On June 6, 2020, Amanda Nunes will defend her featherweight crown from Felicia Spencer at UFC 250. We can expect Nunes to reign on as the GOAT for women’s UFC and that this upcoming fight will conclude with Bruce Buffer’s voice thundering, “the winner AND STILL CHAMPION!”
Amanda Nunes has been so overpowering in winning championships in two different UFC women’s weight divisions that most MMA fans are unaware of how much adversity she has overcome in her rise to GOAT status.
On July 9, 2016, it took the Lioness just over three minutes of the first round (3:16) to become the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion by defeating Miesha Tate by rear-naked choke, after practically disabling Tate with knees and punches.
On December 30, 2018, following four consecutive bantamweight title defenses that included first-round TKO finishes against Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm, Nunes moved up in weight to fight Cris Cyborg for the UFC women’s featherweight championship. It took Nunes only 51 seconds to knockout Cyborg – a ferocious striker in her own right – by overwhelming her with combination blows that ended with an overhand right to Cyborg’s temple. The victory earned Nunes the Performance of the Night Award and made her the first woman in UFC history to simultaneously hold two championship belts in different weight divisions.
Despite her unmatched success, betting odds placed Nunes as the underdog in both of her title-winning fights. She was +260 when she vanquished Tate and +160 when she crushed Cyborg. Odds-makers underestimated Nunes’ determination, even though her rise to the ranking of top contender displayed a remarkable degree of tenacity and grit.
Nearly all professional fighters face moments in their careers when self-doubt or financial hardship creates a fork in the road. One path can lead to quitting the sport, and the other path can lead to greatness. It takes tremendous perseverance for a fighter to overcome losses, gaps between fights, canceled bouts, and small amounts of fight pay to continue down the second road. This is especially true for female fighters, who have not historically received the same level of admiration from non-fighting women as male fighters receive from non-fighting men. Male fighters are more likely to receive social reinforcement and bragging rights from other men – including non-fighters – just for stepping into the cage. It’s not the same for female fighters.
Nunes overcame tremendous adversity during the four-year period from February 2011 through February 2015. During the first half of this stretch - from February, 2011 through April, 2013 - while fighting for Srikeforce and Invicta FC, she won only one fight, while losing two. And Nunes missed out on three fight opportunities due to bout cancelations caused by pre-fight injuries; two to Nunes and one to main-event fighter Gilbert Melendez, which canceled the entire event, including Nunes’ scheduled matchup.
Bout cancelations can be emotionally and financially draining for fighters. They deprive them of a matchup that took weeks to prepare for, they slow a fighter’s career progression, and they eliminate opportunities for fight pay and fight-night bonuses. They are even more problematic for female MMA fighters, who have fewer event opportunities for participation.
The second half of this four-year period marked Nunes entry to the UFC. Although she defeated her first two opponents – Sheila Gaff and Germaine de Randamie – by first-round TKO, she missed out on a fight opportunity due to an injury to her thumb before losing her third fight to Cat Zingano. This was a tough fight for the Lioness, who dominated the first round, until Zingano battled back in the second and then defeated Nunes by TKO (ground and pound) in the third.
Nuness reportedly earned $43,000 in total fight pay as the sum of her first three UFC fights – an average of just over $14k per fight. She received $15,000 in fight pay for her tough loss to Zingano. While women fighters can generate additional revenue from sponsorships, salary, and fight-night bonuses (Nunes has won four of these), the fight pay they received before the rise in popularity of women’s MMA was ridiculously low. In contrast, Nunes received $350,000 for her fight with Cyborg on December 30, 2018 – not including her bonus for Performance of the Night.
The Lioness overcame a four-year period marked by an equal amount of losses and wins (three each), four missed fight opportunities to canceled bouts, and low amounts of fight pay to become the simultaneous champion of two weight divisions. Since her loss to Zingano on September 27, 2014 (UFC 178), Nunes has racked up nine consecutive victories, including six consecutive wins in title fights (4 And Still Champion, 2 And New Champion).
Nunes credits her tremendous success to the strong relationship she has with her fiancé Nina Ansaroff, who is currently ranked fourth in the UFC women’s flyweight division. They began dating in 2012.
At a back-stage interview with UFC correspondent Megan Olivi on December 30, 2018, the night of Nunes victory over Cyborg, Nunes said, “Me and Nina have a huge connection… Mentally especially. When I look at Nina, she knows exactly what I’m thinking, and I think it’s that – it’s the biggest thing in life right now – this connection; it makes us powerful.”
Nunes has racked up seven consecutive title defenses, while Spencer has only three fights in the UFC, so it's easy to predict this fight will end with “AND STILL CHAMPION!”