RIO DE JANEIRO – A title takes on different meanings for its different holders. For some, it’s about pride. For others, it’s about status. For newly-crowned champion Amanda Nunes, however, the UFC women’s bantamweight belt means everything.
Sporting the smile that seems to have become a permanent part of her complexion since her career’s biggest win at UFC 200, Nunes recently sat through a media dinner with the shiny belt right in front of her. And, much like a literal “Lioness” protecting a cub, the figurative one made sure to let people know she’s not about to easily let it go.
“For one week, I didn’t sleep at all – everything was about the belt,” Nunes said. “I’d take it everywhere. It would sleep with me. I’d put it next to the TV. I don’t know if I watched TV or looked at the belt. It was amazing.
“Now I know how every champion feels with that thing at home, how strong it makes you. I know now how Ronda (Rousey) was very dominating, Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo.… Now I’m going to be like that. I’m going to be dominating for a very long time because it brings so much energy. Amazing. I will keep this belt for a long time. I’m going to retire with this belt, for sure.”
“It was a three-round fight, dumbass!”
The women’s 135-pound title has seemed rather slippery in the months that have elapsed since it was taken from its original owner, Ronda Rousey. While Nunes clearly seems dead-set on holding on to her belt, the riled-up competition in a chaotic division is wasting no time in reaching for it.
In fact, Nunes had little time to celebrate her conquest before her first call-out. Sitting not too far from her at UFC 200’s press conference, “The Ultimate Fighter 18” winner Julianna Pena had barely cooled off from her win over Cat Zingano before she made her case for a title shot.
Pena is not Nunes’ first choice. But the champ admits it’s a real possibility – albeit, apparently, not a frightening one.
“(Pena) has the same style as Miesha Tate,” Nunes said. “She wants to grapple. This is the game I like, the type of opponent I like. Her mistakes are different than Miesha’s, so I’m going to study her and build another strategy. I’m a versatile fighter. I like to innovate with every fight. I’ll always be a dangerous fighter looking to finish, both on the feet and on the ground.”
Also in line is Valentina Shevchenko, fresh off an important upset win over former champ Holly Holm. And as far as that goes, the current titleholder is not particularly pleased with the comments that the Kyrgyzstan native made about their first encounter – a three-round affair that ended with a decision win for a gassed-out Nunes.
“I beat Valentina Shevchenko – I won fair and square,” Nunes said. “It was two rounds to one. She was saying at the press conference she’d have beat me if there were five rounds. But it was a three-round fight, dumbass. If it were five rounds, I would have trained for it, and it would have been the same. … I would have won four rounds, and you would have won one.
“I wonder if her coach doesn’t tell her not to say these things, because for an athlete to say something like that … and she lost. It looks ugly. And she wants a rematch. I got tired in the third, and still she couldn’t finish me. Even when I’m tired, I’m strong. There’s no reason for her to fight me again.”
While many saw an impressive Shevchenko against Holm, Nunes saw pretty much the same thing as when they first met in the octagon.
“She fought Holly the same way,” Nunes said. “And I beat her at striking. I dominated the fight, but I wanted to get that extra point, and I took her to the ground. Of course, I’m smart. I’m not going to stay on the feet because I want to beat up a muay Thai champ. I’m not stupid. I’m smart. I want to win the fight. That’s my thinking. I knew I got tired, and I stalled in the third round. I outsmarted here. So her remarks were unfortunate.”
Ronda Rousey in New York City
But the 135-pounder that Nunes really wants to fight is, incidentally, the one who might just end up eluding her. That, of course, is the ever-present Ronda Rousey – a matchup that, as MMAjunkie found out, also seems to make sense for their UFC colleagues.
Nunes has been crystal clear: She wants Rousey, and she wants it to happen at UFC 205, set to take place Nov. 12 at Madison Square Garden in New York. And while many ask themselves if Rousey really is ever coming back, Nunes doesn’t seem worried about it.
“This is the fight that makes sense,” Nunes said. “Ronda was one of the biggest fighters of all times, and I’m the champion now. I made history for my country. I think it’s going to be a big pay-per-view, one of the UFC’s biggest pay-per-views. I’m taking my country and she’ll be in hers, because I want it to be in New York City. It will be historic – the first card there. I want to keep making history, and this is the next step.
“It’s certainly going to be (Pena) if Ronda doesn’t come back. But I’m saying she is coming back for sure, and I’ll be waiting.“
Forgetting the Nunes that fought Zingano
While Rousey is the opponent that most interests Nunes, it’s also the one that she believes brings the most danger. That’s not to say, however, the “Lioness” is in any way intimidated by her. For Nunes, one of her keys to beat the Olympic judo medalist might just be what she thinks is one of the most overlooked aspects of her game.
“(Rousey) is more dangerous,” Nunes said. “I know Julianna’s game matches up well against mine. I proved that against Sara McMann, Miesha Tate, and it’s going to be the same with her. I’m on a roll with that. After McMann, Tate came. … Same thing, ‘Take Amanda down because she has no ground game.’ I started off on the ground. I started with judo and jiu-jitsu, I just learned striking quickly. I don’t know what happened. The training started, and the next day my hands and kicks were good, and I started getting knockouts.
“But I was a jiu-jitsu fighter. I was a world champion, two times Pan American champion. I was the champion in Bahia for a long time. I have grappling as my base. I don’t know what these girls are thinking. Because I lost like this a long time ago? That’s stupid, focusing on something that happened a long time ago. You need to think how I’m evolving. Let’s see the Amanda that fought Tate, not the one that fought Cat Zingano. It’s never going to be that again. Don’t wait for that Amanda, because I’ll rip your head off.”
The power of the belt
More than her award-winning grappling chops, Nunes sees other advantages over Rousey. There is, for instance, her newfound mental focus – something she worked on extensively after the painful loss to Zingano at UFC 178. But, most importantly, she believes her edge lies in the very item that, like she’s doing now, Rousey has held so dear in the past.
“(Rousey) knows the power this belt has,” Nunes said. “That’s why she’s a bit unsure about coming back. That’s why (Anderson) Silva and Aldo were champions for so long. The belt gives extra strength. I have all the advantages over Ronda right now. I train judo as well. I know how to defend takedowns. I know how to take advantage of the fight both on the feet and on the ground. I have more to offer.
“I’m stronger mentally than she is. I think all of these will be in my favor, and Brazil, as well. I’m just waiting for this moment to happen.“
When it comes to the belt’s constant switching of hands, Nunes can’t make much sense of it. But, at the end of the day, what matters is that it’s now hers. And while for some the fear of losing such an esteemed accomplishment might be a scary thought, for Nunes, it’s one that offers added motivation.
“It’s the age of the ‘Lioness,’” Nunes said. “I don’t know what’s happening (with the belt switching hands), but it needed to happen in order for the ‘Lioness’ age to arrive. And the belt is not leaving my hands. You can be sure. I’ll fight tooth and nails and not let anyone take this. I want to retire as a champion, and I will make it happen.
“I’m not afraid. (The title) is what helps you to get there and give it your all. Many champions, I believe, don’t think like I do. This is extra strength for me, that’s the difference. It’s not just a belt sitting next to me.”