The lioness is still hungry for gold, and she feasted from the heart on Saturday night.
Seven months after falling victim to Juliana Pea, Amanda Nunes once again reigns as the top hunter in the UFC’s heaviest women’s divisions.
The current featherweight champion wasn’t content to have just one belt. No, Nunes wanted the bantamweight crown back; He needed it.
“When the lioness doesn’t find prey the first time around, I better set up the trap, and I knew I’d find the prey this time,” replied Nunes with a grin in the octagon, securing the 135-pound crown. Moments after the main event in Dallas at UFC 277. “Now, here we are, making history again. Double champion again, baby!”
Even as a considerable betting favorite over Pea, whose December win via second-round submission is one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, doubts arose. Was this the beginning of the end for the female goat of MMA? Was walking away from the American top team an act of desperation? Were COVID-19 and knee injury mere excuses for a facing legend?
Here’s a new question: How silly do those questions sound on the Sunday after the Brazilian hit Pea at the American Airlines center?
Transforming her training home gave way to such brilliance, to hear Nunes say in the cage, which she called “the best day of my life so far”.
“The best thing I did was build my own gym,” Nunes declared. “At my gym, I feel like I’m safe. I feel like I can grow even more.”
Perhaps that evolution, that evolution, was the genesis of a new perspective. The wheels came off Nunes’ fine-tuned engine at last – after a sturdier opening frame – when he allowed himself to engage in firepower with Pea, previously known more for his dangerous melee and submissions . The dual-champ faded, and one of his belts went to a 32-year-old man from Spokane, Wash.
This time, Nunes took her time. It wasn’t playing with her food, as she has with unmatched challengers in the past. Pea had earned a great deal of respect for such an approach. Instead, Saturday’s challenger controlled the pace, throwing Pea with more powerful shots to set a tone for what was to come.
The second round had been a disaster for Nunes in the winter. Come summer comeback, this was his masterpiece. He painted Pea on canvas three times, dropping him twice with a hard lead right hook from the southeast in the first two minutes and hitting a straight left in the third round.
Two things became clear in the final 15 minutes: Nunes hits harder than Pea, and Pea hasn’t missed it. A heavy elbow opened a cut along Pea’s hairline with 90 seconds to go into third, but Nunes was forced to defend an omoplata – the first of many such attempts from the cunning now-former champion.
Despite apparent success on the legs, Nunes switched to a takedown-heavy approach in the championship round. Even as he won every round, achieving final scores of 50-45, 50-44, 50-43, a bloody Pea never felt left out of the fight. The fourth-round armbar threatened another comeback win for Pea, who once again entered as the betting underdog – this time to a lesser extent.
But Nunes proved his championship in the closing five minutes, attacking with a dangerous rear-neck choke in the 25th minute. She was hungry, and the lioness wanted Mata Leo—”lion killer” in Portuguese, another name for the catch she aptly sought—but Pea proved her strength in stopping it. A kind of moral victory: she is the only one who has stopped the other.
Don’t make any mistake though. Nunes won what mattered: the delicious gold trinkets she’s enjoyed pairing her second with over the years. All is well in his world again.
“I had to do it my first time, but I told you guys: I didn’t know [if] I was ready for it.”
Nunes is now ready, and he let all the women 135 pounds and let it go with a mighty roar.