Last Saturday, Amanda Nunes celebrated her birthday.
This Saturday, “The Lioness” will stride into the Octagon to defend her featherweight title against Felicia Spencer in the main event of UFC 250, and if she’s successful, the 32-year-old Brazilian will etch her name in the record books once again, becoming the first “double champ” in UFC history to successfully defend each of their two belts while simultaneously holding both titles.
Nunes won the featherweight belt at UFC 232, blitzing Cris Cyborg in just 51 seconds to become the first female two-weight world champion. She successfully defended the bantamweight title twice since then, and Saturday represents her chance to add another momentous accomplishment to her already stellar resume and further bolster her standing as the greatest female fighter of all-time.
“Now it’s the opportunity to do something nobody has ever done — not the guys, and not the girls,” she said, her voice tinged with excitement, her tone slightly hurried, as if Saturday night could not get here fast enough. “I’m going to be the only one and it’s another chance to make history and put my name in the history books.
“All those people that doubted me throughout my career, all those people that didn’t believe in me, their mouths are shut, you know?” continued Nunes. “All those people, they’re my fans now.
“You should always believe in people,” she added. “You should always encourage people, think that people will be able to do things, and I feel like I was one of those people. It’s very hard to put into words what it means, but I think it’s going to be amazing; amazing, amazing, amazing.”
Her exuberance for each subsequent fight and each subsequent title defense almost undercuts her accomplishments and the dominance she’s exhibited over the last five years because it’s rare to see a champion remain as active, engaged, and excited about taking on whoever is next given the staggering list of achievements Nunes has piled up during the course of her UFC career.
She has beaten six current or former UFC champions.
She is the longest reigning current UFC champion, outpacing Khabib Nurmagomedov by more than 600 days. Her featherweight title reign is tied for the fourth longest active reign with Jon Jones.
She is 12-1 inside the Octagon and enters this weekend’s bout with more consecutive victories (10) than Spencer has professional fights (nine), yet she’s approaching this contest with the same excitement and focus as each of her last seven championship bouts.
Not only has Nunes crafted an impeccable resume, but she has also handled her time in the championship spotlight with aplomb, exhibiting grace, humility, and the kind of genuine joy that is infectious.
She was unfazed by the chaotic events leading up to UFC 200, where she moved from third position on the main card to headlining the momentous pay-per-view just days before she entered the Octagon and snatched the bantamweight title away from Miesha Tate.
She remained focused on the task at hand when the hype surrounding her first title defense centered on her challenger, returning former champion Ronda Rousey, and cemented her standing as a dominant force in the division by dispatching Rousey in just 48 seconds.
Where many of her contemporaries are quick to sing their own praises and tell you where they fall in the “Greatest of All Time” hierarchy, Nunes simply handles her business, adds another championship belt to her collection, and gets on with her life, content with knowing she is the best female fighter in the sport’s history and happy to allow others to make the case for her, if needed.
“My entire career has been big moments and I’ve always been able to handle it, and Saturday is a big moment again,” Nunes began. “My mind is going to be so ready for that moment because my whole career was built in big moments, tough opponents, high adrenaline and I was strong; my mind was strong and my body was strong enough to handle it all.
“(It comes from) a solid game plan, my coaches, and my training,” she said of her ability to stay loose and remain laser-focused in high-pressure moments. “My training makes me so strong because what I put into the camp, I know I’m ready. I believe I’m ready because we’ve put everything together in training and we do everything so smart.
“Sometimes in the back, you see a lot of fighters very nervous, walking around because sometimes there are a lot of questions in those fighters’ heads. In my head, the questions are already answered, and when I get into those moments, I’m really calm and I enjoy it.
“I live for that moment,” she added. “I want to be there. I’m not scared of anything. In those moments before the fight, I’m so full of belief, full of good feelings, so ready that I enjoy every single moment.”
As for her minimal presence on social media and deviating from what seems to be the norm these days in MMA and society in general, the fun-loving fighter said she takes her cues from other famous people and does what feels right for her.
“I learn it from other people,” said Nunes, whose Instagram is a mix of fight-related pictures and promotional work, photos of time spent with family and friends, and pictures of her with various animals, including puppies, horses, and an albino alligator. “I feel like when you learn from other famous people, you see what they’re doing wrong, what they’re doing right, and you figure out what you’re going to do.”
For Nunes, that means working hard in the gym, achieving her goals, and enjoying life, rather than getting caught up in the attention-seeking behaviors that have become all too prevalent in today’s society.
Despite all that she’s achieved, the two-division titleholder continues to find new motivations ahead of each fight, even after having accomplished the biggest goal she set out for herself.
“What I used to think about has already happened,” Nunes said when asked about her motivations. “I wanted to beat all the girls that had the belt before me and I got that already and I got some of them twice. Germaine de Randamie was twice. Valentina (Shevchenko) was twice. Miesha Tate. Ronda Rousey. Cyborg. Holly.
“That was my goal — to beat all those girls — and now, I just want to keep doing my job. This isn’t a regular job, but you wake up and go to work every day and that’s exactly what I’m doing now.
“The motivator that I have right now is for sure my daughter,” added the American Top Team representative, who will welcome a baby girl, Raegan Ann, with her partner, UFC strawweight contender Nina Ansaroff, later this year. “I want her to be able to watch my fights after she’s born, when she can really realize she’s there watching my fights. I want to have her step in the cage, be in there with me, have those memories with me; that’s going to be very cool 10 years in the future when I can show that to her.”
In the midst of an historic career, with the opportunity to accomplish something no one else has ever done in the UFC before this weekend and a baby on the way, the thoughtful champion is still somehow able to sum everything up beautifully, putting everything into proper perspective as she readies to make history once again on Saturday night.
“It just feels like the work has paid off,” she said, reflecting on journey to this point and standing on the precipice of another momentous opportunity. “All the work that I did — my whole life, my whole career, and all the sweat that I spilled on the mats — it has all paid off.
“I always felt like if I put everything that I have into this sport, I’m going to get it back, and today, I can say that MMA has given me everything in my life — my house, the things that I want, being able to help my family in Brazil, my daughter.
“This sport has given me everything. Everything has paid off. This is hard work paid off.”
Nunes paused for a moment, before loudly adding, “and luck!” chasing her words with a cackle.
Luck is always a part of it, but you’ve got to be good to be lucky, and it’s no coincidence that the best are almost always the ones who have worked the hardest.