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Amanda Nunes — both ‘The Lioness’ and the GOAT

Beast mode: Amanda Nunes proved her superiority, both on her feet and on the ground, in the grudge match against Julianna Pena at UFC 277.

Beast mode: Amanda Nunes proved her superiority, both on her feet and on the ground, in the grudge match against Julianna Pena at UFC 277. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Amanda Nunes had a point to prove in her rematch against Julianna Pena for the women’s bantamweight title at UFC 277.

Seven months earlier, Nunes had suffered a stunning reversal at the hands of Pena. A rear naked choke in the second round saw Nunes, the overwhelming favourite, lose her bantamweight championship in one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.

At UFC 277, in front of a sell-out crowd at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Nunes got her revenge. Nunes dominated the fight from start to finish, battering her opponent with strikes and takedowns. A brave Pena managed to go the distance over five rounds, but it was Nunes who emerged as the clear winner in this highly anticipated rematch.

Switching southpaw

A ‘champ champ’ again: Nunes regained the bantamweight belt, adding to the featherweight title she already holds. No other UFC fighter has ever been a double champion twice.

A ‘champ champ’ again: Nunes regained the bantamweight belt, adding to the featherweight title she already holds. No other UFC fighter has ever been a double champion twice. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Brazilian showcased her tactical acumen in the fight, surprising Pena by using a southpaw stance. Not a natural southpaw, Nunes had to work on the fly, but it was enough to throw Pena off her gameplan.

Nunes, also the women’s featherweight champion, became the first person in UFC history, of any gender, to be crowned a double champ twice. Nunes, nicknamed ‘The Lioness’, underlined her status as the greatest female mixed martial artist of all time.

Even when Pena held the title, Nunes never doubted her own championship class. Her perfect display in the grudge fight was a reflection of her unshakeable self belief. Speaking to ESPN MMA after reclaiming the belt, Nunes said, “Throughout this time [when Pena was champion], I knew that I was a better fighter than Julianna. I was a better champion. I was a better person. Everything… She had her time, but now it’s over. The Lioness is back.

“I could have finished her [early], but I wanted to go five rounds. I wanted to show her that I’m better than her. I wanted to show the world the fighter that I am. I had many chances to finish her on the ground, but I wanted to prove to her that I can dominate her,” the 34-year-old added.

Nunes is clear about the legacy she intends to establish. “Let’s accept that I’m the GOAT (greatest of all time). Let’s accept that I make history. It’s not something I’ve made up; I’ve proved it. I’ve helped women’s MMA grow. I need to be respected more,” she said.

Pena, on the other hand, admitted that she was thrown off course by Nunes switching to the southpaw stance. She was adamant that she now has the answers to the Nunes puzzle and called for a rematch. The American went so far as to say that Nunes would not even be able to touch her if they came together in the cage again. 

“When someone has entirely revamped and completely switched their entire stance and their entire fighting style because of me, I take that as a compliment, you know? And I think that if you give me time to get ready for both stances of Nunes, she doesn’t touch me next time. I’m just really hoping that she heals up and that she’s able to get back in there before the end of the year because I’ll absolutely be ready for that trilogy fight,” Pena said at UFC on ESPN 40.

Trilogy?

Queen of all she surveys: What’s next for the dominant Nunes? Pena wants a rematch to complete the ‘trilogy’, but the prospect of facing flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, at a catchweight of 130 pounds, could be more attractive to Nunes.

Queen of all she surveys: What’s next for the dominant Nunes? Pena wants a rematch to complete the ‘trilogy’, but the prospect of facing flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, at a catchweight of 130 pounds, could be more attractive to Nunes. | Photo Credit: Getty Images

With honours even at 1-1, Pena has a good case to demand the trilogy. The manner of Nunes’ lopsided victory in the second fight, however, makes one wonder if a third fight is required to establish who the better fighter is. Nunes, southpaw or otherwise, is well poised to outclass Pena once again.

Pena may have to wait for her chance, for there is another worthy opponent for Nunes in Valentina Shevchenko. Shevchenko has fought Nunes twice, with Nunes taking close wins in both encounters. The duo last met in 2017, which saw Nunes successfully defend the bantamweight championship via a split decision.

Shevchenko has since moved down to the flyweight category and racked up nine wins on the trot. This streak includes a clinical unanimous decision win over Polish star Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the title in December 2018.

Shevchenko, a technically brilliant fighter, took to social media after UFC 277 to claim that Nunes had copied her stand-up game. Nunes laughed off the suggestion in the post-fight press conference, saying that Shevchenko was merely trying to gain some attention.

Nunes was not particularly impressed with Shevchenko’s last fight, against Taila Santos earlier this year. Shevchenko took the split decision win, but many believed that Santos edged it.

Nunes, however, is open to the idea of taking on Shevchenko for the third time. “Good. She’s a champion too. That would be awesome,” Nunes said.

Meeting in the middle

Given that Nunes and Shevchenko compete in different weight categories, the fight could be made at a catchweight of 130 pounds. This would mean that Nunes (135 pounds) will have to drop weight, while Shevchenko (125 pounds) will move up the scales.

The idea gained support from UFC president Dana White as well. “That’s not a bad idea. Normally I would say, ‘Come on, man.’ But that’s not a bad idea really, when you think about it. I’m not saying yes, I’m just saying it’s not a bad idea,” White said after UFC 277.

Having conquered all before her, Nunes could choose to ride off into the sunset. This is, however, unlikely to happen, given that she has plenty left in the tank. There are more chapters left to be written in Nunes’ epic story.


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Printable version | Sep 11, 2022 3:44:01 am | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/amanda-nunes-ufc-both-the-lioness-and-the-goat/article65763204.ece