On Saturday night, Julianna Pena has the chance to prove lightning can strike twice when she defends her women's bantamweight championship against Amanda Nunes in the main event of.
Pena shocked the MMA world at UFC 269, submitting Nunes to capture the championship. Prior to the defeat, Nunes had established herself as the greatest female fighter in the history of the sport, winning both the bantamweight and featherweight titles and running through every woman to ever hold either of those championships. Despite coming into the fight with a 2-2 record in her previous four bouts, Pena was able to end Nunes' run.
A second title fight slots in the co-main event, this of the interim variety. Former flyweight champ Brandon Moreno is set to take on Kai Kara-France for interim gold at 125 pounds. Moreno is coming off a three-fight series with current titleholder Deiveson Figueiredo, where he dropped the belt in the final meeting. But because of an injury to the Brazilian champ, an interim strap was put on the line for this meeting. Kara-France is coming in on a three-fight win streak.
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The undercard also features some heavy hitters in the biggest weight classes. Texas native and former title challenger Derrick Lewis is back when he welcomes the latest rising contender at heavyweight in Sergei Pavlovich. Plus, another former title challenger is set for his return when light heavyweight Anthony Smith battles rising contender Magomed Ankalaev in what could determine the next challenger to the 205-pound title.
With so much happening on Saturday night, let's take a closer look at the full fight card with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before we get to our staff predictions and picks for the PPV portion of the festivities.
UFC 277 fight card, odds
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
- Amanda Nunes -270 vs. Julianna Pena (c) +220, women's bantamweight championship
- Brandon Moreno -210 vs. Kai Kara-France +175, interim flyweight championship
- Sergei Pavlovich -140 vs. Derrick Lewis +120, heavyweight
- Alexandre Pantoja -200 vs. Alex Perez +170, flyweight
- Magomed Ankalaev -550 vs. Anthony Smith +400, light heavyweight
- Matthew Semelsberger -155 vs. Alex Morono +130, welterweight
- Drew Dober -170 vs. Rafael Alves +145, lightweight
- Don'Tale Mayes -180 vs. Hamdy Abdelwahab +155, heavyweight
- Drakkar Klose -220 vs. Rafa Garcia +180, lightweights
- Michael Morales -650 vs. Adam Fugitt +475, welterweight
- Joselyne Edwards -125 vs. Ji Yeon Kim +105, women's flyweight
- Nicolae Negumereanu -115 vs. Ihor Potieria -105, light heavyweight
- Orion Cosce -180 vs. Blood Diamond +155, welterweight
With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer, co-host of "Morning Kombat"), Shakiel Mahjouri (writer), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (senior editor).
UFC 277 picks, predictions
|Pena (c) vs. Nunes||Nunes||Nunes||Nunes||Nunes||Nunes|
|Moreno vs. Kara-France||Kara-France||Moreno||Moreno||Moreno||Moreno|
|Lewis vs. Pavlovich||Lewis||Lewis||Lewis||Lewis||Pavlovich|
|Pantoja vs. Perez||Pantoja||Perez||Pantoja||Pantoja||Pantoja|
|Smith vs. Ankalaev||Ankalaev||Ankalaev||Ankalaev||Ankalaev||Ankalaev|
|Records to date (2022)||16-17||19-14||16-17||17-16||22-11|
Pena vs. Nunes
Campbell: Is it fair to suggest their first meeting at UFC 269 saw Pena deliver the greatest performance of her career while Nunes gave arguably her worst? At the end of the day, it is fair, even if that feels like it's undermining everything that Pena did well that night to shock the world. Now we know about Pena's stubborn toughness and her willingness to remain poised in extreme scenarios, which proved to be a huge part of how she won, along with the way she gassed Nunes out on the ground. It's just hard to imagine the exact same scenario playing out again, with lightning striking a second time in the same place. Nunes is still known as the G.O.A.T. of women's MMA because of how dangerous and nearly complete a fighter she became through an incredible 12-fight win streak. Nunes will need to fight more from distance and remained poised in ways she couldn't the first time. Just re-watch her five-round victory over Valentina Shevchenko in their rematch to remind how much of a chess player Nunes can be. If "The Lioness" can prevent the fight from turning into chaos and keep it off the ground for large sections, she has the potential to win going away. But she must make Pena come to her and make her pay for crossing the line.
Brookhouse: Combat sports history is littered with great athletes running into specific fighters who just turn out to be their kryptonite, even if it just seemed to not make sense on paper. Vernon Forrest had Shane Mosley's number even if Mosley was the better fighter historically. Similarly, Forrest lost to Ricardo Mayorga twice despite all reason suggesting Forrest should have won both fights. Is that the case with Pena and Nunes? It could be that Pena's toughness and ability to gas Nunes out in the first fight was indicative of Pena just having Nunes' number. That said, it's hard to side against the greatest female fighter in the history of women's MMA now that she's had time to take in the information, train and adjust. Pena deserves all credit for the win and all respect coming into the rematch, but repeating is a big ask.
Mahjouri: Nunes vs. Pena was an unusually messy brawl for Nunes. Pena delivered a winning game plan and the champion deserves a ton of credit. Pena put pressure on Nunes and won a war of attrition. Pena presented the winning game plan on Dec. 11, but I'm not yet convinced she is the overall more skilled fighter. Put respect on the champion's name but expect a more thoughtful approach by the challenger. Nunes via decision.
Moreno vs. Kara-France
Campbell: If his last three fights are any indication, Kara-France is a much more confident, dangerous and evolved threat than the version of him who lost a unanimous decision to Moreno in 2019. The native of New Zealand has become more of a threat to finish of late, and did just that against Rogerio Boterin and Cody Garbrandt. But his decision win over Askar Askarov, who pushed Moreno to the limit in their draw three years ago, showcased the full level of his maturity. Expect this to be a high-speed duel with Moreno looking to bounce back in a huge way from dropping the title to Deiveson Figueiredo in their third meeting. But Kara-France is simply riding the kind of momentum that is difficult to put a ceiling upon. Kara-France will need to be precise on his combinations when he chooses to take chances, but the potential to force Moreno to second guess and chase him is very much there.
Brookhouse: This is a very tough fight to call. Kara-France is an outstanding fighter who has gotten better performance after performance. It's just hard to ignore that Moreno has largely done the same. He's gone three straight fights with Deiveson Figueiredo giving just as good as he got and arguably deserving the win all three outings. Moreno's pace and combination of sharp striking and offensive grappling make him such a dangerous fighter that he's got the edge coming into what should be an incredible fight.
Lewis vs. Pavlovich
Campbell: For as self-implosive as his recent knockout defeats to Cyril Gane and Tai Tuivasa appeared to be, Lewis is too much of a sly fox to count out just yet, especially against this level of competition. If Pavlovich, the slight betting favorite who has won three straight since being stopped by Alistair Overeem, is on his way to becoming one of the division's elite, history will tell you he probably will defeat Lewis. But that remains a huge if and Lewis' power alone leaves him as the wrong guy to make a huge mistake against while trying to make that leap. Lewis has rebounded huge from one-sided defeats in the past, including the whitewashing put on him by Daniel Cormier in their 2018 title bout. At 37, there's still enough bite left in Lewis to survive and advance to the next big test.
Mahjouri: Lewis is not the most reliable pick on the planet, but he generally performs well against all but the very best. "The Black Beast" was getting the better of Tai Tuivasa before suffering a second-round stoppage loss. Pavlovich has been nearly flawless in the Octagon but first-round knockouts of Shamil Abdurakhimov, Maurice Greene and Marcelo Golm do not hold up well against a first-round loss to Alistair Overeem. Lewis is more experienced and likely more powerful. Look forward to another classic post-fight winning speech.
Ankalaev vs. Smith
Wise: The line on this fight is way off. Smith is getting disrespected for a former title challenger with three straight TKO victories. At this price, Smith moneyline is easily the smartest play in what should be considered more of a coin-flip fight. Ankalaev can be explosive at times, but when presented with a fighter just as strong in Thiago Santos, he took a slower approach and earned a decision. I'd expect this to play out in a similar fashion where judging could come into play and certain criteria could swing rounds in Smith's favor. I expect Ankalaev to get the win, but it's certainly not as sure a bet as those odds would suggest.
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