Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm is Ultimately About Legacy

Since winning the bantamweight belt at UFC 200 almost three years ago, Amanda Nunes has run through the UFC women’s bantamweight division. She holds victories over Germaine De Randamie, Sara McMann, Valentina Shevchenko, twice, Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey, Raquel Pennington, and Cris Cyborg. The victory over Cyborg came via way of vicious first round knockout, and through that victory Amanda Nunes became the first ever two-weight simultaneous champion, and the third ever “double champ” in UFC history. Her status as the female greatest of all time is near-universal, and the only champion in the women’s bantamweight or featherweight division who Nunes does not have a win over is Holly Holm.

Holly Holm took the MMA world by storm in 2015 when she knocked out Ronda Rousey at UFC 193, but before the emphatic win over who was then the UFC’s biggest star, Holm’s tenure in the UFC had been underwhelming. She had a split-decision win over Raquel Pennington, and a dominant, but not especially endearing victory over Marion Reneau.

At the time of her fight with Rousey, Holm was ranked at just 7th in the world in the UFC’s bantamweight rankings, whereas Ronda was on top of the world, as not just a star within the UFC, but also as a cultural icon. In retrospect, it is easy to dismiss Rousey’s reign as UFC champion as one where the competition was so shallow that the wins are practically meaningless. It is not incorrect to say that female MMA back then was not anywhere near as developed as it is today, but through a historical context, Rousey seemed invincible, that was until Holly Holm.

It took Holm less than six minutes total to utterly dismantle Rousey. The first round of their fight was the first that Rousey had ever lost, and early in the second Holm landed a vicious left high kick that put Rousey to sleep. The fact that Holm beat who she beat the way she beat her propelled her to the top of mixed martial arts, with her ascent accelerated by Rousey’s disappearance after the loss. It had seemed like the 135 pound division had found a new queen, a champion who like her predecessor would reign for several years and defend her belt for a long time, but as it turns out, this assessment was wrong.

At UFC 196, Holly Holm fought former Strikeforce champion and perennial contender Miesha Tate in her first title defense. Aside from a dominant second round for Tate that was spent on the ground, Holm was winning the fight up into the fifth round according to most observers, but halfway through the fifth round, Tate finished a takedown, took the champion’s back and strangled her into unconsciousness.

Since losing the title, Holm’s record has been mixed. She has losses to Valentina Shevchenko, Germaine De Randamie and Cyborg, the latter two losses being for the new UFC featherweight belt, but she holds wins over Bethe Correia and Megan Anderson, the win over Anderson being her most recent fight last year at UFC 225, where she showed an improved ground game, an area that the former boxing world champion has struggled in.

This mixed record has led many fans on the internet’s leading forum of experts, also known as Reddit, to question why Holm is getting the next crack at “The Lioness”. The fight makes sense to me. While a 2-3 record in your last five outings is never good, all three of those losses came to world champions. As aforementioned, Holm is the only former champion at 135 or 145 who Nunes has not yet defeated. This division has not quite yet been cleared out, pending the result of the fight.

A Giant Career Trajectory

Nunes’ career trajectory has been far more successful than that of Holm recently. While her winning the championship over Miesha Tate did not get the same level of media attention as Holm’s win over Rousey, Nunes has quietly put in work to establish a legacy as an all-time great. She is currently riding an eight fight win streak dating back to March 2015, six of those wins coming by finish, and the only real opposition came from Valentina Shevchenko, who has since moved down ten pounds where she is now the reigning flyweight champion.

With Shevchenko out of the division, it seemed like all challengers at 135 to Nunes had been defeated. Nunes went on to fight Raquel Pennington, who she absolutely destroyed, finishing her in the fifth round, further exacerbating the division’s lack of contenders. Likewise, at 145 Cris Cyborg had gone through everyone, including Holly Holm. The logical match-up was a champion versus champion contest, where Nunes would move up to challenge Cyborg for her belt. Nunes was always a massive bantamweight, the weight cut being so difficult that it forced her out of a fight with Shevchenko at UFC 213, so the matchup seemed at the very least more intriguing than their past few bouts. Nevertheless, Cyborg was the favorite to retain her title both by the bookies and from observers of the sport. But Nunes had other plans.

In less than a minute, in a fight that lasted only three seconds than her fight with Ronda Rousey, Nunes separated Cyborg from her senses with a devastating right hand, stealing her title in the process. Nunes thus joined an elite club, consisting then only of Conor McGregor and Daniel Cormier. This victory led to her being acclaimed as the greatest female fighter ever, and given her resume, it is hard to argue against such a statement.

If Amanda Nunes defends her bantamweight belt for a fourth time against Holly Holm, it will only solidify that claim of greatness, and given past statements, it appears that Amanda’s career is nearing its close, there is a good chance that she may retire on top. I do however expect that Amanda Nunes will fight at least once more after this fight, win or lose. As for Holm, who is 37 years old, a win over Nunes means she will be a two-time bantamweight champion, one who holds a win over the consensus GOAT. For both fighters, this fight will determine what kind of legacy they will have when they eventually depart the sport.

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