UFC 259: Anderson in Unique Situation Ahead of Nunes Title Match

Amanda Nunes and Megan Anderson, UFC 259 press conference
Amanda Nunes and Megan Anderson, UFC 259 press conference Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

The future of the UFC women’s featherweight division could be on the line as Megan Anderson looks to upset pound-for-pound powerhouse Amanda Nunes at UFC 259.

Has a fighter in the UFC ever been in a more unique position than Megan Anderson this Saturday?  It is no exaggeration to say that win or lose, Anderson could be facing the end of her UFC career through absolutely zero fault of her own.  If she does end the reign of the most accomplished female champion in UFC history in Amanda Nunes, it is still possible that Nunes (and the UFC for that matter) call it a day on a featherweight division that has only ever had as many as five consistent fighters since opening in 2018.

If this is the end of her UFC tenure, Anderson has played the business game perfectly.  She has been vocal about wanting to see more female featherweights in the UFC and she has been professional at every turn when they simply were not signed.  Anderson has seen more than two years go by with the promotion signing only two women to the division and even seen an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter feature female featherweights only for all the signees to immediately drop down to bantamweight upon joining the company.  Look at Anderson’s UFC resume and you will see that literally every opponent outside of Felicia Spencer has been a natural bantamweight moving up in weight.  One can even go as far as to say this holds true of the reigning champion.

As in most sports, the validation of winning a championship brings a level of credibility in most post-competition avenues moving forward.  The Australian contender has worked as part of the Invicta FC broadcasts and stated her future goal is to be a part of the UFC broadcast team.  Long-term, winning the title would go a long way in pushing her forward in that endeavor.  In the short-term, Anderson would command top dollar on the free agent market should the UFC shutter the division Saturday night.  Keep in mind, no fighter in the modern era has ever left the UFC as their reigning champion and there would predictably be a bidding war to sign Anderson if she were to be the first.

For Amanda Nunes, a victory would continue to propel her head-and-shoulders ahead of the rest of the field in women’s MMA and cement her case for pound-for-pound immortality.  It has now been over a year since she’s defeated every past bantamweight and featherweight champion in UFC history, not to mention recording two victories over the reigning flyweight powerhouse.  Further, she has been the only two-division champion to actively defend both of her titles with an active schedule.  Going under the radar, Nunes is within striking distance of another UFC record as a victory on Saturday would be her 12th in row.  Currently, five fighters are tied with 13 and only one has surpassed the record with 16.  To put it into context, you can recognize the six fighters ahead of Nunes with one name: Silva, Bones, Khabib, GSP, Holloway, and Demetrious.

Nunes has acknowledged that she could retire now, satisfied that she has achieved many of the major goals most fighters aspire to accomplish.  Publicly, she continues to say the right thing about how the love of the competition keeps pushing her to train as hard as before.  But it is natural to wonder if complacency could be its own formidable opponent on top of the latest title challenger.  It would be unfair, but it is easy to imagine that a loss on Saturday would have many wondering if the general pressure or if the fatigue of being at the top for so long was a contributing factor.

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention that resume of Nunes allows her to hold the keys to the future of the featherweight division regardless of the outcome.  While an immediate rematch if she were to lose would be obvious, Nunes has admitted that she performs her best at bantamweight and she could well elect to simply focus on her more natural weight class where she still holds the title.  An added element to the fight is that Anderson has publicly confirmed that the fight with Nunes is the last on her UFC contract.  Should Nunes triumph, only 1-0 Danyelle Wolf is left in the featherweight division for her and it would take a dramatic turn of events to see a long-term future for the weight class after Saturday.

Anderson’s best route to victory will be to use her size and physicality early.  She will have a six inch height advantage and must use it to full effect with a sharp jab and kicks to make the champion weary and hamper her mobility as soon as possible.  While Nunes has displayed solid power, it’s expected that she will look to take the fight to the mat.  In this regard, Anderson’s height figures to be a disadvantage as it will be more difficult for her to keep her hips lower than Nunes to defend takedowns throughout the match.

A Nunes victory will likely see her return to bantamweight to face the winner of the upcoming bout between Holly Holm and Julianna Pena.  Another featherweight title defense is unlikely to be anytime soon as the only featherweight bout on the horizon is a bout between Felicia Spencer, whom Nunes dominated in brutal fashion, and Danyelle Wolf who as of this writing is 1-0 in her professional career.  A Megan Anderson victory would make a rematch the most intriguing bout possible for Nunes.  But after achieving everything else, it would be on her to decide if it is still the challenge she most wants.  If Nunes declines, it will be on the UFC to evaluate the value of the division to the company moving forward.