Comfortable home life enables UFC double champ Amanda Nunes to fulfill immense potential

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Yahoo Sports

Jon Jones established his credentials as one of the greatest fighters in mixed martial arts history by going on a then-unprecedented run of success. In his first five title fights, he faced and defeated a former UFC champion each time.

That string of dominant victories over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort not only established him as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in the world, but also as the greatest MMA fighter of all-time.

It’s largely been an unchallenged honor when he was active and not under suspension. An unlikely challenger has emerged for that mythical title.

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But the run that UFC women’s bantamweight and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes is on may have already surpassed the run that Jones went on when he defeated Rua in 2011 to win the belt. Nunes won the title by choking out Miesha Tate, then defended it in just 48 seconds against Ronda Rousey. After her second win over Valentina Shevchenko, she defeated Raquel Pennington and then knocked out Cris “Cyborg” Justino in just 51 seconds. In her last fight, she knocked out former bantamweight champion Holly Holm in the first with a kick to the head.

Nunes has won nine consecutive fights, six of which have come against reigning or former champions, including two over Shevchenko. If one created a list today of the greatest women’s fighters in MMA history, Tate, Rousey, Shevchenko, Justino and Holm would definitely be in the top 10 and perhaps in the top seven.

On Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nunes will gun for her 10th consecutive win and her seventh in that span over an ex-UFC champion when she defends her title at UFC 245 against Germaine de Randamie. Nunes submitted de Randamie in 3:56 of the first round in 2013 in their first meeting.

Those wins, and the elite athletes she’s defeated have dramatically changed her life. She’s gone from a poor young woman who lived in the gym and mopped its floors and cleaned its toilets in order to have a place to stay and food to eat, to one who is surrounded at nearly all times on the job by a considerable entourage.

UFC double champion Amanda Nunes. (Courtesy of UFC)
UFC double champion Amanda Nunes. (Courtesy of UFC)

On Monday, she was doing publicity in Los Angeles, her day starting before sunrise and not ending until well after sunset. 

Nunes is not an entourage type of woman. She is most comfortable at home, far away from the cameras and the microphones and the groupies and the fanboys and the publicists and everything else that seems to surround her these days.

She’d been an elite prospect for years and was tagged as a potential champion from her earliest days in MMA.

It wasn’t, though, until she met fiancee Nina Ansaroff, a UFC strawweight contender, that Nunes finally began to fulfill her potential. In Ansaroff, she had found someone she could trust, to confide in, who understood better than just about anyone the fears and insecurities and the exhaustion that comes with being a fighter at the highest level.

Walking down a hall, she drapes her arm around Ansaroff’s shoulder and smiles.

“Without Nina, I don’t know if any of this happens,” she said.

Nunes became the first openly gay champion in MMA or boxing history in 2016 when she submitted Tate at UFC 200. That put a spotlight on her relationship with Ansaroff, an elite fighter of her own accord who has won four of her last five fights.

She willingly took on that mantle in order to advocate for LGBTQ causes.

But it’s also because of how unceasingly proud she is of Ansaroff. Because Nunes is one of the sport’s elite champions, Ansaroff can seem like a fifth wheel to the naked eye. Look at any on-camera interview with Nunes and if there is a wide shot of the room, it’s almost a guarantee that Ansaroff is lurking.

Nunes, though, never forgets Ansaroff’s significance to her or the importance in her life. She doesn’t have to worry about Ansaroff getting left out, because she talks about her and credits her constantly. 

And it’s as if they can read each other’s minds. Ansaroff knows when Nunes is unhappy about something and vice versa, and they often complete each other’s sentences.

“I think having Nina with me, something matches very well,” Nunes said. “We know each other very well. She knows when she sees something in my face that I don’t like, she’d be able to really work around it [and help me]. We have this connection that is very deep and we really help each other and we trust each other. I trust her. I feel like when you have this kind of trust, things get easy and are able to flow very well. And yeah, I feel like we work very well together.”

Nunes has posted several videos of her home life with Ansaroff, where Ansaroff is scolding her for not washing the dishes. Standing at the sink, Ansaroff isn’t happy in the video and Nunes is giggling as she listens to her partner admonish her.

Asked if it’s a legitimate video, Nunes said it is. There are others like it, with Ansaroff irritated that Nunes hasn’t taken out the trash.

Ansaroff rolls her eyes as she details Nunes’ domestic shortcomings. Nunes beams and seems her happiest as Ansaroff talks about her inability to clean the table after dinner.

“I just hate to wash the dishes, you know,” she said, giggling, as Ansaroff sneers at her in mock anger.

Part of being able to perform at work is being relaxed and confident and focused on the task at hand. Ansaroff brings the structure and the understanding and the support Nunes needs to be able to be at her best each time out.

Amanda Nunes and Nina Ansaroff pose for a portrait backstage during the UFC 239 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 6, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)
Amanda Nunes and Nina Ansaroff pose for a portrait backstage during the UFC 239 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 6, 2019 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

After yet another interview is done, they’re trudging off to a waiting SUV when a reporter mentions that boxing promoter Dmitriy Salita recently went on TMZ to say he thought an MMA fight between Nunes and two-time Olympic gold medalist boxer Claressa Shields could happen next year.

Both women immediately scoffed at the notion.

As they both dismissed it as baseless speculation, someone noted the enormous purses boxer Floyd Mayweather and ex-UFC champion Conor McGregor made for boxing in 2017.

“Come up with that kind of money and then we can talk,” Ansaroff said.

Nunes shrugged her shoulders and said, “You heard Nina. No means no.”

She then giggled again like a schoolgirl. Before she left for good, she shook her head no at the thought of trying to box.

“I love this sport,” she said of MMA. “I have everything I need and I want right here.”

And with that, the double champion and women’s GOAT trudged down the hall and out the door, where she met a fan and posed for yet another picture while Ansaroff maintained a watchful eye.

The UFC’s power couple was at it yet again.

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