History will be made at UFC 232.
Fighting out of the red corner, Cris Cyborg attempts to extend her dominance to another level, defending the UFC featherweight belt for the third time. Looking at her overall record since leaving Brazil to compete in the United States a decade ago, Cyborg will be entering her 12th title bout in 15 appearances, including title wins in Strikeforce and Invicta FC.
Yet, the stakes are even higher for Amanda Nunes.
“The Lioness” has stopped some of the best fighters in bantamweight history. Ronda Rousey, once seen as a “once in a lifetime” type of athlete during her UFC career, only lasted 48 seconds. Miesha Tate also couldn’t get out of the first round. On Dec. 29, Nunes walks to the Octagon at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., to battle for her status as one of the greatest of all-time.
A champion vs. champion clash in women’s MMA is rare. Inside the eight-sided cage, it’s unprecedented. As we approach the eighth anniversary of the front kick that changed the sport of mixed martial arts forever in Brazil, Cyborg vs. Nunes has all the shades of Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort for the women’s side of the game.
Will it be over in one round? Which fighter will etch their name into the history books?
To answer those questions, MMA Fighting asked 100 Brazilian fighters, former and current champions, experienced coaches and longtime veterans. They’ve seen and done it all, whether in rings or cages. Some built their careers in times where there were few rules, the same times where it would seem impossible to imagine women competing at this level.
One hundred minds joined together to paint a picture of how UFC 232’s co-main event goes down.
CHAMPS AND CHALLENGERS
Blink once in mixed martial arts and your entire career and reputation can be forever altered, even more so if a belt is on the line, and these 16 fighters have experienced that.
Patricio Freire, one of the greatest champions in Bellator history, has evolved his fighting style a lot over the years. Now more cerebral in his game than he used to be, “Pitbull” sees Nunes’ teammates and coaches at American Top Team as the best weapon Nunes has to upset and dethrone the 145-pound queen.
“Cris Cyborg is the best right now, the most feared and respected female fighter and hasn’t lost in 12 years, with crushing performances,” Freire says, “But Amanda Nunes is on a roll, and I think she has the perfect strategy. I spoke with her coach Conan (Silveira) and I liked what I heard. Maybe Amanda can stop Cris Cyborg? I’m going with the underdog, I’m picking Amanda.”
But in the eyes of ex-Bellator titleholder Eduardo Dantas, Cyborg’s power will prove to be too much for the American Top Team champion.
“Cris Cyborg has an advantage because she has more punching power, she’s heavier and bigger than Amanda,” Dantas says. “I don’t expect it to go to the ground and I think it might end quickly because they are both strikers. I like them both, but I think Cris Cyborg wins.”
Dantas’ former opponent Leandro Higo agrees with him, seeing Cyborg at a higher level today than Nunes. Wilson Reis, a former EliteXC champion, and UFC legend Jose Aldo also side with Cyborg. Paulo Filho, a PRIDE star who held WEC middleweight gold in the past, can’t imagine a scenario where the Curitiba native loses in MMA.
“Cris Cyborg is a specimen, she’s on another level,” says Filho, who was against the idea of booking a superfight between two Brazilian champions. “I don’t think there’s any women in the world capable of beating her right now. Amanda Nunes can put on a good fight, but I think it’s very unlikely that she beats Cyborg.”
Between 14 former title contenders and champions, the picks are decidedly split. Six picked the featherweight queen to remain at the top, six others expected Nunes to become the Octagon’s latest champ-champ at UFC 232, while two fighters — Glover Teixeira and Demian Maia — remained on the fence.
Rafael Cavalcante, who like Cyborg is a former Strikeforce champion, sees the Chute Boxe athlete winning in a competitive fight, while ONE Championship’s Adriano Moraes and UFC heavyweight Junior dos Santos agree with former ONE bantamweight king Bibiano Fernandes that Nunes will make history in California.
“I believe Amanda Nunes wins by being more complete,” says Fernandes. “Cyborg is better on the feet, Amanda is good as well, but Chute Boxe’s jiu-jitsu is not that good. Amanda trains wrestling at ATT, which is great. If Amanda Nunes knows how to mix it up, I think she has better chances. But Cyborg is a brawler.”
The picture drawn by athletes that have competed at the highest level changes completely if you ask only Cyborg and Nunes’ fellow female fighters. Of the 16 female mixed martial artists polled for this project — a list that includes former and current regional champions like new UFC signee Ariane Lipski, plus a trio that dominated in Invicta FC: Livia Renata Souza, Jennifer Maia, and Virna Jandiroba — not a single soul is picking Nunes to win.
“They are two warriors, but I believe Cris Cyborg wins,” says UFC strawweight contender Jessica Andrade. “Not only because she has more experience, but she’s stronger too. It’s her division, she won’t let her belt go. I’m with Cris until the end.”
One-time Bellator featherweight title challenger Talita Nogueira, UFC bantamweight contender Ketlen Vieira, and Bethe Correia also side with the 145-pound champion. “I hope Cyborg puts a true beatdown on her,” says Correia, who fought once for the UFC belt.
Erica Paes, the only fighter to ever enter a MMA ring with Cyborg and leave with her hands raised, is another woman rooting for her ex-opponent.
“Cyborg has all the tools to end this fight quickly, but she can’t forget that Amanda is a great grappler, a black belt in judo and jiu-jitsu, and also has great striking,” says Paes, who submitted Cyborg back in 2005. “If Amanda is smart and pays more attention to the ground game, she has better chances, but I’m going with Cyborg. She has been through a lot. If women’s MMA is what it is today, Cyborg has contributed a lot to make it happen.”
Rizin heavyweight Gabi Garcia and the UFC’s Marina Rodriguez agree: They’re both predicting a first-round knockout for the Chute Boxe icon. Invicta FC fighter Kinberly Novaes also expects a Cyborg finish, but in the later rounds. The UFC’s Poliana Botelho, Kalindra Faria, Polyana Viana, and Priscila Cachoeira weren’t as specific with their picks, but they similarly foresee Nunes failing in her attempt to become a champ-champ.
“I’ve watched her spar with men and she’s on another level,” Garcia says. “Amanda is a great fighter, has done a lot for the sport. I’m Brazilian and wouldn’t like to see this fight happen because there are a lot of other girls for them to fight, but Amanda wanted this fight — and I don’t think she has an idea what she asked for. Cris is the only woman that ever lifted me from the ground to take me down [laughs], and she did that while cutting weight. I think it ends by knockout in the first round.”
COACHES AND TRAINERS
The Cyborg sweep did not continue when coaches were called upon to predict the outcome of UFC 232. Still, although the minds behind some of the greatest talents in the mixed martial arts scene were not unanimous in their picks, Cyborg remained a big favorite.
TFT coaches “Tata” Duarte and Philip Lima agreed that Cyborg should be considered the favorite, but had differing predictions: Duarte pointed out that Cyborg’s punching power is “no joke,” but he ultimately stayed on the fence. Lima, however, decided to call his shot with the upset pick.
“They are both elite strikers and are on the same level technique-wise,” Lima says. “Cyborg is slightly stronger and experienced, so I think she has an advantage because of that, but Amanda has proven that she likes to face big challenges, she likes to go to war. It’s going to be a great fight. Cyborg is the favorite in my opinion, but I think ‘The Lioness’ wins.”
Like Duarte, BTT leader — and former UFC middleweight champion — Murilo Bustamante couldn’t decide a winner for UFC 232, nor could PRIDE veteran and CM System head coach Cristiano Marcello, a former trainer and fighter from Chute Boxe.
Gracie Barra Portland leader Fabiano Scherner — a coach for the likes of Chael Sonnen, Brent Primus, and Paige VanZant in Oregon — expects Nunes’ cardio and grappling to play a big factor in the fight if it reaches the championship rounds. Brock Lesnar’s jiu-jitsu coach Rodrigo Comprido also gave the edge to Nunes. His reason: She’s “more technical.”
That was the end of the upset picks though, as coaches Ataide Junior, Josuel Distak, Marcio Cromado, Daniel Wanderley, Gilliard Parana, Marcelo Brigadeiro, Andre Dida, Gustavo Pugliese, Sergio Cunha, Marcelo Zulu, Andre Benkei, and Andre Tadeu all expected a knockout win for the reigning women’s featherweight queen.
“Cris Cyborg wins, no doubt,” Tadeu says. “It definitely ends by knockout. If Cris Cyborg imposes her rhythm 100 percent, something she hasn’t been doing lately, I don’t think it lasts longer than half a round.”
“It’s an interesting matchup with two champions who will go to war,” wrestling specialist Zulu says. “Cyborg has the advantage because it’s her division, Amanda has to move up in weight to fight her. I’ve trained with Cyborg and I know she’s a machine. Her striking is absurd, her takedowns and ground game are good enough to fight Amanda. No outcome is so predictable, but I would bet on Cyborg.
”I think it was a premature callout by Amanda,” Zulu adds, “because she still has a lot to achieve in her division before she cleans the division and asks for a fight at featherweight. A fight is a fight, but one thing I’m sure: It’s going to be a crazy brawl.”
BEST OF THE REST
With nearly half of the votes counted, Cyborg held a commanding lead among women, athletes with championship experience, and veteran coaches. The lead only grew as more fellow Brazilians were polled and the Chute Boxe superstar asserted her dominance.
While nine fighters sat on the fence — Kevin Souza, Danillo Villefort, Philipe Lins, Augusto Sakai, Natan Schulte, Paulo Thiago, Jorge Gurgel, Raush Manfio, and Antonio Carlos Junior — and were unable to predict a winner for one of the biggest contests of the year, 34 of the remaining 43 athletes polled crowded together on Cyborg’s corner.
“Maybe Amanda brings the biggest challenge so far in Cyborg’s career, but everyone who faces her is the underdog. All of them,” says Fabio Maldonado. “Everyone expects Cyborg to win by knockout or decision, but I admire Amanda’s braveness. People don’t have the guts to do what she’s doing. Hats off to her and f*ck what everybody else thinks. If you believe it, go for it.”
“Cyborg will demolish her, no doubt about it,” says UFC welterweight Alex Oliveira. “Amanda can’t handle Cris’ power.”
Many of the dissenters who picked Nunes to win did so by looking at her overall game, insisting that she was a more technical fighter than her rival. TUF Brazil 1 winner Cezar Ferreira picked “The Lioness” to win despite Cyborg’s knockout power. PFL’s Yuri Villefort picked the underdog as well, and Bellator’s Leo Leite gave Nunes the edge based on her grappling acumen.
“It will be the biggest fight in women’s MMA history,” says Marcos Rogerio de Lima. “Cyborg is stronger, her striking is great, but I see Amanda being superior in the MMA game. Amanda can win this.”
Despite Junior Assuncao, Caio Alencar, Luiz Firmino, Gleison Tibau, and Jussier Formiga standing out as five other athletes who are siding with Nunes — some of whom are teammates of “The Lioness” at ATT — Cyborg ultimately dominated the picks in the end.
“I think Cyborg wins,” predicts undefeated middleweight Paulo Costa. “She will [apply] pressure from start to finish. Amanda will survive the striking early on, but then she will start to move backwards, try to close the distance to take Cyborg down. She won’t be successful, and will get knocked out.”
The remaining fighters joining Costa on “Team Cyborg” were: Neiman Gracie, Augusto Mendes, Wagner Prado, Herbert Burns, Davi Ramos, Luiz Gustavo, Elizeu Zaleski, Wallid Ismail, Murilo Rua, Francimar Barroso, Junior Albini, Viscardi Andrade, Hacran Dias, Johnny Eduardo, Rodrigo Damm, Bruno Malfacine, Gesias Cavalcante, Markus Perez, Douglas Silva de Andrade, Joao Zeferino, Diego Ferreira, Evangelista Santos, Johil de Oliveira, Alexandre Bezerra, Alberto Mina, Michel Prazeres, Leandro Issa, Goiti Yamauchi, Leonardo Santos, Ricardo Ramos, and Vitor Miranda.
One hundred experts called their shot, but predicting a mixed martial arts contest, especially at such a high level, is a risky game.
Amanda Nunes has proven the odds foolish time and time again — against Miesha Tate, against Ronda Rousey, against Sara McMann — and is out to make history once more.
Can “The Lioness” score the upset one more time against Cris Cyborg at UFC 232? Or will Curitiba’s knockout machine add another name to her lengthy list of victims? All questions will be answered when the cage doors close on Dec. 29 at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif..
Who wins at UFC 232?
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