes a defeat inside the Octagon.
— Artie Schweitzer (@ArtieSchweitzer) December 12, 2021
“I’m not surprised motherf*ckers!” Pena shouted in her post-fight interview with Joe Rogan.
“I told you. Don’t ever doubt me again. Willpower, strength and determination. It will take you places. I definitely expected a win and the world is my oyster.”
— BroBible (@BroBible) December 12, 2021
The reaction at the T-Mobile Arena and online was one of astonishment, with many calling it one of the biggest – if not the biggest – shocks in UFC history.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 12, 2021
— UFC (@ufc) December 12, 2021
Remember where you are, because this is a moment that will be talked about . #UFC269
— UFC (@ufc) December 12, 2021
Wooooooooooow!!! What did I just watch?? Peñaaaaaaaa!!! #UFC269
— KAMARU USMAN (@USMAN84kg) December 12, 2021
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!! NEVER FORGET THAT!! #UFC269!
— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) December 12, 2021
PENA ISN’T EVEN CELEBRATING. SHE IS STONE COLD. THIS IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST UPSETS IN UFC HISTORY. NUNES WAS A -1100.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) December 12, 2021
Pena, 32, is a former champion on the Ultimate Fighter reality TV series but saw her career stall with injury problems.
She also took a break of almost two years to give birth to daughter Grace before returning in July of 2019 to pick up three wins in four outings to set up her long-awaited shot at Nunes.
The jubilant Spokane-born fighter was joined by her daughter for the celebrations inside the cage.
WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE
‘Julianna Peña you just shook up the world’
‘I’M NOT SURPRISED MOTHER F*CKERS’ pic.twitter.com/HtnqdwoteI
— megan (@megnturner_) December 12, 2021
Nunes, 33, was gracious in defeat as both she and Pena appeared to put aside the animosity that had characterized much of the build-up to their fight.
Nunes slipped to 21-5 overall in her career but still has the featherweight title to her name.
She may target a rematch with Pena – something UFC boss Dana White said was an option if Nunes wanted it – but the aura of invincibility that once followed the Lioness has now been stripped.
From a promotional perspective, the much-touted showdown between undefeated PFL champion Kayla Harrison – who was cageside in Las Vegas and is now a free agent – and Nunes may also seem less alluring than it once did.