September 13, 2017

UFC 215: Amanda Nunes Should Fight Holly Holm Next

By Adam Martin

UFC 215’s main event was not without controversy, but at the end of 25 minutes Amanda Nunes had done enough in the judges’ eyes to take home a split decision victory over Valentina Shevchenko to retain the UFC women’s bantamweight title. In a bout that divided fans watching over who won, the official scorecards were 48-47 twice for Nunes and 48-47 once for Shevchenko, with the champ earning her second-straight title defense.

Now comes the question of who fights Nunes next in the suddenly-thin UFC women’s 135 division.

I’ve seen quite a few fans say it should be Raquel Pennington, who has won four straight fights. But to me, that’s not a fight that would excite the casual fan, and even though Pennington did beat Miesha Tate in her last fight, that was a Tate with her foot halfway out the proverbial retirement door. And that was last November, so Pennington hasn’t fought in nearly a year, which has killed some of the momentum from the Tate win. She’s also recovering from shoulder surgery, and there’s no timetable for her return yet.

Others suggested Sara McMann, who had won three straight fights, but McMann lost in upset fashion to Ketlen Vieira on the UFC 215 undercard, so she’s eliminated from title contention for now. Vieira is certainly closing in on the conversation, but she’s still relatively unknown to the general MMA fan and should ideally get at least a few more fights before she gets a crack at Nunes and the belt.

Cat Zingano remains out there as well, but hasn’t fought since a decision loss to Julianna Pena at UFC 200, and Pena just lost earlier this year to Shevchenko, so she’s not in the title talks either. Germaine de Randamie would be an option, but after the fiasco with her featherweight title and the fact she’s already lost to Nunes -- not to mention her recent hand surgery -- GDR isn’t an option either. Liz Carmouche and Alexis Davis are coming off of wins, but neither fighter moves the needle (though Davis’ TKO win over Nunes in Strikeforce makes her an interesting contender down the road).

The UFC would love if Ronda Rousey fought Nunes in a rematch, obviously, but that won’t happen because Rousey is happily married to Travis Browne and seems to be pursuing a career in the WWE now. Plus there’s that little fact that Nunes beat Rousey into essentially retirement just last December. So this fight is just a pipedream, though it would obviously be the biggest PPV seller.

That leaves Holly Holm as the answer.

After losing to Tate and Shevchenko in upset fashion, Holm moved up to 145 to fight GDR for the vacant title, ultimately coming up short in a close decision loss. Holm then moved back down to 135 and in her most recent outing knocked out Bethe Correia with a question mark kick. It was one of the top knockouts of 2017, and that kind of knockout -- plus her previous highlight-reel knockouts, including her stunning head kick on Rousey a few years back -- makes for an easy marketing campaign for the UFC. Plus, Holm is a proven draw at this point, and she’s one of the few bantamweights who hasn’t fought Nunes yet. So, to me at least, she’s the perfect opponent because she’s going to show up to fight and give Nunes a real challenge.

Ultimately I do expect Nunes’ next opponent to come down to two choices, Pennington or Holm, and it’s likely going to be timing that dictates who gets the title shot. Nunes says she’s taking the rest of 2017 off and won’t fight again until 2018, so at that point another contender could emerge, or it could become clearer which of Pennington or Holm will get the fight. But if you had to make me pick one opponent right now for Nunes, it would be Holm. It’s an exciting stylistic matchup on paper and would be a good-selling show for the UFC, so it makes a lot of sense. I hope we get to see this fight, even if we have to wait until 2018 to watch it.

UFC 215: Nunes vs. Shevchenko 2 (formerly UFC 215: Johnson vs. Borg) took place September 9, 2017 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

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