UFC 239 preview/prediction: Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm

Kevin IoleCombat columnist

LAS VEGAS — Amanda Nunes is well known for her victories over Cris “Cyborg” JustinoRonda Rousey and Miesha Tate, arguably the three biggest names in the history of women’s MMA.

But Nunes’ dominance of former world champions from UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator and Invicta goes well beyond those three.

Nunes is 6-0 against women who have held a UFC title at some point in their careers: KOs over Cyborg at UFC 232; Rousey at UFC 207; and Germaine de Randamie at UFC Fight for the Troops 3; a submission over Tate at UFC 200; and decision wins over Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 196 and UFC 215.

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But she’s also 1-0 against current Bellator featherweight champion Julia Budd, whom she knocked out in 14 seconds in a 2011 Strikeforce event. She’s 1-0 against Vanessa Porto, the reigning Invicta flyweight champion, stopping her in 2009.

And her victories over Cyborg, Rousey and Tate make her 3-0 against ex-Strikeforce champions.

She’ll defend her belt against yet another champion on Saturday when she meets Holly Holm in a bantamweight title bout in the co-main event of UFC 239 (10 p.m. ET, PPV) at T-Mobile Arena.

Nunes overwhelmed Cyborg with her power and made Rousey look like she didn’t even belong in the cage. Among her 17 professional victories, Nunes has scored five of them by knockout in less than a minute.

None of that will intimidate Holm, however, who has only been knocked out twice in a 38-fight boxing career, once in 22 kickboxing matches and never in 16 MMA fights.

Holm’s style figures to cause Nunes a lot more issues than Cyborg’s did. Cyborg is one of the most aggressive fighters in the sport and went directly at Nunes, who gleefully unloaded on her.

Holm will move a lot more and will throw far more kicks. She’s also far less likely to overcommit on a shot and leave her chin exposed than Cyborg was.

Nunes will have to be patient, but she showed extraordinary patience in her two fights with Shevchenko. And she may have won the second by going for a late takedown in the fifth round and doing some damage that way.

Holm’s best bet is to try to keep Nunes off-balance and go for the occasional takedown. Even if she does nothing with it, the takedown attempts will help Holm if they slow down, ever so slightly, Nunes’ forward attack.

Holm is a good kicker and she should go after Nunes’ legs and try to take them out from under her. Nunes gets her extraordinary power with fast hips and pivoting hard off of her back leg and turning into a shot.

If Holm’s kicks can succeed in doing damage to Nunes’ legs, it decreases Nunes’ threat of a knockout.

Nunes, though, has both a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a brown belt in judo, and has improved her wrestling significantly, so she has the ability to win the fight in multiple ways.

Nunes has a powerful jab that she uses to go to the body as well as the head. While she’ll use it to try to slow Holm’s movements, it’s also a powerful punch in and of itself. Watch her fight with Rousey. About 15 seconds into it, she stuns Rousey with a jab and then follows with a big right hand. That jab, though, is the punch that was the beginning of the end for Rousey.

Holm will be looking to counter it, but Nunes is experienced against southpaws and will be prepared.

I don’t think Nunes is going to be able to tee off on Holm the way she did on Rousey, Cyborg and Tate, and so I believe the fight will go longer.

Look for Nunes to win a wide unanimous decision in a fight in which she gets stronger as the bout progresses.

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