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Amanda Nunes responds to critics saying she’s scared of Valentina Shevchenko: ‘I’m the one who wanted this fight’

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Amanda Nunes
Amanda Nunes faces Valentina Shevchenko on Sept. 9 at UFC 215.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Whether it was from UFC president Dana White or the MMA community at large, Amanda Nunes has been the target of plenty of criticism since pulling out of her UFC 213 rematch against Valentina Shevchenko in July.

Nunes, the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, was hospitalized the morning of UFC 213 with a nasty bout of sinusitis and ultimately withdrew herself from competition, citing her desire to defend her belt at 100 percent. The decision forced the UFC to make a last-minute reshuffling of the card and prompted White to criticize Nunes’ withdrawal as “90 percent mental and maybe 10 percent physical.”

White added that UFC doctors “medically cleared” Nunes to compete, however Nunes’ girlfriend Nina Ansaroff noted last week on The MMA Hour that being medically cleared “can mean many things,” and that in the past, Ansaroff has been cleared to fight by doctors at times she specifically knew she wasn’t healthy enough to do so.

Altogether, the conversation hasn’t much stopped around Nunes since UFC 213, and while she has brushed off most of the criticism she’s heard, Nunes made a point to address one narrative that continues to pop up ahead of her rescheduled rematch against Shevchenko on Sept. 9 at UFC 215 — namely, the idea that she pulled out because she was scared to fight Shevchenko again.

“I want to say something. This is the fight that I want,” Nunes said unprompted Thursday on a UFC 215 media conference call. “I don’t have anybody in this division that I don’t want to fight, [but] I told (UFC matchmaker) Sean Shelby: ‘It has to be Valentina. You have to reschedule this fight, I want to fight Valentina. I don’t want you to reschedule (the fight) with anybody else in this division. Valentina is the one who deserves this match. Valentina is the No. 1 contender in this division, and this is the fight that I want. Please reschedule this fight and let’s make this happen.’

“And this is the thing, I don’t know if people think I was scared or something like that — no, I’m the one who wanted this fight. I’m the one asking for Sean Shelby to reschedule the fight right away. ... I never was going to run away. I’m a champion, I have to defend this belt. Whatever steps in the cage against me, I will fight, because I have the belt, I’m No. 1 on the planet, and I want to keep staying here. I have to keep proving it, and for that, I have to prove it against somebody. And Valentina is the one, the one that I wanted to fight next. Nobody else in this division.”

Nunes and Shevchenko met once before, with Nunes winning a three-round clash via unanimous decision over Shevchenko at UFC 196. The fight was a memorable one in which Nunes dominated early but then faded late, leading to questions about how she could’ve handled an additional two rounds against the decorated kickboxing champion.

The rematch between Nunes and Shevchenko was first slated as the headliner of UFC 213, however now it has been slotted as the co-main event of UFC 215, taking second billing beneath a flyweight title bout between Demetrious Johnson and Ray Borg. And while Nunes isn’t bothered by the downgrade, she knows the decision was made largely because of White’s post-UFC 213 claim to never trust her to headline an event again.

“I feel they’re punishing me, for sure ... but at the end of the day, I want to fight,” Nunes said. “I want to fight. It doesn’t matter. I think the main event for this fight is great. I’m a big fan of Demetrious and I think they made the right decision to put them to be the main event, and I love to be the co-main event. The only thing that I want is to step in that cage and get my work done.”

Ultimately, regardless of the rocky road she has faced since the summer, Nunes still stands by her decision to pull out of UFC 213 and believes the lessons she learned by finally addressing her medical issues will be a positive for her career moving forward.

“Whatever happens, I will keep doing the same thing that I do right now, train and fight, (regardless of) whatever people’s opinions are about me,” Nunes said. “And the thing is, this delay was also — I was able to really recover and find out, really, what it is going on with this all of these things that I always have as soon as I travel. As soon as I go to another area, another climate, I always have this kind of pressure in my sinuses. Honestly, I used to worry about a lot, I’d think something was wrong with me.

“I think every fighter (or) trainer wants to step in the cage 100 percent, and not 50 percent. I think I made the right decision, not fighting and getting everything ready for the next step, and now there’s no time to waste. We going to step (in the cage) Sept. 9. One-hundred percent, we’re getting this job done.”