July 9, 2019

Amanda Nunes: The Lioness Is Unquestionably the GOAT After UFC 239, Though New Questions Await Her

By Raphael Garcia

With one head kick and follow up shot Amanda Nunes cemented her place as the greatest woman to ever step into an MMA contest. After felling Holly Holm in the first round of their UFC 239 co-main event bout, Nunes has been the subject of much conversation regarding what comes next for the Brazilian dual champion. The answer should be simple -- whatever she wants, because her legacy as the GOAT has been firmly solidified.

Nunes has defeated nearly every woman to hold a UFC title. She has wins over Holm, Cris Cyborg, Ronda Rousey, Valentina Shevchenko, Miesha Tate, and Germaine de Randamie. She even has a win over the Bellator MMA featherweight champion, Julia Budd. Nearly any name that is brought up when talking about dominance within women’s MMA has had a reckoning at the hands of “The Lioness.” Any additional accomplishments after this win are just icing on the cake.

But what would those additional accomplishments look like? The two possible challengers that spring to mind immediately are the current UFC Flyweight Champion, Shevchenko, and Cyborg, the former featherweight champion. Both women are tied up in bouts currently, but the nod should go to Cyborg if both women come out victorious.

Cyborg's name carries more cachet across the sporting world, as she has been a bigger name in MMA for longer. She reigned supreme over her division for years on end, regardless of promotion, before she was smashed by Nunes at UFC 232. At UFC 240 she’s facing Felicia Spencer, and while Spencer isn’t a highly recognizable name, a victory by Cyborg in the manner we associate with her would go a very long way towards keeping her fresh in the minds of fight fans. But the big question will be whether the UFC can find a way to re-sign her, as she is fighting out the last bout on her current deal, and has never felt truly valued by the promotion, even when she was the champion.

Shevchenko has a flyweight title defense scheduled for UFC on ESPN+ 14 against Liz Carmouche. As the champion at 125 pounds, Shevchenko has responsibilities to that division. Even though she wants a third crack at Nunes, allowing her to move back up to 135 would put her division on hold until 2020. That division, though arguably less fleshed out than featherweight, still has fighters who are moving up through the ranks, fighters who deserve an opportunity to attain a title shot. These opportunities would disappear, at least in the short term, if Shevchenko is allowed to move to bantamweight for the opportunity to become "champ-champ."

But regardless of which direction the UFC decides to go when it comes to selecting her next challenger, the true variable in the equation is the value the UFC sees in Nunes as a champion worth booking for. Nunes may not move the needle within the UFC's coveted demographic of white males between the ages of 18-34, but there are other segments of the population that the UFC isn't marketing to to the same degree, and it would be worthwhile to test her marketability within those groups, who also have money to spend. It's possible that the situation changes due to the UFC-ESPN relationship, as The Worldwide Leader covers women's sports and the athletes that compete in it in far different fashion. As we've seen with the U.S. Women's National Team in soccer, excellent athletes are promoted and given exposure with little consideration as to whether they fit a cookie-cutter "look" -- it would behoove the UFC to take notes when it comes to the efforts it undertakes to build up stars like Nunes.

All in all, Amanda Nunes deserves to be mentioned alongside the greatest fighters of all time, regardless of gender; her GOAT status in the women's ranks is solidified, and her place in history should no longer be up for debate. But when it comes to her next challenge, regardless of whether her next bout is with Valentina Shevchenko or Cris Cyborg, Nunes now has the responsibility to help bring the sport to the next level as the women's divisions' signature star. Already cemented as a legend in the Octagon, the time has come for her to establish herself as a legend outside of it.

UFC 239
Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm (UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship): Amanda Nunes def. Holly Holm via technical knockout at 4:10 of Round 1.

UFC 239: Jones vs. Santos took place July 6, 2019 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Click HERE for more UFC 239 Post-Fight Analysis


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