UFC 269 had no shortage of drama. From the duality of Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier's comeback stories, to Julianna Pena's upset of longtime UFC women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, this event had a bit of everything. Oliveira's indomitable spirit drowned out the crowd supporting Poirier at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Pena silenced fan-favorite Nunes with a victory few could believe.
The UFC entered its final pay-per-view event of 2021 and gave us one to remember. With so much to soak up from Saturday's PPV card, let's break down the biggest storylines from UFC 269.
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Charles Oliveira may be the complete package
Oliveira and Poirier are two sides of the same coin really. Tales of highly touted prospects falling short, being doubted, refusing to be denied and eventually soaring. Unfortunately for one, that story diverges at the climax (more on that later).
For the better part of seven years, it felt like every time "Do Bronx" was ready to take flight, someone would clip his wings. First, it was Jim Miller and Donald Cerrone. Then it was Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar. Then came Max Holloway, Anthony Pettis, Ricardo Lamas and Paul Felder. Oliveira nearly suffered the same fate against Michael Chandler and Poirier; however, he is now as hard-headed (figuratively and literally) as he is dangerous.
Oliveira weathered a tough first round against Poirier, immediately getting dropped and repeatedly absorbing hard punches. No matter how much damage he endured, the UFC lightweight champion immediately fired back with elbows and knees. In Round 2, Oliveira secured top position on the ground and kept it for most of the frame. Oliveira opened Round 3 with an ultra-slick standing back take. Poirier's efforts to defend the rear-naked choke were commendable. Unfortunately for him, Oliveira clocked in the choke deeper and deeper with each adjustment. That moment in Round 3 at UFC 269 will be etched in the history books as Oliveira's first successful title defense. Much like the Chandler fight, Oliveira swam against a rising tide until the current changed in his favor.
Maybe it wasn't meant to be for 'The Diamond'
As for the coin's other side. Poirier's story might just be one of what-if. Saturday's sentimental favorite entered UFC 269 as a major star after successfully winning two of three fights in the Conor McGregor trilogy. He made good on a bitter 2014 loss to McGregor and was primed to finally capture the UFC lightweight title following former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov's retirement. The Las Vegas crowd was firmly behind Poirier. Even if you picked Oliveira to win, there was no denying the feel-good story of Poirier as champion.
Poirier clipped Oliveira early and poured on big punches through the first round. It looked like MMA's ultimate comeback story would be actualized. Sadly for Poirier and his supporters, Oliveira refused to purchase a ticket. There is no denying Poirier's status as an all-time great lightweight. He boasts an interim UFC lightweight title and wins over McGregor (twice), Max Holloway (twice), Eddie Alvarez, Anthony Pettis, Justin Gaethje, Dan Hooker and many others. "The Diamond" still has UFC gold in reach, but the window is beginning to close.
Pena creates and cashes in on golden opportunity
Pena was not the most deserving UFC title challenger in recent history, at least not based on meritocracy. Ultimately, that means very little when you choke out the greatest women's mixed martial artist of all time. "The Venezuelan Vixen" made a fiery challenge to Nunes that eventually culminated in a UFC women's bantamweight title shot at UFC 269. Pena was the evening's biggest underdog at +575. Nunes was its biggest favorite at -850. Pena entered the fight 1-1 in her last two: beating Sara McMann and losing to Germaine de Randamie. Nunes had a dozen consecutive wins: de Randamie, Holly Holm, Cris Cyborg, Valentina Shevchenko (twice), Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, McMann and more.
None of that mattered.
Nunes clearly took the first round against Pena at UFC 269. She was the more powerful, accurate puncher and it showed. Pena, much like Oliveira later in the evening, could not care less. The challenger pressed forward and threw strikes until she was actually challenging the division's dictator. Nunes and Pena went blow-for-blow, getting sloppier as Round 2 ticked away. Eventually, Pena got the better of the celebrated champion on the feet. Nunes was backed up, dragged down and tapped out in what is being hailed as one of the MMA's greatest upsets.
"Don't ever doubt me again. Will power, strength and determination. It will take you places," Pena said in the post-fight interview. "The world is my oyster and you literally have the ability to do anything you want to in this life. I just proved that."
Point proven, Pena.