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But once Pena (10-4 MMA, 5-3 UFC) did, it was like watching a sports car rev up. “The Ultimate Fighter 18” winner shook off a slow round, turned the tide in the second, then finished things with a rear-naked choke in the third. The time of the finish was 3:39 at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi.
“It went exactly as I expected,” Pena said. “Sara McMann is the best wrestler in the division. I beat the best wrestler in the division, and now I want Amanda Nunes next.”
The first round was all for 2004 Olympic wrestling silver medalist McMann (12-6 MMA, 6-6 UFC). She came into the bout the all-time leader in takedowns in the women’s bantamweight division with 20 and wasted little time adding to her total. She transitioned from side control to a back take and nearly sunk in her hooks, then when she couldn’t quite get there, transitioned to top control, landing elbows along the way.
The second saw both fighters have their moments in a round again mostly fought on the ground, but as the round wore on, it was clear Pena was becoming stronger, even as she was on the bottom where she landed punch after punch as McMann tried to improve her position.
By the third, Pena had plainly taken over. She was aggressive from the outset, threw McMann to the mat, landed elbows aggressively as McMann turtled, then made a sweet transition to take her back and sink in the winning choke, the fourth submission victory of her career.
Pena has now won two of her past three bouts, while McMann has dropped three of her past four.
Up-to-the-minute UFC 257 results:
Julianna Pena def. Sara McMann via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 3, 3:39
Marcin Prachnio def. Khalil Rountree via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Movsar Evloev def. Nik Lentz via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Amir Albazi def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)