UFC 277 best bets: Nunes-Pena 2

July 27, 2022 08:17 PM
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Back to the Lone Star State — and its notorious athletic commission — we go for UFC 277 from Dallas, featuring 13 MMA battles. The feature card offers rematches in both the main and co-main events. Also of note: Two Texas athletes are on the card, which is relevant in the event of a tightly contested decision.  

Last week, Curtis Blaydes won after a freak injury to Tom Aspinall in London. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good as we invested in Blaydes, who closed as a + 130 underdog. 

Insight the Octagon 2022: 18-10 (+ 7.12 units).

Amanda Nunes (-300) vs. Julianna Pena (+ 245) 

Women’s bantamweight championship (135 pounds) | Main event

Nunes rolled into her first bout with Pena in December at -900 to Pena’s + 600. In the first round, Nunes looked like her old self in domineering Pena early, then a funny thing happened: She ran completely out of juice, which seems to be a theme for the brash power striker over the course of her career.

Pena submitted the seemingly unbeatable Nunes in the second round, proving that focus, belief and unrelenting pressure can overcome pure talent, especially when one party is impeded by success, distraction and a lack of commitment.

In her prime, Nunes was regarded as a peer to Valentina Shevchenko in the battle for top female talent of all time. However, Nunes has been unable to execute what Shevchenko has, which is to remain solely focused on fighting without allowing anything else to permeate the integrity of her legacy. 

Pena, “The Venezuelan Vixen,” arrives a champion on a two-fight win streak. Pena has effective precision striking to complement her blue belt in BJJ. She is unrelenting in her drive to succeed, which is partly why she was able to compete as she did against the bully Nunes. 

In this rematch, she’ll need to avoid standing with Nunes, especially if Nunes is more mentally prepared and physically conditioned for the inevitable firestorm to come this Saturday.  

Pena must again display the tough-mindedness, wrestling, strength cardio and patience to get this bout past the first round, then transition it to the floor. Taxing Nunes, who is large for the division, is mandatory. Forcing her to move, wrestle and compete every minute from the opening bell is critical.

Nunes needs to kick the door in on this challenge and prove that, when focused, she is the most lethal fighter in the world of women’s MMA. I don’t advise a walk-her-down approach for the ex-champion but patience and pressure instead. If Nunes can meet Pena in the center of the cage and, without emotion, work her complete mixed martial arts game, then she will surely be more competitive in this bout. 

What’s known is that Pena is a savage and will defend with everything she has. What’s unknown is whether Nunes is mentally into this rematch. Nunes started a new gym and left the world-class camp that is ATT in Florida, which I regard as a dubious tell.   

Play: Pena + 245.

Total in this fight: 2.5 rounds Under -118 (it’s interesting that the total in the first bout was 1.5 rounds Over -110).

Brandon Moreno (-210) vs. Kai Kara-France (+ 185) 

Flyweight interim championship (125 pounds) | Co-main event

This is also a rematch of a 2019 bout that Moreno won via unanimous decision. In that fight, France was the -160 favorite.

Moreno, the former champion, will be recognized as the legitimate flyweight titleholder with a victory, as current champion Deiveson Figueiredo wants no part of another fight against either of these two flyweights. Figueiredo will more than likely eat his way up a weight class in order to escape the diligence it takes to achieve the flyweight limit, where he is 50/50 at best to make the 125 pounds. 

Kara-France is an ascending talent from City Kickboxing, which is where champions Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski train. The gym is rife with world-class fighting talent and Kara-France has shown improvement in each of his bouts since the Moreno fight in 2019. It should be noted that few other gyms prepare their athletes as well and thoroughly for championship opportunities as City Kickboxing and trainer Eugene Bareman. 

Kara-France is lightning quick, striking based, aggressive and carries great momentum into this fight, but he lacks the mettle to compete on the mat against the division’s more competent grapplers such as Moreno. Forcing Moreno to keep this bout standing is of utmost importance to Kara-France.

Moreno has switched camps, going from Tijuana to Glory MMA in Missouri to train with James Krause. It’s a risky move for Moreno as he straddles Missouri, Nevada and other locations in preparation for this fight. 

Moreno is 3 inches taller, a year younger and has slight arm/leg reach advantages over Kara-France. He had great performances against Figueiredo, when he displayed heart, focus, unrelenting pressure and the Mexican pride required to defeat anyone in this weight class. 

Kara-France will be quicker, crisper and flashier in this fight, but the diligence, forward pressure and experience of Moreno will challenge him.

This appears to be a real classic, one in which each fighter has a path to victory. That said, with a fight lined as likely to go to decision, it’s my opinion that Moreno, of Mexican descent, will hold tremendous favor with the crowd and therefore the judges when any decision is announced.

Total in this fight: 4.5 rounds Over -155 (the total in the first bout was 2.5 rounds Over -235, so the oddsmakers have made a big adjustment).

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