Cris Cyborg vs Amanda Nunes
The path to becoming the greatest of all-time took Amanda Nunes (16-4) through New York City last Wednesday, where she had lunch at Del Frisco’s in Rockefeller Center.
The UFC Bantamweight Champion is stepping up in both weight and competition, calling to fight UFC Featherweight Champion Cris Cyborg (20-1), the most dominant woman in mixed martial arts history.
Long away from training camp at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, Nunes was in NYC to promote the co-main event of UFC 232 this Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, California. After she ordered a well-done salmon in the high-end restaurant, I asked Nunes about the initial UFC 232 press conference, which was also in New York CCity on November 2, one day before UFC 230. At the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden, Cyborg called out Nunes for pulling out of fights, and indicating that she won’t even believe the bout will happen until Bruce Buffer is making the formal introductions Saturday evening.
Nunes smiled and lightly shook her head.
“A lot of people, all the fighters try to get in my head, but it’s impossible,” Nunes assured.
Seated to her left, UFC strawweight Nina Ansaroff, with whom Nunes—the UFC’s first openly lesbian champion—is engaged.
“I feel like it’s the only thing (Cyborg is) trying to do,” Ansaroff added, with a chuckle.
Nunes has not only been one of the best UFC fighters over the last few years, but also one of the most improved. Her winning streak of seven straight fights has stood since March of 2015. It started so long ago that the first victory wss a TKO over Shayna Baszler, who has since retired from MMA and is now the NXT Women’s Champion in the WWE.
Nunes’ coronation into stardom began with the main event of UFC 200 in 2016, where she stunned then Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate in three minutes and 16 seconds, and accelerated on December 30 of that year where she battered a returning Ronda Rousey in 48 seconds. (Coincidentally, Nunes retired Rousey as well, who has since joined Baszler in the WWE, where she is the current Raw Women’s Champion.)
Over that time, Cyborg has dominated far inferior competition, and Holly Holm, who came up from her natural class at 135 and took the featherweight champion to distance. In preparation for the super-fight, Nunes is working with stronger training partners and lifting heavier weights. She’s not only chasing the 145-pound belt, but the title of Greatest of All-Time.
“Right now, I don’t feel like I need to prove anything to anybody,” she said. “I’m a champion, I defend my belt, I keep my belt in my division. Now I’m going to go up because I want to see the answer, for myself, for my career… I want to see what I’m capable of. I think everybody in every job, you want to go to the next level, be the greatest, for sure. And this fight is going to put me in that… I’m ready for that.”
Because Cyborg needs this fight more, based on the landscape of each woman’s weight class and level of competition available, Ansaroff feels like Nunes is already there.
“I feel like, when you do beat the greatest of all-time, you become the greatest of all-time. Ronda was the greatest of all-time, Amanda beat Ronda, so that makes Amanda the greatest of all-time,” she offered. “But then, you beat someone in another weight class on top of already being the greatest of all-time, you’re definitely the G.O.A.T. There’s no doubt about that.
“I don’t think Cyborg could say that she is because of the level of competition that she’s faced, it isn’t as high as the competition Amanda has faced,” she continued. “There’s not that many girls who walk around at 170 and fight at 145. There’s just not that many girls that big, and at 145, there is no mix, you can’t even find anyone to fight her. So it’s hard to compare being the greatest when it’s such a vast difference between the greatest in that weight class and your competitors.”
Nunes’ winning streak not only includes Rousey and Tate, but other high-level combatants like Raquel Pennington this past May and current Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko on two occasions. What’s changed is being in control, confident and smart, which wasn’t the case as her career began with a 9-4 start.
“All those things that I used to miss a lot, I put it together,” she said. “Maybe I needed more confident for sure. Maybe earlier in my UFC career I needed to control myself more, pace myself more, I think that was a big thing before everything changed.”
Now, she’s not only sure of herself, but she’s certain she’ll walk out of California was the first female double champion, and amongst the best to ever do it in the sport, man or woman. Currently, oddsmakers have Cyborg as a strong favorite against Nunes.
“I know I’m going to beat her, but I don’t know how. I just see myself doing it. My dreams tell me that, too,” she said, flashing a smile.
“I think for sure she’s going to win,” she added confidently. “I think it’s a submission but you never know. I remember the fight with Miesha … 10-minutes before we walked out, we did a drill, and the way she did it in that moment with intensity, I said, ‘It’s going to be this one.’ Right before we walked out I said, ‘I think you’re going to win with a rear naked choke.’ And it happened. Maybe in the locker room we feel it again.”
I know, I know. I’ve aged poorly. I also know that neither you or I actually believe that. I cover NYC sports + more in a variety of ways. 4x NYPA nominee.