Life at the summit of the Ultimate Fighting Championship tends to be fleeting. No sooner does a fighter ascend to the top rung of mixed martial arts, they invariably come crashing back down to the mat with a thud. Such is the nature of combat sports’ greatest test, a place where a big ego can be a giant liability.
Think Conor McGregor, now three years without a win after having seemingly turned himself into an invincible juggernaut of success and profanity-laced publicity. Or Ronda Rousey, who went from being touted as the most dominant athlete in sports to retired from the UFC in the space of two brutal, bloody knockout defeats.
Perhaps because of this inherent unpredictability of a sport where a single strike can topple the best-laid plans at a moment’s notice, the UFC and its president Dana White has been reluctant to bestow to tag of greatness upon many of its stars.
Amanda Nunes is the exception.
This weekend, Nunes will defend her UFC women’s bantamweight title against Germaine de Randamie at UFC 245 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Nunes also holds the featherweight belt, and when she steps into the Octagon seeking to win her 10th straight bout, she will do so with a ringing endorsement from the company behind her.
“She’s the greatest female fighter of all time and she’s one of the greatest mixed martial artists to ever live,” White said recently. “Every G.O.A.T. is established through time, and it’s not just who you beat, it’s how you beat them. If you look at who she’s beat, it’s a who’s who … and you look at how she beat them — there aren’t a lot of women knocking other women out, but she knocks women out.”
Nunes is a whirlwind of aggressive action inside the cage but is far from the most flamboyant of UFC stars outside it. She came from humble beginnings in Bahia, Brazil, and is not the kind of outrageous trash talker the UFC loves and, if truth be told, the type of personality the organization is most comfortable promoting. She likes a simple life. What she does best is win fights in resounding, comprehensive fashion.
“I want to retire in this place that I am right now — as the greatest of all-time.”https://t.co/0BuU2i68PV
— UFC News (@UFCNews) December 11, 2019
Now 31, Nunes had hiccups in the early part of her career, her undoubted explosiveness and power not always enough to overcome some technical holes. Since a 2014 loss to Cat Zingano in the UFC, those gaps have been plugged, and “The Lioness” has become an unstoppable force, taking down the biggest names in women’s fighting history along the way.
“For me, it’s everything,” Nunes said, when asked by UFC.com about being anointed the best women’s fighter ever. “This is my life. This is what I dreamed about. This is something I’ve wanted my whole career and have been working towards for my whole career.”
On Saturday, Nunes’ battle with de Randamie is part of a loaded UFC 245 card, headlined by a men’s welterweight title clash between defending champion Kamaru Usman and the divisive, hyperbolic challenger Colby Covington. Max Holloway defends his featherweight belt against fast-rising Alexander Volkanovski, while future Hall of Famers Jose Aldo and Urijah Faber are also on the main card.
Any time she fights, Nunes has the knockout power to upstage the whole evening. She claimed the UFC bantamweight title at the organization’s landmark UFC 200 card, sending Miesha Tate tumbling toward retirement with a brutal beatdown in the main event and becoming the organization’s first openly gay champion.
Since then: lights out. Nunes crushed Rousey in 2016, battering the former icon in a 48-second mauling, having been infuriated by the way her rival had been given far more pre-fight attention despite her own status as champion.
In December last year, another legend went tumbling down, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino’s 13-year, 20-win run of invincibility blasted away by Nunes’ fists in 51 seconds, giving her the featherweight title as well.
Holly Holm, another big name — and the first conqueror of Rousey — was next, another knockout, again within the first round.
— UFC (@ufc) December 11, 2019
It was enough to complete Nunes’ ascension to legendary status. UFC careers are defined by their big wins, and also because it is darn difficult to hold onto a title once you’ve gotten one. Nunes has also defeated flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko twice and has a prior win over former featherweight champ de Randamie.
“I am ready for more,” Nunes said. “I believe you have to earn everything. You earn the right to be champion, and you earn the right to keep the belt.”
Nunes grew up in relative poverty and now has a more-than-comfortable life with her partner, fellow UFC fighter Nina Ansaroff, who recently announced she is taking a year off to have a baby.
She has more money than she ever thought she’d have, just a few years after having to mop floors and sleep in her gym to make ends meet. Firmly at her peak now, Nunes isn’t stopping.
I first met Nunes and Ansaroff after her victory at UFC 200 and it takes only seconds in their company to realize how they bring out the best in each other. On a car journey in Los Angeles in 2017, Ansaroff spoke about the fire that has turned Nunes into a star.
“She has this focus that she is able to unleash when it really matters,” Ansaroff told me. “She is fiercely determined. She worked hard to get here, and she doesn’t want to let it go.”
Anything can happen in the UFC, its capacity for the unexpected being what makes it so compelling to so many. But Nunes is deep into a streak of domination now, one long enough for White to bestow greatness upon her — and to make more triumphs feel inevitable.
🦁 @Amanda_Leoa‘s Résumé:
— UFC (@ufc) December 11, 2019
Source: Fox Sports