UFC 207: Amanda Nunes Flying Under the Radar Again

As it has been for her career, Amanda Nunes is not the center of attention leading up to her UFC 207 fight with Ronda Rousey, and it won’t make a difference again.

In the last several weeks, UFC 207 promotion has reduced Amanda Nunes to being “that girl fighting Ronda Rousey.”  But with a victory on Friday night, she could soon be basking in the biggest spotlight of her career.

When looking at the career of “Leoa” (the lioness) it’s hard to imagine how Nunes has gone as overlooked as she has up to this point.  She entered the UFC in 2013 and has gone 6-1 in that span.  Her only loss was to the ultra gritty Cat Zingano in a bout she had dominated for the first five minutes.

Her list of victims, however, is among the most impressive in the division.  Among them is future featherweight title challenger Germaine de Randamie, former title challenger Sara McMann, and top contender Valentina Shevchenko.  It wasn’t until she challenged Miesha Tate for the title at UFC 200 that the hard work she has put into her career paid off.  In many ways, it was exactly the storyline that she will face going into this Friday’s championship fight.

In July, Tate was coming off a huge victory over Holly Holm and many expected her to dispatch Nunes before going on to bigger bouts with Rousey, Holm, or Cris Cyborg.  Instead, Nunes throttled Tate in the first round, connecting with blistering punches that dropped the champion before finishing the fight with a rear-naked choke.

Nunes’ status as the first openly gay champion in mixed martial arts led to further recognition. The honors included receiving the Equality Visibility Award at the Los Angeles Equality Awards earlier this year.  During the ceremony, she accepted the award with her girlfriend and fellow UFC fighter Nina Ansaroff.  Nunes has taken the attention for that part of her life in stride, understanding of the recognition but insistent that she is just being herself.

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In terms of breaking barriers in the sporting world, Nunes is the perfect spokesperson with her humility and sportsmanship.  But, Nunes is a fighter first and foremost.  She’s impressed in dispatching several top-ranked opponents and is in the best form of her career going into the blockbuster event with Rousey.  Stylistically, the fight looks to be a close one for as long as it lasts.

Nunes is no Holly Holm on the feet, but she looks to be the more adept striker between the two.  While Rousey has shown the ability to hurt opponents with her punches, a prolonged kickboxing battle will not favor the former champion.

For “Leoa,” that means staying disciplined in allowing Rousey to come to her and keeping the fight at mid-range in the center of the Octagon.  On the ground, the strategy is simple: avoid grappling.  Unless Rousey gives up a severely compromising position after being hurt on the feet, Nunes would be taking unnecessary chances against the most dangerous female submission artist in MMA.

The biggest questions are the intangibles.  What will Rousey be like when she steps into the cage?  Will she be able to take a punch?  Reports are saying that Rousey has been in-shape and on weight for awhile.  Assuming that she is physically prepared, then the only surprise on Friday night will be how her timing and cage awareness is after more than a year away.

Nunes won’t bring any such issue into the cage.  She has improved in every subsequent appearance and never looked better than when she defeated Tate for the title.  A victory over Rousey would leave her with a near-full sweep of the elite in the division and cement “Leoa” as the best female bantamweight in the world.  Amanda Nunes will not be in the spotlight this week, but she’s gotten to this point in her career doing things her way.  There’s no reason to think she needs the spotlight to stun the world again on Friday night.

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