EDMONTON, Alberta -- Turns out Amanda Nunes will headline another pay-per-view card after all.
UFC president Dana White angrily vowed Nunes would never lead another event after the women’s bantamweight champion had to pull out of her UFC 213 title defense against Valentina Shevchenko just hours before the bout.
But you know how these things tend to go. A mere eight weeks later, Ray Borg was removed from his UFC 215 main event against Demetrious Johnson in Edmonton 48 hours before the fight. And Nunes, by default, finds herself in the headline slot at Rogers Place against Shevchenko.
But Nunes faded at the end of the fight as Shevchenko came on strong. Add that memory to a five-round rematch and factor in that both competitors are straight-up better fighters than they were a year and a half ago, and fighter opinion is all over the map on how this fight goes down.
The man who was supposed to headlining UFC 215, for his part, won’t pick a winner in a new main event, but he seems to lean toward the champ who shared the stage at the UFC 215 media day.
“We’ll see who’s evolved from the first match,” Johnson said. “I think [Nunes] has more of a toolset, she gets the job done with the wrestling and the standup and she hits harder, and the grappling. It’s all going to come down to who’s going to push the pace and push the cardio and conditioning and all that stuff.”
Another fighter who knows what it’s like to hold the gold, former lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos, believes Nunes’ performance on her biggest stage in knocking out Ronda Rousey at UFC 207 helped bolster her confidence to new heights.
“They had a tough first fight,” said dos Anjos, who meets Neil Magny in a welterweight bout on Saturday. “But I believe Amanda, she has a lot progressed since she won the belt. When she defended the belt against Ronda, I think she gained a lot of confidence, and I think she will keep that belt.”
Jeremy Stephens, however, believes Shevchenko has improved by leaps and bounds since the first fight and will leave Edmonton with the gold.
“I feel like she’s just as mean and nasty and she’s got the cardio to do it,” said Stephens, who meets Gilbert Melendez on Saturday. “I feel like we’ll have a new champion. I think it will be a good scrap, I’m looking forward to that fight more than the main event.”
Melendez, for his part, agrees with Stephens on the notion Nunes-Shevchenko has the potential to be a hell of a fight. He sees the women’s title fight as his main competition for Fight of the Night.
“This is a really great matchup,” Melendez said. “I believe if Amanda Nunes gets on it right away, and throws flurries of punches in the first round, first round and a half, I believe she can be successful, but if it goes further than that, I believe Valentina will become stronger and more dominant as it goes along. Amanda Nunes really lets those hands go and I think she’s getting very good at her striking. I didn’t give her that much credit earlier, but she’s really blossomed, I have to say if [Melendez and opponent Jeremy Stephens] don’t get Fight of the Night, they probably will.”
Ilir Latifi, for his part, doesn’t think the fight will go long enough for Shevchenko to weather Nunes’ early storm.
“The first fight was amazing,” said Latifi, who meets Tyson Pedro in a light heavyweight bout. “I think this fight is going to be a real war. Both of them are coming out well-prepared knowing how the first fight was, so, I think Amanda will finish it in the second or third.”
Then there’s Magny, who doesn’t want to pick a winner. But like the rest, he’s looking forward to the show.
“This is a fight I’m super-excited about, man. I was excited when these ladies first got booked to fight each other, it was unfortunate the fight got pushed back, but, I’m happy to get the rematch scheduled and it’s happening this weekend. I’m expecting fireworks for both ladies. I’m not picking a winner, I’m just excited for it as a fan.”