The arrival of their daughter Raegan Ann last September was a life-altering moment for Amanda Nunes and her wife, UFC strawweight contender Nina Nunes.
“This is my first time having a child grow up very close to me and it’s amazing,” beamed the bantamweight champion, who defends her title against Julianna Pena in the co-main event of UFC 269 on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena. “This little girl is something else. I can’t even find a word to describe how magic and special each moment is.
“Raegan only brought more happiness. She completely changed us. Life changed; everything is about her. Having her with us all the time makes life so lovely and happy. It’s unbelievable.”
Unfortunately for everyone with championship ambitions in the bantamweight division, “The Lioness” having a cub to watch over and raise has only served to strengthen her resolve and ratcheted up her motivation when it comes to putting in the work required to maintain her position atop the 135-pound weight class.
“Every moment is still huge for me, especially now,” said Nunes, who enters Saturday’s contest on a 12-fight winning streak and sporting a perfect 9-0 mark in championship fights. “It’s all about the memories — being in the cage with Raegan, with my family.
“Having the belt and getting my hand raised is about those moments that I feel I need and I want all the time. Every moment is about feeling that, building those memories, the pictures we’ll have for Raegan when she grows up.
“Every fight is new and a moment I want to have for me and my family,” she added. “I cannot retire soon because I need those moments.”
Saturday’s bout with Pena has a different vibe to it than many of Nunes’ recent encounters, as the former Ultimate Fighter winner called out the champion following her victory over Sara McMann in January and doubled down on her efforts to secure a bout with Nunes after the Brazilian successfully defended her featherweight title with a first-round submission win over Megan Anderson in March.
Pena has suggested many times over that Nunes is “ducking” her and questioned the severity of her symptoms in the summer when Nunes tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the bout to be rescheduled from July to this weekend in Las Vegas.
She has told anyone that will listen that she is the one to dethrone Nunes — the one with the approach, the toughness, and the grit to usher in a new era in the bantamweight division.
“She’s the challenger — she doesn’t have anything to lose — and when she says she’s going to come, she’s going to bring it, I believe it, because she doesn’t have anything to lose,” the champion offered in response to Pena’s confident claims that she will be the one to end Nunes’ reign.
“I think she’s doing what she’s supposed to do, but it’s not going to happen,” Nunes added with a laugh. “I’m sorry, but no. She is going to step up, we’re going to face each other, but this belt isn’t going anywhere.”
It’s not that Nunes is dismissive of Pena’s talents or questions her will — she knows the Spokane, Washington native is skilled and driven, fully confident in everything she says and the approach she’s put together heading into Saturday night’s contest; it’s just that Nunes has heard it all before.
“Every fight is a different challenge, and Julianna Pena is very different,” began Nunes. “At the same time, if you look back to my opponents, she’s a different person, but with the same thoughts as all the losers.
“The thoughts she has right now, her best friend had when I beat her and choked her out,” continued Nunes, who won the title by submitting Pena’s longtime friend Miesha Tate at UFC 200. “She has the same mindset as Miesha, the same mindset as all the opponents that I’ve beaten (since winning the belt).
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Just as she will continue to be protective of her daughter over the years, Nunes feels similarly protective of her twin UFC titles, and isn’t close to ready to allow someone else to take them home.
“I’m sorry — I know everybody wants (the belt), but it’s not the time for anybody else. The era, the moment is not for her.
“I still want the belt! Nobody is going to take it,” she continued, laughing. “When I feel like I don’t want to defend it anymore, okay, but I still have the fire, I still have the desire to have (the belt); I still love her. As a mother now, I feel like I’m protecting the belt the same way, with everything that I have. Nothing has changed since the first day I got my hands on this belt.
“She wants everything that I have, everything that is mine,” added Nunes, her giddiness giving way to a more serious, more focused tone. “When she says that, it makes this even better. I get very excited to see how I’m going to handle this challenge and what is going to happen.”
Five fighters have tried to wrest the bantamweight title out of her grip. Two more have tried to do the same with the featherweight title she won two-and-a-half years later to cement her standing as the greatest female fighter of all time.
Each time, “The Lioness” has defended her title and maintained her position atop each division, and she sees no reason why Saturday result in anything other than another dominant performance and another moment to celebrate inside the Octagon with her family.
“It’s not going to happen,” Nunes said flatly regarding Pena’s pre-fight declaration that a changing of the guard is imminent. “I’ve seen this before, many times, throughout my title defenses — I’ve always been able to handle it pretty well, and Julianna is not going to be different.
“She’s going to show up exactly how I want her to show up, and it’s going to bring me the moment that I want to shine in.”
Don't miss a single strike of the final pay-per-view of the year at UFC 269: Oliveira vs Poirier , live from T-Mobile Arena on ESPN+. Prelims begin at 6pm ET/3pm PT. Main card begins at 10pm ET/7pm PT.