Best of the best: Why Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes superfight could be an all-time great

There has never been a women’s MMA fight that featured the sort of sheer raw power that will be on display on Saturday at The Forum in Inglewood, California, when bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes moves up to challenge featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino in the co-main event of UFC 232.

Nunes has never faced anyone who can punch like Cyborg. Neither, though, has Cyborg seen an opponent with the ability to end a fight with one shot like Nunes.

It’s what makes the fight one of the most fascinating of the year. Justino has won 20 consecutive bouts and is unbeaten in more than 14 years in a remarkable streak that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

Her dominance and consistency are unparalleled in MMA. She lost her pro debut, but then has been nearly unbeatable since. Only a few opponents since — Gina Carano for a few moments in their 2009 fight, and Holly Holm for a while last year — have even given her any anxious moments.

Cris Cyborg (L) will defend her featherweight title against bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes at UFC 232 in Los Angeles on Saturday. (Getty Images)
Cris Cyborg (L) will defend her featherweight title against bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes at UFC 232 in Los Angeles on Saturday. (Getty Images)

Nunes, though, is a different breed. She’s arguably the only woman who is even close to Justino in punching power, and she’s a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a brown belt in judo.

When you’ve been on top for as long as Cyborg has, it’s easy to get complacent. She hasn’t done that, though, and said it’s because she doesn’t worry about one specific aspect of her opponent’s game. She prepares, she said, as if her opponent is going to be the best she’s faced in all disciplines and for wherever the fight may go.

“I never look at what my opponents do that is dangerous,” she said. “I always train very seriously for my opponent so I’ll be ready in any situation. I’m ready to do five rounds for Amanda Nunes. I’ve watched all her fights with my team. I know her mistakes. I know mistakes she continues doing and then I know where she’s good or she’s not good. The one thing I just think whenever I step into the cage is to do my own thing and get the victory and continue to be the champion.”

In recent years, Rousey and tennis player Serena Williams have been hailed as the world’s most dominant athletes. But neither of them approaches the dominance that Cyborg has shown. Since her streak began, Cyborg has won 20 in a row and finished 17 of them. Only Holm at UFC 219 on Dec. 30, 2017, Yoko Takahashi on Oct. 4, 2008, and Vanessa Porto on Nov. 20, 2005, have gone the distance with her.

That is like Tom Brady winning 10 consecutive MVP awards and nine Super Bowl titles.

A former boxing champion, Holm gave Cyborg a few troubling moments, but never had her seriously in danger. Holm is a better pure boxer than Nunes, but can’t punch with the authority that Nunes does.

Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes have never faced an opponent with punching power similar to their own. (Getty Images)
Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes have never faced an opponent with punching power similar to their own. (Getty Images)

Nunes understands not only Cyborg’s punching power, but also her sheer physical strength. But if she’s the one on the attack, it could change the complexion of the fight.

“We all know Cris is very powerful,” Nunes said. “She’s strong. We all know that. You know, let’s be honest here with each other. Of course, every single fighter makes mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, you know? But sometimes people don’t know how to capitalize and do something about it in the fight. This is the thing. Of course, Cris makes mistakes. She’s a human, you know what I mean? She’s a human. She has mistakes. And we’re training for every single mistake she has. And by the way, we’re also training for the good thing she has as well.”

If Nunes wins, she’ll become the first woman to hold titles in two weight classes in the UFC. She’ll also probably be regarded as the greatest female fighter in MMA history.

Nunes enters with notable wins over Rousey, Miesha Tate, Germaine de Randamie and Valentina Shevchenko, among others, and a win over Cyborg would top them all.

But Nunes isn’t as concerned with that as she is elevating the women’s game. And it would get a boost with a high-level battle between, at the worst, two of the best to ever do it.

“This fight is going to be the key to put the women’s MMA in the top,” she said. “Nobody has ever seen [a woman hold two UFC belts] before. This is the first time and I’m happy to be a part of this. You know, I’m happy to be doing that. This is the big thing. It’s not about me. It’s not about Cris. It’s about the women’s MMA to grow every time we step in the cage.

“This is a big thing right now. I’m happy to be the one. I’m happy to face Cris and we’re going to put a show on for all the fans, and all the women out there who look up to us. We want to put on a show for everybody so they really stand up at the end of the fight and clap and be very happy. This is the thing that I look for.”

A standing ovation as the final bell sounds would be appropriate.

For women’s MMA, it doesn’t get any better than this.

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