After the shock subsides, it’s time to reexamine.
Is Julianna Pena’s second-round submission of Amanda Nunes from this past Saturday night at UFC 269 the greatest upset in UFC history?
The only way to find out is to stack it up against four of the greatest upsets in UFC lore. So, let’s do just that.
Holly Holm def. Ronda Rousey by second-round KO; Nov. 15, 2015
Rousey had bulldozed her way through Sara McMann, Alexis Davis, Cat Zingano and Bethe Correia each by first-round finish totaling a staggering two minutes and 10 seconds entering her fight with Holm.
The former pro boxer and kickboxer launched a head kick that gained worldwide notoriety to help punctuate a second-round KO of Rousey, shockingly giving the MMA juggernaut her first defeat and taking the women’s bantamweight championship in the process.
Was the upset bigger than what Pena did to Nunes? Well, close, but no. Holm poked all sorts of holes in Rousey’s standup game, tagging her at will, and Nunes only exploited that more by handing — emphasis on handing — Rousey a 48-second knockout a year later to effectively end her run in the UFC. Rousey was great but not even remotely as great as Nunes. So, what Pena did to Nunes has to be ranked higher.
Matt Serra def. Georges St-Pierre via first-round TKO; April 7, 2007
St-Pierre was 13-1 before getting caught and finished by Serra in shocking fashion to lose the welterweight title. His equilibrium was thrown up courtesy of a punch to the temple and he wasn't able to recover. But as surprising as the upset was at the time, it cannot unseat Pena’s defeat of Nunes because of what GSP did after. GSP never lost again, going on one of MMA’s most legendary winning streaks of all time. Oh yeah, he also avenged his loss to Serra with a second-round TKO in April 2008 and that took away from the effects of the upset as well.
Michael Bisping def. Luke Rockhold by first-round KO; June 4, 2016
The circumstance behind Bisping’s first-round obliteration of Rockhold certainly catapulted it to being one of the greatest upsets in UFC history. First of all, Bisping entered the Octagon on less than three weeks notice after an injury forced Chris Weidman to pull out. Secondly, Rockhold used a guillotine choke to finish Bisping less than two years prior in their first encounter. So, Bisping defeating Rockhold the way he did in the first round was improbable. Still, Rockhold wasn’t nearly as dominant as Nunes was. So, it can’t touch Pena’s upset, either.
TJ Dillashaw def. Renan Barao via fifth-round TKO; May 24, 2014
Barao had built his record to a stunning 32-1, having defended the bantamweight title three times before Dillashaw laid him to waste with a head kick and punches as the new star was born with a boom. Great upset but not quite in the magnitude of Pena’s.
The final verdict ...
For months leading up to Nunes-Pena, the challenger had spoke with confidence about beating Nunes. In fact, that very talking helped cement the fight in the first place.
Although the masses absorbed Pena’s talk as bluster, “The Venezuelan Vixen” believed in herself, brimming with confidence in the buildup to being locked in the Octagon with the GOAT of women’s martial arts and quite possibly MMA, period.
A few days before defeating Nunes, Pena predicted to DAZN News:
“I think that when the going gets tough and the tough gets going and you put the amount of pressure on a fighter — a certain fighter— and you’ve seen them cave and curl up in the fetal position, that’s something that’s still is in them,” Pena said, referring to the last time Nunes tasted defeat in a September 2014 TKO loss to the same Cat Zingano that she beat in July 2016. “It still lives in them. My job is to go out there and bring that out and find that breaking point and find that part of the button that makes her want to quit and get out of there. That’s my job. That’s my goal.”
Well, she sure did her job and accomplished that goal, showing a willingness to stand toe-to-toe and slug it out with Nunes before trapping her in a rear-naked choke for the stunning second-round finish.
Nunes was on a 12-fight winning streak entering the bout, having defeated everyone from Shayna Baszler to Valentina Shevchenko (twice), Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm and Germain de Randamie to mention a few. She was the undisputed GOAT of women’s MMA and quite possibly MMA, overall, with a double champ reign to help argue it into existence.
Pena’s longtime trainer hinted with DAZN News how close his charge was to finishing Shevchenko and de Randamie, before losing to each. But Pena made sure she cinched on a submission that didn’t allow the GOAT to escape for her biggest win ever.
Some will say that Nunes was fatigued and that could very well be the case. Perhaps the “Lioness” will bounce back with enough gusto to even starch Pena in their rematch.
But for the sheer dominance and stature that Nunes had built up, Pena’s upset stands for now as the greatest the UFC has ever witnessed. Definitely the most shocking.