Amanda Nunes defended her bantamweight title for the third time on Saturday at UFC 224, dominating and stopping Raquel Pennington over five rounds in a fashion which may leave fans changing the channel rather than clamouring for a mega-fight with featherweight leader Cris Cyborg. The Brazilian targeted the body and legs with an almost militant rigidity before Pennington, bloodied at the nose, crumbled under the pressure.
It was a victory which cemented Nunes’s status as the most dominant female fighter on the planet, but it was all too one-sided and serene to add any firepower to her profile. In fact, between rounds, Nunes strolled back to her corner, sat down and smiled sweetly at her coach Conan Silvera as if she were embarking on an afternoon walk rather than a world championship battle. Following a game-plan and exploiting an opponent’s weakness is one thing – the champion scored high on both these counts – but Nunes fought within herself and could have used her killer instinct earlier.
That’s not to discredit the American Top Team woman’s credentials and track record – finishes over three former UFC titlists (Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate and Germaine de Randamie) underline her ruthless streak. She’s also one of the best boxers in any of the women’s divisions and her rear naked chokes are as clinical as it gets. However, the mixed martial arts fraternity has a short memory and is becoming ever more geared towards money, outlandish personalities and entertaining fights.
Look at it this way – the likes of Michael Bisping and Nate Diaz have competed in some of the UFC’s biggest bouts in recent memory, but are either of these two anywhere near the most talented fighters in the promotion? Absolutely not.
Nunes’ last outing against Valentina Shevchenko, in 2017, was another damp squib, even more so than the Pennington procession. As Nunes picked her spots on her way to a decision triumph, the pair danced, feinted and stared at each other intently without pulling the trigger. It was one the most disappointing fights of the year and made a mockery of the rivals’ pre-fight barbs and jabbering.
It’s now down to Nunes to springboard to the next level. We’ve seen how she can break women down at range and finish with authority – just look at the Rousey demolition – but fans, media and UFC brass may demand those kind of fireworks once more from the Salvador-born champion.
A bout with Cyborg would be the most exciting option and perhaps more crucially, the most lucrative. ‘The Lioness’ is renowned in Vegas and Cyborg is the darling of Brazil, so the compatriots could garner an avalanche of interest in either of those locations. However, Nunes failed to add to calls for that showdown with her post-fight comments on Saturday.
As Jon Anik asked Amanda about her next challenge, Nunes dropped the ball and chose to list an endless rundown of thanks to training partners, family members and close friends. That’s all well and good – fighting is a personal and demanding profession – but Nunes could use a few marketing lessons. Moreover, when asked about Cyborg in the post-fight press conference, Nunes instead talked up a meeting with compatriot Ketlen Vieira, again missing a chance to develop her brand.
To be fair to Nunes, she’s cleared out her weight class and left the likes of Shevchenko and de Randamie scampering to other divisions. Nunes might not have the physical capabilities to trouble Cyborg but with little competition at 135lbs for the moment, she should jump at the Cyborg fight in order to at last build her profile, line her pockets and drive interest in her career once more.
Learn more about the personalities and issues surrounding women's MMA with Alistair Hendrie's Kindle book, Fight Game: The Untold Story of Women's MMA in Britain.