As Amanda Nunes readies to defend her bantamweight title on Saturday night in Las Vegas, she does so as the unquestioned greatest female fighter of all-time.
A dozen fights into her UFC career, the 31-year-old Brazilian has posted an 11-1 record, rattling off nine straight victories as she readies to face de Randamie for a second time. Seven of those nine triumphs have come by way of stoppage, six in the opening round, but even more than those raw numbers, it’s the quality of competition she’s faced and the totality of her accomplishments that makes it impossible to deny that Nunes is the best female talent to ever grace the Octagon.
“For me, it’s everything,” Nunes said in regards to being heralded as the greatest female fighter of all time. “This is my life. This is what I dreamed about. This is something I’ve wanted my whole career and have been working towards for my whole career.
“Since Day One, I knew I was going to be where I am now. I had a lot of people question me, but I believed in myself since Day One and I knew it was just a matter of time before I could show everybody who I really am and who is the best. I didn’t rush anything. I just did my thing, believed in myself, was focused, kept training, was smart, stayed healthy and took care of my body.”
That slow and steady progression helped transform Nunes from a promising upstart with obvious talent to an unstoppable force inside the Octagon, and given her the tools to craft one of the most incredible resumes in UFC history, regardless of gender.
Over the course of her 12-fight UFC career, Nunes has defeated every woman to hold championship gold in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions, and with a victory on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena, she will have beaten each of those previous titleholders in the time since they each ascended to the top of their respective divisions.
Let that sink in for a minute.
In a little over six years, the American Top Team representative has beaten Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm and Miesha Tate, the three women to wear bantamweight gold before her, as well as de Randamie and Cris Cyborg, the first two females to carry the featherweight title.
To replicate that feat on the men’s side of the roster, a single competitor would need to defeat Dominick Cruz, Renan Barao, TJ Dillashaw, Cody Garbrandt, Henry Cejudo, Jose Aldo, Conor McGregor and Max Holloway.
That fact alone is staggering, but only part of the story, because not only did Nunes beat each of those five former champions, she dispatched them all in the first round. She also picked up a pair of victories over reigning flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko during her current run of success as well, which only further cements her position in the pantheon of all-time greats.
“She’s the greatest female fighter of all time and she’s one of the greatest mixed martial artists to ever live,” UFC President Dana White said when asked about the current two-division world champion. “Every G.O.A.T. is established through time and it’s not just who you beat, it’s how you beat them. If you look at who she’s beat, it’s a who’s who and you look at how she beat them — there aren’t a lot of women knocking other women out, but she knocks women out.
“One of the scariest fighters of all time, Cris Cyborg, Amanda absolutely destroyed her,” continued White, who also cited Nunes’ first-round destruction of Rousey as a night when everyone recognized the Brazilian’s ferocious power and superstar potential. “It was the big test for her, the big question — could she beat Cyborg?
“A lot of people thought she could, a lot of people thought she couldn’t, but then you get out there and Cyborg tries to bully women and Amanda stood right in there and bullied the bully and ended up viciously knocking her out.”
Where some fighters can be too caught up in the action to stop and smell the roses, Nunes has made a point to appreciate those career-defining moments like her wins over Rousey and Cyborg and the indelible impact she’s having on the sport as a whole, all while continuing to defend her place at the top of two weight classes.
“Every time that I’m at home, I see the belts — I look up at all of them and I remember all those moments,” said Nunes, who has her collection of UFC titles hanging over the fireplace in the home she shares with her partner, UFC strawweight contender Nina Ansaroff. “Life is made up of moments and we have to remember every single one over and over, and with my career in the UFC, it’s really enjoyable to relive every single moment.”
Reflecting on her journey to the top of two divisions, Nunes points to two key influences that helped her reach her full potential and become the superstar talent she is today: early setbacks that forced her to continually improve and her relationship with Ansaroff.
“Nobody likes to lose, but it feels like it has to happen for you to learn from your mistakes and that happened with me,” said Nunes, who lost two of her final three bouts before arriving in the UFC and was beaten by Cat Zingano in her third Octagon appearance at UFC 178, which remains the last time she was defeated inside the cage.
“I had to lose a couple times to really be able to find my way to the top and I feel like those losses helped me a lot. I did a lot of things to find all the mistakes I was making and what I needed to get better and now I’m here.
“I also feel like my relationship with Nina was crucial in my life,” she continued. “She came into my life at the right moment, when I needed someone like her in my life. Since I met Nina, everything has gone great. We’re very happy, we really help each other grow, and really have each other’s back. She’s a big part of everything that has happened in my life.“
While Nunes is rightfully proud of everything she has accomplished and happy to be receiving the attention and recognition her incomparable run of success merits, “The Lioness” is not one to rest on her laurels.
Despite entering Saturday event on a nine-fight winning streak and already owning a first-round stoppage win over de Randamie, Nunes views this weekend’s first of three title fights as the most important and dangerous assignment of her championship run.
“I feel like this next fight is the fight that I really have to be more focused for than any other,” Nunes said of her bout with the former featherweight champion, who has gone 5-0 since their first encounter more than six years ago. “Germaine is very dangerous. I know that because I’ve fought her before and I know her very well.
“This is a dangerous fight. You think you’re comfortable because you’ve beaten her before, but you’re not — she’s evolved, we’ve both evolved, and we’re at another level in our careers right now.”
Not all champions can maintain that sense of urgency and heightened awareness of the challenges their next opponent brings to the table and after having vanquished some of the most iconic names to ever grace the cage over the last several years, it would be easy to understand if Nunes were to ease off the gas and see this contest — or any future contest — as a less significant challenge.
But that is not how the double champion operates.
“I think the biggest thing for me is that I respect my opponents,” Nunes said, explaining the way she approaches each fight. “I know they’re training hard like me. I know they want what I have and I have to respect that.
“And another thing: I love this,” she added with a laugh. “I love stepping in that cage. I love everything that is involved (with this career) — media day, fight week; all of it is enjoyable for me. When I don’t have those moments, I’ll miss those moments, so for now, I can’t wait to get into camp; I can’t wait to do those things and enjoy those moments.”
The way White sees it, Nunes has already established herself as the unquestioned G.O.A.T. on the female side of the sport and one of the very best fighters on the planet today, but the true measure of a competitor’s greatness isn’t just about getting to the top; it’s how long you can stay there and how much distance you can put between yourself and your closest challenger.
“The question is, can she continue to reign and do what she does in both divisions and how long can she hold on to both of those belts?” said White, who has seen the “greatest of all-time” baton passed around to a handful of different fighters on the men’s side of the roster during his time at the helm. “She’s already the G.O.A.T., but how hard can she make it to match or beat what she’s done?
“It’s like Brady, right, whom many consider the G.O.A.T.,” he added, referencing New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. “The guy keeps winning Super Bowls; the guy keeps winning AFC Championships; the guy keeps breaking records and that’s what you do when you’re the G.O.A.T.”
As it turns out, the two-division champion feels the same way as the UFC President.
Nunes has no interest in being one of those fighters who reached the pinnacle of their sport, enjoyed some time at the top and then started slipping. She doesn’t want to be part of a long line of female competitors to be declared the best ever and have someone wrestle that title away from her now or in the future.
She wants to remain the unquestioned greatest female fighter of all time in perpetuity, which is why she’s approaching this weekend’s fight with the same focus, the same ferocity, and the same fire that she’s had in each and every battle that has carried her to the top of the mountain.
“Now that I’m here, I do the exact same thing because this is where I want to be,” she said. “I want to retire in this place that I am right now — as the greatest of all-time.”