Amanda Nunes is still upset at herself for believing she took Julianna Pena too lightly when they met on Dec. 11, 2021.
Pena defeated Nunes with a rear-naked choke in the second round to shock what many consider to be the greatest female fighter in UFC history, stripping her of the bantamweight crown.
Nunes was so stunned by her first loss in seven years that she said leading up to UFC 289 that she considered retirement. She regrouped and got back the belt on July 30 with a unanimous decision over Pena in which the closest scorecard was 50-45.
Now Nunes faces fifth-ranked challenger Irene Aldana on Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia, with every intention of not having a repeat of the first Pena fight.
“To retire and leave my belts with Julianna, no way,” said Nunes, also the featherweight champion and the top-ranked pound-for-pound fighter. “I know I can kick her (butt) any time I want. … I made the mistake to fight without being in great shape. I paid for it, and I’m never going to do that again. My mindset was to get the belt back and never to lose it again, so now I’m here motivated. I’m a lioness ready to go through the jungle.”
Nunes (22-5) was supposed to fight Pena for a third time and settle for sure which is the better fighter. But when Pena suffered a rib injury in training camp, Aldana (14-6) got the call to replace her.
Should Aldana win, she would become the fourth Mexican fighter to win a championship this year, further validating the UFC’s plans to construct a training facility in Mexico City that will open later this year.
She cried when watching the other three claim their titles.
“I see someone else’s success, and it gives me strength,” Aldana said. “… There’s something about the Mexican DNA that we love so many sports. We have our great history in boxing.
“I’ve been having a lot of support from Mexico, more than I thought I would have. It’s been real nice to see the messages, all the support. My coaches tell me to leave the phone alone.”
Should Aldana upset Nunes, a minus-350 favorite at FanDuel Sportsbook, her phone won’t stop ringing.
If Nunes wins the battle of 35-year-olds, she will have options on who to fight if to go back into the octagon at all. Nunes said she wasn’t thinking about retirement this week, but didn’t rule it out, either.
“You never know how mentally the other fighter is going to come, but I’m thinking if she’s going to retire, she wants to retire as a champion,” Aldana said. “So I’m not taking it an easy way.”
Retirement already crossed Nunes’ mind after her shocking loss to Pena, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if she gives the subject some serious thought no matter what happens Saturday.
Until then, Nunes will focus on Aldana even if Nunes said she wasn’t impressed with her opponent.
“I’m not going to sleep on her,” Nunes said. “I like to fight somebody new, and I like the challenge it brings to me.”
Also on the fight card, top-ranked lightweight challenger Charles Oliveira (33-9 with one no-contest) of Brazil faces fourth-ranked Beneil Dariush (22-4-1) of Yorba Linda, California.
Oliveira comes off his first defeat in 12 fights, losing in the second round by arm triangle Oct. 22 to Islam Makhachev. After losing his belt that night, Oliveira hopes to work his way back into title contention by ending Dariush’s eight-fight winning streak.