What makes Amanda Nunes more than just the greatest female fighter ever

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Amanda Nunes reacts after defeating Holly Holm (not pictured) at UFC 239 at T-Mobile Arena on July 6, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)
Amanda Nunes reacts after defeating Holly Holm (not pictured) at UFC 239 at T-Mobile Arena on July 6, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS — Amanda Nunes is the American dream. She’s a 31-year-old Brazilian woman who came to this country penniless, hoping for the same things that so many immigrants who come here do. Success. Prosperity. A better life.

She had few possessions beyond the clothes on her back and the toothbrush in her pocket. She frequently had to rely on the kindness of others in order to eat.

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She didn’t have a high-powered manager protecting her interests, getting her endorsements, lining up the most favorable matches for her. She didn’t fight in a major promotion, and she couldn’t afford the best coaches.

On Saturday, following a first-round knockout of Holly Holm in the co-main event of UFC 239 at T-Mobile Arena, UFC president Dana White not only called her the greatest women’s fighter of all time, but he compared her favorably to Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre, three fighters generally regarded as the best fighters ever, period.

She accomplished that in less than five years after having started from the absolute bottom.

Armed with nothing more than her clothes, her toothbrush and a dream, Nunes has shown the world what is possible:

  • If you never take no for an answer.

  • If you are willing to pour every last drop of energy into making your dream your reality.

  • If you refuse to accept anything but greatness.

Nunes is, by any standard, the greatest female fighter who ever lived. Five years ago, she was barely known. She lost a fight to Cat Zingano she probably should have won. That defeat cost her a shot at the championship and dropped her record to just 3-3 in her last six outings.

That came during the height of Rousey-mania, when Ronda Rousey was winning her fights in roughly the time it took to run 100 meters. Few were paying attention to Nunes and less really cared.

Since then, Nunes met the love of her life, fellow UFC fighter Nina Ansaroff. She landed at one of the elite MMA gyms in the world, the fabled American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida.

Amanda Nunes lands a kick on Holly Holm that knocked her to the mat in the first round of their bantamweight title bout at UFC 239 in Las Vegas. (AP)
Amanda Nunes lands a kick on Holly Holm that knocked her to the mat in the first round of their bantamweight title bout at UFC 239 in Las Vegas. (AP)

She has beaten Rousey, Miesha TateCris “Cyborg” Justino and Holm in a combined time of just nine minutes, 20 seconds. If Nunes weren’t a part of it, Rousey, Tate, Cyborg and Holm would be good choices for a Mount Rushmore of women’s MMA.

She’s now one of the best draws in the sport, and is only going to get bigger.

Nunes is not only indicative of the extraordinary evolution of the women’s game, but also of Rousey’s continuing influence on it more than two and a half years after she walked away from it. Rousey’s impact on women’s MMA is similar to Tiger Woods’ on golf in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Woods was in far better physical condition than his peers. He could hit the ball further, and from spots in the course that others weren’t capable of doing.

His peers hit the gym and studied their swings and the result is players like Brooks Koepka, who looks like he could be a decent outside linebacker if he weren’t so good at golf.

Likewise, Rousey’s dominance in the earlier part of this decade forced her peers to up their games. Nunes is the best example of that. She has become a destroyer, not just a champion. White suggested it’s time for Holm to retire after the loss to Nunes.

Nunes has that effect on her opponents. Ask Tate, who was brutally beaten at UFC 200 and fought once more, while looking like a shell of herself. Tate retired at 30 years old.

Rousey never fought again after being stopped by Nunes in 48 seconds at UFC 207. She was just 29 at the time.

Nunes doesn’t just win her fights. She ruins careers.

All the while, she’s classy and humble and respectful, the perfect example of what it is to be a professional.

She is among the more prominent openly gay athletes, and as a result of being out, has taken enormous abuse from the narrow-minded who seem to think they have the right to tell her who she should love.

Nunes hasn’t responded to the negativity, and has been nothing but a positive ambassador for her sport. She’s fearsome inside the cage and a role model outside of it.

After the win over Holm, hopefully corporate America takes notice of what she’s doing. Yes, the members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, which won the World Cup for the second consecutive time on Sunday, deserve endorsements and attention and greater pay.

So, too, though, does Nunes.

It would be great to see her on the cover of a cereal box or hawking sneakers or pitching some kind of a popular product. Nunes is the perfect representative of the vast majority of MMA fighters, who are classy, thoughtful and likable people whose good works all too often are ignored.

Nunes is a game-changer. She’s served life lessons to so many. She made it in spite of incredible odds against her.

Those who would say she’s not a star either have an agenda or are ignoring the obvious.

She’s not only a great fighter, but she’s a great person, comparing, compassionate and wise.

Corporate America, take notice. You won’t regret it.

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