The toughest test of 2020 for two-division UFC champion Amanda Nunes didn’t come inside the Octagon — it came at home, in the days immediately following the birth of her daughter, Raegan Ann.
“When she was born, Nina had to stay in the hospital for a couple days and I stayed home with her for four, five days by myself,” began Nunes, whose partner is UFC strawweight contender Nina Ansaroff. “I’d never taken care of a kid in my whole life and that was a very weird moment, and I didn’t know how I was going to handle it.
“Time goes on, days go by, and I was handling it like a champion, which surprised me,” continued the affable Brazilian titleholder, laughing at her own uncertainty. “I knew everything — give her a bath, give her food, what she wanted when she cried, without being around babies my whole life.
“I was very surprised and proud of myself because taking care of a baby when you have no experience is hard, but I took care of her very well all by myself. I handled it like a champion.”
In addition to handling the early days of parenthood with aplomb, “The Lioness” also handled her lone assignment inside the Octagon without any trouble as well, posting a dominant unanimous decision win over Felicia Spencer in the main event of UFC 250 in June to defend her featherweight title.
From the outset, it was clear that the champion was operating on an entirely different level than the challenger, as Nunes picked apart Spencer on the feet on the way to earning a clean sweep of the scorecards, with two judges awarding her a 10-8 frame in the fourth round.
It was a record-setting victory for Nunes, who extended her winning streak to 11 and became the first fighter, male or female, to successfully hold and defend titles in two weight classes simultaneously. Now, she’s ready to face her next challenge.
Saturday night in Las Vegas, Nunes defends her featherweight title for the second time, squaring off with Australian challenger Megan Anderson in the second of three championship fights slated for UFC 259.
“She deserves this — she’s proven she’s supposed to be here right now — and I think she’s really tough,” Nunes said of Anderson, who won championship gold under the Invicta FC banner before joining the UFC roster, and enters this weekend’s event having earned consecutive first-round stoppage victories. “Obviously she’s a striker, but she’s dangerous on the floor as well, because she’s long too; she has a good triangle.
“She’s definitely a dangerous opponent and I have to be aware. I know she knows how to use her reach very well and I have to be ready for all those things.”
Though Anderson is undeniably deserving of this weekend’s opportunity, Nunes is again positioned as the favorite, which is certainly merited, but also comes with its own challenges.
The 32-year-old Brazilian has reached a point where she’s been so dominant for so long that even tremendous efforts now get picked apart as fans and media search for ways to speak about the dominant talent who has continually leveled up to a point where even former champions like Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie are unable to take her into deep waters.
After finishing Holm in the first round of their clash at UFC 239, Nunes used her wrestling to neutralize de Randamie’s striking in their meeting at UFC 245, dropping a round to the challenger, but turning in an otherwise stellar effort that left many observers underwhelmed because the champion fought tactically.
This nitpicking of champions and their performances only comes up once a competitor has risen to an entirely different level than everyone else in their division (or divisions, in Nunes’ case), so the criticisms could actually be considered a badge of honor.
Or they could just be more noise for Nunes to ignore as she continues taking aim at the UFC record book and chasing the goals she’s set for herself.
“I feel like when you get this belt, you think about defending it because it’s one thing to get it, but another thing to keep it and to stay on top,” offered the thoughtful champion. “When I defend the title, I think about what am I going to do next? Well, I’m going to keep defending, keep making history, and try to envision the next challenge.
“I reached my other goals, so what is the next challenge?” added Nunes, who has beaten every woman to hold championship gold in the featherweight and bantamweight divisions, as well as reigning flyweight titleholder Valentina Shevchenko. “(The next challenge is to) beat the record for the most title defenses. I want to do it better than the guys.
“I think about that. I want to do what they think a woman can’t do. I want to keep fighting, keep defending this title until I break that record.”
And she wants to hold onto her titles, plural, long enough that Raegan Ann can see her mother stand triumphant inside the Octagon, recognized as the absolute best in her field.
“I feel like every fight, I want to do something new, have something new that is motivating me, and this time, it’s my baby. My beautiful girl is going to be there with me, and that’s going to be very motivating for me because I look back on my life and I never expected this moment to happen.
“I want to stay here as long as possible so that she can see her mother as a champion, and that drives me to stay champion.”
Fueled by the arrival of her daughter and her continued pursuit of championship records, Nunes is primed to step into the Octagon again on Saturday night and do what she’s done in each of her eight previous UFC championship contests: walk out triumphant with gold around her waist.
“I’m ready to go,” she said, the excitement reverberating in her voice. “If she makes any mistakes, I’m going to knock her out, and she knows that.
“I might have to take this fight to the ground to finish her. It might be a submission or it might be a knockout, but the only thing I know for sure is I’m going to be the one with my hand raised at the end of the fight.
“And still… forever.”