Perceptions and reputations can be hard to shake at times. For years Amanda Nunes was viewed and pigeonholed as a particular kind of fighter: a fast starting puncher that’s dangerous early but dramatically fades down the stretch. In fairness to ‘The Lioness’, she’s actually only ever lost once inside the octagon and has been mostly dominant. So dominant in fact that Nunes now finds herself as the world champion, a feared and ferocious finisher that looks set to be a mainstay at the top of the division for quite some time. However, in the background that prior reputation and perception still lingers and as do the doubts that come with it.
After a decision loss to Sarah D’Alelio, Nunes entered the UFC and got straight back into the win column, quickly finishing Sheila Gaff and Germaine De Randamie. Next though, Nunes would run into her solitary defeat inside the octagon as she fought Cat Zingano in a bout with major title implications. Early on the Nunes battered the American with an onslaught of strikes but couldn't quite close the show and in the end paid for it as Zingano weathered the violent storm and came back to dominate a tired Nunes en route to a merciful 3rd round stoppage. Previous question marks surrounding Nunes’ stamina didn't just remain but were now actually strengthened by the loss.
Nonetheless, ‘The Lioness’ rebounded and scored two impressive finish wins over Shayna Baszler and then more notably Sara McMann. Nunes simply had too much natural firepower for those two foes and that led to early finishes but the doubts about her ability to maintain that pace still remained. Regardless of that though, Nunes recent win streak positioned her well in the division rankings and matched her with fellow rising contender Valentina Shevchenko. Though ‘The Bullet’ was still a mostly unheralded MMA fighter, her prior credentials as a Kickboxer showed her qualities as a striker. Nunes was well-rounded enough to mix up her game though and she won the first two rounds for that very reason.
However, even though Nunes had fought at a relatively mild pace, she’d seemingly faded by the 3rd round and with that her physical advantages had diminished. Shevchenko began to take control of the action in the final five minutes but couldn't secure a finish and so, Nunes came out the unanimous decision winner. The victory may have not come in quintessential Nunes fashion but it surprisingly made her the number one contender anyway and after a variety of other incidents altered things, ‘The Lioness’ somehow found herself not only fighting Miesha Tate for the world title but also main eventing the historic UFC 200.
The combination of Nunes’ perceived stamina woes and Tate’s proven toughness didn't seem to be a good sign for the challenger and that coupled with the immense pressure suggested a tough night for her. Under the brightest lights imaginable, would Nunes be able to control her aggression enough not to falter late? Well in the end, Nunes’ poise under pressure meant that we wouldn't really get an answer to that question. The Brazilian calmly stalked Tate and landed sharp punches in bunches to stun the champion before violently closing the show and ending proceedings with a rear naked choke. There was a real maturity to Nunes’ work and in the end that was what led to such a quick finish.
Whether the promotion was happy about it or not, Amanda Nunes was now the Women’s Bantamweight champion and for that very reason, she’d likely be the woman to welcome Ronda Rousey back into the octagon. Marquee rematches with Holly Holm or Tate now seemed off the table for Rousey and so the fight was booked and she’d challenge Nunes for the belt at the end of 2016. It was a clash of two explosive fast starters and that showed on fight night, just not in the competitive fashion some envisaged. Instead Nunes blew Rousey away, battering her with violent punches and finishing the fight in just 48 stunning seconds.
Amanda Nunes had vanquished the sport’s biggest star but in many ways, her reign as champion is only just beginning and it meets a big challenge this Saturday night when she rematches Shevchenko. After two breakout first round wins, Nunes now revisits the last fighter that dragged her into the later rounds eighteen months ago. One could easily wonder what would’ve happened if Shevchenko had two more rounds in that first fight but now we may get the chance to find out. It seems likely that Nunes is headed back into deep water this time around, the question is will she sink or will she finally dispel those still lingering doubts?