Amanda Nunes is all set to face Irene Aldana on Saturday at UFC 289, but the reigning two-division UFC women’s champion clearly still has plenty of unfinished business with the last woman to defeat her.
Nunes’ long reign as UFC women’s bantamweight title came to an abrupt end at UFC 269 when an inspired Julianna Pena ran through the Brazilian’s strikes, took her down and submitted her in the second round to spring one of the biggest title fight shocks in UFC history.
Nunes went on to avenge that loss to re-establish herself as the most dominant female athlete in UFC history. But, based on her comments to the media this week, she still has a chip on her shoulder when it comes to Pena.
“I decided to not retire, because if I retire, I leave my belt with Julianna,” Nunes told reporters at UFC 289 media day.
“No way! No way! It can be with somebody else, but with Julianna, no!”
Clearly, the animosity between Nunes and Pena remains strong, and the outlet for that bad blood was due to be this weekend’s main event in Vancouver. But, following Pena’s withdrawal, Nunes now finds herself facing first-time challenger Irene Aldana.
It’s a bout that Nunes is focusing on this week, but she made sure to leave a clear message to her old rival as she recalled their prior two meetings.
“I know I could kick her ass any time I want,” she said.
“She was supposed to win that day. I was supposed to make the mistakes that I made, to fight without being in great shape. I paid for it, and I’m never going to do that again. Ever, ever, ever.
“I was confused a little bit, but I got my foot on the floor, I got home, and everything was ready to go. My mindset was ready to get the belt back and never lose again.
Despite having a loss to Pena on her record, Nunes still didn’t rate “The Venezuelan Vixen’s” fighting abilities. That opinion, plus her desire to avenge that loss, saw her return in stellar form as she claimed a unanimous decision win over Pena in the rematch.
“She’s not that good,” Nunes said.
“That (loss) was harder to swallow. She’s crazy. She goes forward and punches, and just being tough, and she has the belt. She can get hit. No. No way.
“I knew I’m going to go back there and get that belt again. The second fight, I knew I’m getting my belt back, and I did it.”
If she successfully defends her title against Aldana this weekend, there’s a good chance the UFC will look to rekindle Nunes’ rivalry with Pena with a rearranged trilogy bout.
“I’ll fight her again after this, no problem at all,” she said.
“She makes me better. This is MMA. If she sticks with her style, I’m sorry, you’re going to be gone soon.
“I’m evolving all the time. Yeah, I can strike. I can wrestle you. My wrestling is better than yours. My ground is better than yours. If you attack anything, I can defend. I’m stronger. So I’m better than you everywhere. You’re gone.”
While a future matchup with Pena seems like a distinct possibility, one fight Nunes doubts we’ll see in the future is a trilogy bout with former flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko.
“Yeah, I dunno,” she said, when asked about that possibility.
“I think I have a lot of noise at 135, and I don’t think the UFC is going to stop and then go back with the Valentina thing. That doesn’t sell nothing.”
The chances of the matchup may have reduced following Shevchenko’s shock loss to Alexa Grasso at UFC 285. But, despite the Mexican’s victory coming as a surprise to many, Nunes said she wasn’t too shocked.
“I was not surprised,” she said.
“I fought Valentina when she was in her prime, and we were both growing. Last fight, we were both growing as a fighter.
“Valentina has a lot of holes that I can see. I wasn’t able to do (it) back then, but I see how Alexa Grasso would be able to finish her.”