Yet from the moment she accepted the fight, Brazil’s Nunes was ready for what lay ahead in her first title defense.
“I think everybody wants to see (Ronda) back, they have been waiting for her. It’s good,” Nunes, 28, said recently.
But the dynamic will be different when the fighters walk to the Octagon at T-Mobile Arena. because that’s when Rousey will have to do something for the first time in her illustrious UFC career:
Await her opponent.
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“I think it’s going to be a little bit weird. She’s walking out to the Octagon first,” Nunes said. “And I don’t know how’s she’s going to take that. I know it’s going to be weird for her.”
For Nunes, the sensation will be one of triumph, and what is required of champions to maintain their thrones.
“Defending the belt means a lot to me,” Nunes said. “It’s going to be a dream come true. The first dream was to be the champion, now to defend against Ronda Rousey is going to make everything perfect.
"Everybody is going to respect me and see I’m the real champion.”
That’s what Friday is all about. All eyes may be on the return of Rousey following her first professional defeat against Holly Holm in November 2015, but what matters most for “The Lioness” is to solidify her standing atop the women’s bantamweight division.
Easier said than done, however.
Since Rousey’s loss, the championship belt has been a hot potato, with Holm losing the strap to Miesha Tate in March of this year. Then Tate lost the crown to Nunes in the main event of UFC 200 – also held at T-Mobile in Las Vegas.
Nunes is ready to show that she’s the new face of the sport. Sure, Ronda was on top from the creation of the division in 2012 until last year. Now, despite media focus, ad campaigns and heavy promotion, Nunes is focused squarely on the task at hand.
“I don’t think Rousey expected that (the competition to get better than her),” Nunes said. “I think everything is always moving forward. She was the champion. Now she’s the challenger and I am the champion.
“This fight will help me make a statement. … This moment is the best moment in my life, in my career. And I will beat Ronda Rousey.”
Hearing these words from the former Strikeforce and Invicta FC standout sounds like a lot more than prefight bluster. And rightfully so. Since starting off 2-0 in the UFC, Nunes was shell-shocked by a loss to Cat Zingano in September 2014 that prevented her from getting a title shot earlier in her career. That stumbling block was just what she needed, however, as she was able to focus with American Top Team and her lead sparring partner, UFC strawweight and girlfriend of four years Nina Ansaroff, to find weaknesses in her game, eliminate them, and string together her current four-fight win streak, the longest active mark in the division.
“Nina helps me a lot, not only in training, but also at home. We do everything together,” Nunes explained. “We always help each other. We go to the gym, discuss the fight, watch them (the fights), she cooks for me, pays my bills. It’s a partnership. She’s fighting at 115 (pounds), but she’s tough. This makes me go to the next level.”
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Along with being in New York for the historic first UFC 205 card on Nov. 12, the couple was also there to see Nunes, the first openly gay UFC champion, honored by Out Magazine in its annual Out100 list.
“I’m very happy about this (be honored on the Out100 list),” Nunes said. “We have to be strong together. If I can help the people to go through this and be open and confident, and show everybody that this is normal, it would be good. I will help a lot of people having trouble going through this situation, and for this magazine to invite me to do that is a good thing. I can go to people’s houses through the magazine. I think it’s a huge thing, a good thing.
"Maybe a mother is not accepting or the kid is scared to talk to his father, and maybe this magazine will show that I had my dreams come true and it can help solve a lot of problems.”
To help remain that type of visible role model and to keep proving that dreams do come true, no matter your race or sexual orientation, Nunes must do what she does best in the Octagon – live out her dreams on Friday night. A win over Rousey will only amplify her message.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Nunes said. “Ronda Rousey is still Ronda Rousey and she’s still a hard opponent. But I don’t think she can beat me. I have more to show than her.”
Jorge Mondaca is managing editor of UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JorgeAMondaca