Amanda Nunes is already at the top of her division, but a win over Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 213 is key toward creating her legend.
UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes has already completed her mission. She won the world title in dominant fashion and followed it up by dispatching the biggest star in women’s MMA history. She’s on a special run, and a victory over Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 213 would potentially propel her toward stardom in MMA.
Nunes would have been the unanimous Fighter of the Year in 2016 had there not been so many candidates. McGregor made history and Bisping shocked the world, leaving Nunes’ sudden rise to finish in third place. It doesn’t change that “Leoa” went from fringe contender to elite mixed martial artist in a twelve-month span. She notched her first victory over Shevchenko in March and followed it up with a bludgeoning of Miesha Tate for the championship in July a year from this Saturday.
In December, she locked her place as the new alpha in the division when she obliterated MMA superstar Ronda Rousey in under a minute to defend the title. The victory puts her alone at the top of 135, and she’d be the undisputed top female mixed martial artist in the world were it not for the fact that she is competing at the same time as Cris Cyborg and Joanna Jędrzejczyk.
The latter women have been at the top of the game longer, which leaves Nunes with ground to cover to complete the UFC’s trifecta. She has a great opportunity to do so against Shevchenko. “The Bullet” is hot after notching wins over Holly Holm and Julianna Peña. Their first fight was also intriguing, Nunes won the first two rounds convincingly but Shevchenko took over in the third when the Brazilian exhausted herself.
A five-round rematch with the belt on the line is exactly the kind of bout to raise the stock of Nunes even further, and erase any doubt on who is the better fighter. Stylistically, it still looks to be a close contest. Shevchenko is the better striker who has proven she can fight at a consistent pace for five rounds. She’s also made strides in her ground game, never more apparent than when she submitted Peña to earn a title shot
Amanda, by comparison, is a powerful striker. Her skill level is not as high as Shevchenko’s on a technical level, but she is heralded as the hardest hitter in the division. That is a risky double-edged sword in this fight. Nunes has the potential to take out Shevchenko early with one shot, but if she is unable to catch her she could expend a lot of energy seeking the knockout punch.
On the ground, she will hold an advantage and should look to keep the challenger on the mat for as long as possible. Nunes has struggled with strong wrestlers like Cat Zingano, but that won’t look to be the case against “The Bullet.” As such, doing damage with ground and pound and setting up a submission is her best route to a victory if she’s not finding early success on the feet.
Pacing is another factor in the fight. Amanda Nunes has faded several times in the past as fights have gone past the second round, the fights against Shevchenko and Zingano being the most obvious examples. It will be key that she avoids expending too much energy early on. Rather than sit and try to counter against the more mobile Shevchenko, she should look to jab and get the clinch where she can use her strength to get the fight to the ground. From there, she puts the fight where she has the advantage and can focus on wearing down the cardio of the challenger.
With a win, Amanda Nunes would only widen the gap between herself and the rest of the bantamweight division. It would also put her on track toward becoming a big star in her own right. She will not reach the same level of stardom or popularity as former foe Ronda Rousey overnight, but she has the potential to carve an even more notable legacy. At a time when the level of skill in the UFC has never been higher, Nunes is close to clearing out the elite of the division. This next stretch of fights could be the difference in becoming a legend or not, the fact that she is already at this point says plenty about what she has already accomplished in a short time.