Amanda Nunes is finally coming back to the Octagon, but not in the fight she expected on her way towards the UFC belt.
Months after dispatching former title challenger Sara McMann in less than three minutes, Nunes was offered a fight with Miesha Tate for late 2015, but it never came to fruition. Now, seven months after her last appearance, she is slated to take on Valentina Shevchenko at Saturday’s UFC 196.
"We were close to getting a fight done with Miesha, but it didn’t happen," Nunes told MMAFighting.com. "Miesha wanted a title fight because she was on a good winning streak. I understand her. But the UFC really tried making this fight happen last year.
"They gave me Valentina now. Valentina is coming off good wins, an impressive one over Sarah Kaufman, so I knew she would be a good opponent for me. Let’s do this. I will win this fight and make some noise, so I can fight for the belt next."
Tate got the shot at recently-crowned champion Holly Holm instead, while Nunes has to beat a 1-0 UFC fighter, currently ranked at No. 10 in the women’s bantamweight division, to continue climbing the latter closer to a shot at the UFC belt.
"Where the opponent is in the rankings means nothing," Nunes said. "She’s coming off a big win over a former Strikeforce champion, so that makes Valentina a big name. It won’t be a problem for me. I’m focused the same way. I will go there and get the job done, and then fight for the title."
Nunes is confident that UFC 196 "will be my night" and that she is "superior standing and on the ground" against Shevchenko. With a 4-1 UFC record with four first-round stoppage victories, the Brazilian expects to stop her opponent and be the next in line for the title.
"Absolutely. I’m next," she said. "No doubt about it."
Former champion Ronda Rousey is expected to return to action later this year in a title fight against the winner of UFC 196’s co-main event, but Nunes hopes "Rowdy" takes more time off after her devastating knockout loss to Holm at UFC 193.
"I hope Ronda doesn’t return now," said the Brazilian. "She has to recover first before thinking about coming back from the loss. She’s not recovered yet. I hope she just relaxes and gives other fighters the opportunity they are fighting for a long time. I’m going after the belt since I was fighting at Strikeforce. I came close to the belt in a few occasions and lost, but this is my time now. After this fight, I’m fighting for the belt."
Nunes was never the type of superstar Rousey is, but she knows a thing or two about coming back from tough losses. The American Top Team bantamweight was close to the Strikeforce and UFC belts on separate occasions, however knockout losses to Alexis Davis and Cat Zingano dropped her down the rankings.
"First and foremost, you need your family around you," Nunes said. "After a loss like that, you need a strong family around you. Since I started my career with a loss, I always knew how to handle it. I learned it since the beginning. When I competed in jiu-jitsu and judo, I had losses. We never accept to lose, but we learn that it’s not the end of the world. It’s not. Every loss I had gave me a good experience that made me a better person and athlete. That’s why I always come back stronger after a loss.
"When you lose, you have to look at yourself and ask ‘where did I lose?’ Do I need to change teams or something? You need to be very critical of yourself because MMA is a singular sport. You have to make the changes yourself or nothing will change. You have to be the one making the changes. If we are not open for changes, seeing what we’re doing wrong, it will never change. That’s how I think, and that’s what makes me evolve."