With International Fight Week 2017 just a matter of days away, the fighters competing at UFC 213 and The Ultimate Fighter Finale got started a little early with some verbal sparring during a media conference call on Thursday.
Women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes will close out the weekend with her main event fight against top-ranked contender Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 213. This is a rematch of a 2016 bout that saw Nunes earn a unanimous decision win over Shevchenko, although the challenger has noted how close she came to pulling off the upset after a dominant third round.
Nunes fired back while promising that the second fight won't look anything like the first because she's gunning for a finish just like she's done in her past two title bouts against Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey.
"I beat her by unanimous decision," Nunes said. "If you look back at the fight, I beat her. There's nothing to talk about with that fight. I beat her and that's it. This is the thing, our next fight, I will not leave this fight in the judges' hands. I will make sure I finish her and to stop thinking about the third round. We're already past that fight and I’m moving forward. After that fight, I became champion and I will keep doing it and my next step is finishing her and make Valentina understand that I'm the best and I'm here to stay."
Shevchenko believes that Nunes' declaration about finishing the fight comes down to her own paranoia about the rematch going into the championship rounds. With each passing minute, Shevchenko feels like she'll take more and more control until her hand is raised in victory.
"The last fight if it would have been one minute more, it would be a totally different result," Shevchenko said. "She says 'I will finish, I don't have a problem for five rounds.’ Okay, it doesn't matter, but I feel it's only (her) fear that the fight will go over three rounds. It's only fear and nothing more.
"I will be fighting from the first minute to the last minute of the fight."
In the co-main event at UFC 213, a new interim middleweight champion will be crowned as Yoel Romero meets Robert Whittaker in a battle between two of the most prolific finishers in the division. While both fighters know that a win will move them into a fight with current 185-pound king Michael Bisping, Romero and Whittaker were solely focused on the task at hand on Thursday.
As a former Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, Romero has a tremendous grappling base while going up against a noted knockout artist such as Whittaker.
While each fighter plays to their strengths, Romero isn't afraid to strike with Whittaker because he's ready for anything that could happen when they meet on July 8.
"This is a mixed martial arts sport. I think that I am part of the new generation of mixed martial arts where you have to mix everything up," Romero said. "It’s not wrestling, it's not striking, it's not grappling — it's mixed martial arts. Here you have to dance around like a wolf and you have to dance and you have to do it well. That's how things are going to come out well.
"I repeat, it's not boxing, it’s not wrestling. You have to do mixed martial arts. That’s it."
As for Whittaker, he will compete for UFC gold for the first time while riding a seven-fight win streak, including his knockout victory over Ronald "Jacare" Souza in April.
While he's best known for his highlight reel finishes, Whittaker isn't ready to make a prediction on how the fight with Romero will play out other than guaranteeing he will be walking out of the Octagon as champion.
"I'll do what I have to do. I'll look for a finish and I'm sure he will, too. I'm in there from the first minute to the last minute," Whittaker said. "25 minutes is the length of the fight and I'm prepared to go to war for those 25 minutes."
One day prior to UFC 213, the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter will come to a close with a lightweight matchup leading the way in the main event.
Top 10 contender Michael Johnson will welcome highly touted lightweight newcomer Justin Gaethje to the UFC as he looks to build upon a perfect 17-0 resume where he's also recorded an astounding 15 finishes.
Having faced a laundry list of tough competitors dating back to his time on The Ultimate Fighter, Johnson knows that competing in the Octagon is a whole other animal, and the UFC may have just fed this rookie to the wolves.
"They want to test a (former) champion in a division and he's coming over (to the UFC)," Johnson said. "As far as I'm concerned, they're almost pretty much releasing the dog off the leash and telling (me) to come get this newcomer that's coming in our yard."
Of course, facing Johnson in his debut is a daunting task. But Gaethje sounded ready to show the world what he can do when he fights in the UFC for the first time, and with him being best known for his “go big or go home” attitude, he plans on carrying that same philosophy into the fight with Johnson on July 7.
"One thing I do, I go for the finish the whole fight. If I lose, I'm going to get knocked out. I won't get out worked and lose a decision," Gaethje said. "I might get caught in a submission but most likely when I lose, it will be a knockout and that's because I fight the way I fight. I'm successful because of the way I fight. My timing and attitude are the definition of what MMA is and I will not change.
"If Michael doesn't put me down, I'm going to keep coming forward."