It may be safe to assume that fighting Cris Cyborg has never been on any fighter’s Christmas list. Unless you’re Amanda Nunes.
And this year, four days after Santa Claus makes his rounds, she gets her wish.
“I like to challenge myself,” the UFC women’s bantamweight champion said. “I always think like that and you have to think like that. Things get more exciting and I feel like I’m more excited now than before. I like to feel the competition and see what I’m capable of. This fight’s gonna show me a lot of things.”
Challenges are nice. Moving ten pounds north to fight someone who hasn’t lost in over 13 years could be dangerous. The 30-year-old Nunes doesn’t see danger. She sees opportunity, and as soon as the idea of challenging the queen of the featherweight division was brought up, she was all-in.
“When the idea came up between me, my coach and (fiancée and strawweight contender) Nina (Ansaroff), I decided right away, let’s do it,” Nunes said. “It was something that was natural, and I know what I’m capable of. Why not try this? At that moment I decided to call her out. I think other girls don’t do this because they might be scared of Cyborg or something like that, but I’m not. I’m a lioness.”
Maybe that’s the secret. Nunes knows what awaits her in the co-main event of UFC 232, but fighting is in her blood, and fighters fight. Nunes’ uncle, Jose Silva, was a vale tudo fighter, and when he competed, Nunes’ mother was in his corner, so when the young “Lioness” was a little rambunctious as a child, capoeira was the activity of choice. And as Nunes kept evolving her studies in martial arts, it was little surprise when she decided to make fighting her life’s work.
“When I decided to fight, my mom was the first one supporting me and to be there for me because she was there the whole time for my uncle,” said Nunes, who turned pro in MMA in 2008. Ten years later, she has gone from raw talent to one of the best in the game, and along the way, she has become a star and inspiration in her native Brazil, where she successfully defended her title in May against Raquel Pennington.
“Defending my belt in Brazil was amazing,” she said. “It was one of the best feelings, bringing my belt home and sharing my happiness with people in my country.
“It means a lot being the first Brazilian (female) champion, and I always try to do everything the right way because I know I have a lot of kids looking up to me and I want to, in some way, inspire them to become a champion one day as well.”
It’s been a career to be proud of, with Nunes currently sporting a seven-fight winning streak that includes victories over the likes of Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Valentina Shevchenko (twice). But this is the fight game, and in the fight game there’s always the quest for more, which has led Nunes to Cyborg and the chance to make history as the first female fighter to hold UFC titles in two weight classes. Holly Holm and Joanna Jedrzejczyk came up short in their quest for the same goal, making this attempt even more compelling.
“I think about my legacy a lot,” Nunes said. “I want to make sure all the fans remember me as the best ever.”
That may be the verdict on Nunes should she beat the woman generally accepted as the one with that unofficial crown. And that won’t be easy.
“She’s a powerful fighter, strong, and she’s the best in her division,” said Nunes. “I think she’s a great fighter.”
Nunes believes she’s just as great, and half of being great means taking the risks average fighters won’t. Nunes is stepping up and daring to be great, hoping the old adage that who dares wins applies in Los Angeles this weekend. If she gets her hand raised, it’s a career-changer. If not, she took her shot and still has a bantamweight title to defend. Either way, her smile speaks volumes, because it’s clear that this is no mere payday. This is the type of fight all real fighters want.
“This is the biggest women’s fight ever,” Nunes said. “Two champions - it’s gonna be awesome.”