TNT Sports Reload - Episode 13Oct 10
We’ve barely had time to pause and take a breath but the big fights keep rolling on BT Sport after UFC London last weekend with all the fun of UFC 277: Pena vs Nunes 2 coming your way, exclusively live on Saturday night.
The main event is shaping up to be one of the most eagerly anticipated title rematches in years with bantamweight queen Julianna Pena out to prove her win over Amanda Nunes last December was no fluke.
Speaking of hard-hitting, the UFC’s all time heavyweight KO king Derrick Lewis also returns as he looks to bounce back from successive defeats against Sergei Pavlovich, who comes into the bout on a streak of three first-round stoppages.
With so much going on across the card at UFC 277: Pena vs Nunes 2, here are five reasons you can’t miss it on BT Sport this Saturday night.
Pena Power - flash in the pan or a new era?
Julianna Pena will have to upset the odds once again this weekend if she is to keep hold of her UFC bantamweight title when she rematches Amanda Nunes in the main event at UFC 277.
The “Venezuelan Vixen” sprung what UFC commentator Joe Rogan described as “the biggest shock in UFC history” when she snatched the belt from two-division champion Nunes at UFC 269 last December, outlasting the Brazilian legend after a gruelling scrap to submit her opponent in the second round.
There weren’t many who picked Pena to be the woman that would end Nunes’ 12-fight win streak that night but so it proved to be as the 135lb division crowned a new champion at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Everybody believes that she slipped on a banana peel and that’s why she lost
- Julianna Pena
Since that night, the pair have remained in almost constant competition, coaching opposing teams during Season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter while working towards the rematch that both women desperately desire.
Speaking exclusively to BT Sport during fight week, Pena explained her motivation for wanting to run it back immediately as she seeks to make lightning strike twice at UFC 277.
“The whole purpose of going into this rematch is the fact that everybody believes that she slipped on a banana peel and that’s why she lost,” Pena told BT Sport.
“It’s frustrating for me because they say ‘oh well she’s so hungry now’ – well, I’m hungry too!
“I’m motivated more than ever just by the simple fact that everybody does think it was just a fluke that happened because she slipped on a banana peel.
“It wasn’t the case and I’ve carried that chip on my shoulder into this rematch knowing that my job is to solidify and cement my name in UFC history and build my legacy.
“I do that by getting my hand raised yet again and letting everybody know that it is my time, my era and it’s time to pass the torch. It’s over, it’s my time now.”
Amanda Nunes: An off night or no way back?
Amanda Nunes is the greatest female fighter of all time.
While such statements may seem unusual in the aftermath of a shocking title defeat, Nunes’ greatness has not been diminished by the loss of her belt to Julianna Pena at UFC 269.
In a strange way, it feels as though it has helped move a career of unprecedented success into clearer focus, allowing fans a moment to look back and digest her legacy instead of looking forward to what might come next; it humanised the achievements of an athlete seen for so long as transcendent in the world of women’s mixed martial arts.
But make no mistake, “The Lioness” is far from done yet.
Gracious in defeat to Pena on the night, Nunes has since revealed she was struggling in the build-up to UFC 269, dealing with troublesome knees in tandem with her recovery from Covid.
Watching the first fight back armed now with that knowledge, Nunes’ performance appears to make more sense, particularly in the manner she was finally beaten: as exhausted and physically overmatched as she has ever looked in the UFC.
Losing the belt fired me up again
- Amanda Nunes
That was despite a dominant opening round from the Brazilian, who looked close to having Pena beaten more than once as she dropped the challenger twice and threatened with submissions from the ground.
But her batteries emphatically ran out during the second round as an increasingly confident Pena found the target time and time again with a simple jab, knocking Nunes out of her rhythm before dragging her to the canvas and securing the tap.
However, Nunes, 34, is now fully recovered and firing on all cylinders once again, revealing the loss of her crown has renewed her motivation for competition.
“I want to be a champion again, this is driving me forward,” Nunes explained.
“And I’m a fighter, I cannot do anything else. I have to keep positive, and I have to keep moving forward in my career. This opportunity is to get my belt back, and I’m not letting anything doubt me. Actually, losing the belt fired me up again.”
Can the Lioness roar back into form – or have we seen the end of a stunning legacy in women’s MMA?
You don’t have to cast your mind back too far to remember a time in which the very future of the UFC’s flyweight division was in serious jeopardy.
Ruled by one of the most dominant champions in the history of the promotion, interest in the 125lb class plummeted during Demetrious Johnson’s reign, despite a record-breaking 11 UFC title defences.
The achievement will stand the test of time - but it almost strangled the life out of the flyweight landscape until Henry Cejudo sent a lightning rod through the MMA world with his win over “Mighty Mouse” at UFC 277.
Fast forward four years from that night and the 125lb division could reasonably claim to be one of the most exciting in the UFC – and the two men largely responsible for that renaissance in recent times face off this weekend for the interim belt at UFC 277 as Brandon Moreno faces Kai Kara-France.
Moreno became the UFC’s first ever Mexican-born champion when he defeated Deiveson Figueiredo at UFC 263 last year, a victory sandwiched by a draw and a loss during the flyweight division’s most thrilling trilogy.
Still only 28, Moreno is now a fan favourite in the UFC with a relentless spirit that has been rewarded with performance bonuses in each of his last three fights.
Meanwhile, Kara-France is the latest title contender sculpted at the world-renowned City Kickboxing gym in New Zealand, training alongside the likes of Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski.
The 29-year-old has a point to prove on Saturday night having come up short against Moreno when the pair first met at UFC 245 in December 2019.
But Kara-France believes he has taken his game to a new level in recent months with two highlight reel knockouts and a deserved win over the dangerous Askar Askarov confirming his title credentials.
With five rounds scheduled for two of the division’s most exciting athletes to showcase their skills, it’s set to be a mouth-watering co-main event in Texas.
If there’s one fight you can guarantee will be done and dusted within the distance, it’s Derrick Lewis vs Sergei Pavlovich.
The two heavyweight knockout merchants go toe-to-toe in what promises to be a war – while it lasts!
Fight fans will need no introduction to Lewis’ work by now; the Black Beast is the UFC’s all-time leader for most knockouts (13) – and needs only one more finish to become the heavyweight division’s most lethal fight-ender, surpassing Frank Mir’s tally of 13.
Never in a boring fight, Lewis’ barnburner against Tai Tuivasa last time out didn’t go his way but it was a riot throughout regardless.
He’s been matched up against another game contender who will have no problems meeting Lewis in the middle of the Octagon in Russia’s Pavlovich.
Since dropping to defeat on his debut against Alistair Overeem – a brutal welcome to the UFC, it must be said – Pavlovich has been on a tear seeking to atone for his loss.
Three straight first round knockouts have just about done it for the 30-year-old, helping him creep up to 11th in the heavyweight rankings.
This is no doubt the biggest fight of his career yet however with a win over the veteran Lewis likely to be enough to propel him into the top six of the division.
Someone is going to sleep – who’s your money on?
Smith ain’t scared of the bogeyman
Magomed Ankalaev’s eight fight win streak in the UFC’s light heavyweight division have seen him become one of the least palatable matchups for many near the top of the rankings.
But not Anthony Smith.
The 34-year-old lived up to his “Lionheart” moniker by signing on the dotted line to face the Dagestani title hopeful in a cracking three-round scrap to open the main card at UFC 277.
Speaking at the UFC 277 media day on Wednesday, 34-year-old Smith questioned how Ankalaev had managed to gain such a ferocious reputation – particularly after the manner of his defeat to Paul Craig in 2018.
“I have a lot of respect for Paul Craig,” Smith explained.
“I hope if Paul Craig sees this, he doesn’t take this as disrespect. For what everyone expects Ankalaev to do to me, it’s very shocking that Paul Craig was still around in the third round to be able to do that [get the win].
He's very very good - but he's not the bogeyman
- Anthony Smith
“I don’t mean that in a negative way for Paul. They’re talking about him [Ankalaev] like he’s the second coming of Jesus, and he’s going to rip my head off my shoulders and feed it to the crowd. That’s not a guy that should have Paul Craig hanging around for 15 minutes. Do you know what I mean?”
While Ankalaev certainly has Smith’s respect, the man from Nebraska said he would not be afraid of his Russian foe when the Octagon door closes on Saturday night.
“He’s good, man. He’s very, very good,” Smith told MMAJunkie last week.
“But he’s not the bogeyman that everyone is making him out to be. He’s not that guy.”
With Ankalaev ranked four and Smith one place below him, the result could have huge ramifications on the immediate future of the 205lb division this Saturday night – particularly with the newly-crowned champion Jiri Prochazka looking to finalise the first defence of his light heavyweight tenure.
So will Lionheart slay the beast – or can Ankalaev claim another victim on his slow march to the title?
Watch UFC 277: Pena vs Nunes 2 exclusively live on BT Sport this Saturday night from 1am. Click here for all the ways to watch this unmissable event across the BT Sport network.