Amanda Nunes had barely left the Octagon in December when it began: The women who had widely been considered the greatest female mixed martial artist of all time before the bell rang had in a matter of minutes turned into an overrated, one-dimensional product of Dana White’s well-oiled hype machine.
Julianna Peña submitted Nunes in the second round of their women’s bantamweight title fight at UFC 269 in Las Vegas on Dec. 11, ending Nunes’ more than five-year reign as champion.
It was a brilliant performance by Peña, who called her shot and then went out and did what she said she’d do. It doesn’t get much better than that.
The quick dismissal of Nunes’ many accomplishments in the light of that result by so many in the media and the fan base is illustrative of the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately society we live in. On Saturday, Nunes will rematch Peña in the main event of UFC 277 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas looking to remind people of why she was referred to as the GOAT in the first place.
“It’s not that I haven’t been in this situation before,” Nunes said to Yahoo Sports. “Starting with a loss is not good, but it can kind of make you stronger. [And it lets you know], whatever happens, maybe in the future, you'll be able to really overcome it.
“It happened with me. Every time that I lost, I made some adjustments in my life and adjustments in my training. And if I have to make some of those changes, I do. It’s always, always been like that with me. I always look to change and improve and right after, things go good. So this is not going to be different.”
After losing to Cat Zingano via third-round TKO at UFC 178 on Sept. 27, 2014, Nunes reeled off 12 wins in a row, with nine of those coming in title fights. She eliminated just about anyone who was ever even momentarily considered the women’s GOAT in that streak. She submitted Miesha Tate to win the title. She obliterated Ronda Rousey in her first defense. She knocked out Cris “Cyborg” Justino in less than a minute to win a belt in a second weight class. She KO’d Rousey-killer and boxing Hall of Famer Holly Holm. She scored two wins over Valentina Shevchenko, who is now ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound among women by UFC and Yahoo Sports.
There was more, but you get the idea.
UFC broadcast analyst Joe Rogan was critical of Nunes on his podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” for losing her conditioning after a fast-paced first round. That’s a fair and accurate criticism, and it wasn’t the first time it had happened to Nunes. It occurred in her loss to Zingano, as well. Nunes started fast, but Zingano withstood the storm, wore Nunes out and beat her with ground-and-pound.
But Rogan compared Nunes’ performance in the fight to that of a fighter on the regional, or minor league circuit.
“For you to be a world champion in two divisions and universally recognized as the greatest women’s fighter of all-time, which Amanda is, it is inexcusable] to be that tired in the second round, inexcusable. [Nunes was] just standing in front of her, just swinging in front of her, with no movement side to side, standing right in front of her like you’re watching a regional fight.”
Conditioning is the great equalizer in MMA and no one is a better example of that than Nunes. But it should also be noted that in the seven-plus years between those conditioning lapses, Nunes won 12 in a row, which is the longest winning streak by any woman in UFC history. Her conditioning didn’t fail her in those fights.
Nunes deserves to still be regarded as the greatest women's MMA fighter of all time despite the loss to Peña. Rousey held that honor before Nunes, but she didn’t rematch Holm, and she walked away from the sport for good after just one more fight. She didn’t try to reinvent herself and come back better, but pointed fingers at others and left with apparent bitter feelings.
Nunes was about a 10-1 favorite in that first fight, but despite the finish, she remains the favorite in the rematch. At BetMGM, Nunes is -260 and Peña is +210.
That’s significant because it’s a reminder that one loss does not destroy a legacy when one has a slew of accomplishments in the hopper. Michael Jordan was widely regarded as the greatest player in NBA history even while he was still active, even though in his final years, he wasn’t even close to the best player in the game.
Peña performed brilliantly, won the title and at this point is no doubt the best women’s bantamweight in the world. It’s up to Nunes to change that perception.
Whether she can or not remains to be seen, but Nunes’ long track record of success against the greatest women in the world still counts for something. Win or lose Saturday, she remains the women’s GOAT until someone comes along and surpasses what she’s done.