The Power of the Underdog: Charles Oliveira's and Julianna Pena's Wins at UFC 269

By Tudor Leonte  |  December 15, 2021  |  1,664 Comments

Two of the protagonists of the most anticipated fights on the second-last Ultimate Fighting Championship event in 2021 scored impressive victories and consolidated their position in their respective weight classes after starting as betting underdogs. After UFC 269, it’s pretty sure that nobody will ever underestimate the power of the underdog again.

The UFC 269 headliner saw Charles Oliveira submitting Dustin Poirier and confirming himself as the lightweight kingpin. The pair showcased an incredible fast-paced first round, where Poirier (28-7-1, 1NC; 20-6, 1 NC UFC) seemed to be inches away from capturing the division belt. “The Diamond” outstroke Oliveira (32-8, 1NC; 20-8 1NC UFC) and even dropped his opponent with a nasty right hook, but it was not enough to finish “Do Bronx.” Sensing that his opponent might have an edge on the feet, Oliveira resorted to his off-the-chart Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills starting Round 2, following it up with elbows in some ground-and-pound action. After dominating his opponent throughout the second frame, Oliveira tapped Poirier with his signature move, the rear-naked choke, calling the end of the action after 62 seconds of Round 3. 

In addition to defending the 155-pound belt, Oliveira scored his twentieth victory under the UFC banner. Before “Do Bronx,” only eight men managed to rack up so many wins in promotional history. The Brazilian also set a new record for most stoppages (18) and submissions (15) in the company's history. All considered, he will go down as one of the most dominant fighters in UFC’s lightweight division. Still, bookmakers’ odds weren’t in his favor at the fight’s eve. It is not the first time people think too little of Oliveira, as he was involved in the same situation right before his clash with Michael Chandler at UFC 262. That time, “Do Bronx” captured the vacant championship after stopping his opponent with punches in the second frame. 

After losing to Paul Felder at UFC 218 in December 2017, Oliveira’s mindset changed. Until that point, he gathered ten victories and eight defeats in his UFC tenure. The Brazilian looked hungrier than ever in his clash with Clay Guida at UFC 225, and he is now on a ten-bout winning streak. The list of contenders at Oliveira’s throne is long and sees Islam Makhachev, Justin Gaethje, and Beneil Dariush as the frontrunners. “Do Bronx” looks interested in fighting former two-division champion, Conor McGregor. Still, it’s hard to see “Notorious” getting a title shot any time soon, considering that his latest victory at 155-pound dates back to his magnificent performance against Eddie Alvarez in November 2016. 

In the co-main event, Julianna Pena defeated Amanda Nunes and captured the bantamweight championship after an absolutely incredible turn of events. The fight started uphill for “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 18 winner as she dropped the first round to Nunes, who scored with heavy leg kicks and overpowered her opponent on the mat. Still, Pena (11-4, 7-2 UFC) did land some solid punches and her jab seemed to find its way to Nunes’ face with incredible ease. “The Vixen” found the solution to the Brazilian enigma in Round 2 when she and the former champion put on a war of punches. Pena’s striking looked more on point than her opponent that fight, who looked for a resolutive one-shot that never came. After shaking Nunes for good and taking her down, Pena accomplished the impossible by tapping her opponent with a rear-naked choke. 

While it might not exactly be the biggest upset in the history of this sport, Pena’s victory was one of the most unexpected results in recent times. Before attempting her sixth title defense at 135 pounds and eighth in general, Nunes was regarded as a monstrous favorite, walking out at around -1000. In comparison, Pena was a +650 betting underdog but fulfilled her dream to become a UFC champion nearly 13 years after her professional debut and shortly after passing the eight-year landmark inside the Octagon. 

Now that the 135-pound category is finally unlocked, a plethora of opponents are waiting for the new divisional queen. The fighter with the most solid argument to face “The Vixen” as soon as possible is the former champion, Nunes, of course. The Brazilian dominated two weight classes for six years, there is no valid reason she should be denied an immediate rematch. Nunes didn’t quite look like her usual self at UFC 269, but, at 33, she is still very young even to consider retirement or to give up on avenging the stinging defeat from last night. 

Some other names who might want to get involved in the championship talks are former featherweight titleholder Germaine de Randamie and current 125-pound queen Valentina Shevchenko. Both fighters have remarkable victories over Pena as both submitted her in their respective clashes. However, her former foes should be well aware that they will have a new Pena in front of them. In her latest appearances, “The Vixen” put everything on the line to become a champion, paving her way to the championship with submission victories at the expense of Olympic medalist Sara McMann and Nunes. 

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