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Fortunes changed for five at UFC 245

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

There will never be complete unanimity in any all-time greatest argument.

But it’s hard not to make a strong case for Amanda Nunes being the best female MMA fighter of all-time. Nunes (19-4) made another impressive statement with her second win over former kickboxing champion Germaine de Randamie at UFC 245 on Saturday night.

What we learned in that fight is that Nunes may not be the best women’s standup fighter in her division. De Randamie was getting the better of her in the second round, and Nunes was starting to tire. But we also learned that it didn’t matter. Nunes could take de Randamie down at will, and when it was over, whatever second-round concerns didn’t carry over for the rest of the five-round fight. Still, it is something for future opponents to consider.

There was a most interested fighter watching, Claressa Shields, the top female boxer in the world.

Boxer vs. MMA fights have happened so many times that the novelty aspect of them are over. It was a big deal that night in Boston when Randy Couture beat James Toney in 2010, and an embarrassment of sorts to MMA when Tim Sylvia, a former UFC heavyweight champion, was knocked out in seconds by an aging Ray Mercer under MMA rules.

Of course the biggest confrontation of its type was in a boxing ring, when Floyd Mayweather easily dispatched Conor McGregor under boxing rules. That fight also drew ridiculous interest and money and became the second biggest pay-per-view event of any kind in history. It was so successful that it’s amazing nobody else has tried to copy the formula, even though it was more about the larger-than-life personas of the fighters than boxing vs. MMA.

But while Tyson Fury has teased this a few times, no true top tier boxer still in his prime has ever gone into MMA, unless you include Muhammad Ali in 1976 with Antonio Inoki, a notable historical piece of trivia. But the rules in play that night were hardly MMA.

The fact is, top male boxers greatly make more money than top MMA fighters, which shouldn’t be the case but that’s another argument for a different day. You had McGregor going into boxing because he made far more money in that farce of a fight then he ever could have been in a serious UFC championship fight. It’s why heavyweight king Stipe Miocic has made noises about wanting to face a name heavyweight champion, even though he realistically stands almost no chance against that level of boxer under that rule set.

With Nunes, as great as her wins are, she is not the superstar to the general public that she should be. Wins over the most famous women fighter names, Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Miesha Tate and Holly Holm, all in round one, and titles in two weight classes at the same time put the exclamation point on the greatest-ever argument. But somehow, she never got her due. In fact, in the quick and devastating knockout over Rousey and Cyborg, the two other “best evers” at different times, the stories after seemed to be more about Rousey and Cyborg losing, and not the woman who was mowing down everyone.

And now, Nunes has nobody she can elevate her status with. Cyborg, which would be her biggest MMA opponent right now, is in Bellator, as is Cat Zingano, the last woman who beat her. Valentina Shevchenko, the flyweight champion, has already lost twice to Nunes. The winner of the upcoming Holm vs,. Raquel Pennington fight would just be someone she handled easily in the past. Ketlen Vieira, who came into Saturday unbeaten and as a possible next contender, was knocked out by Irene Aldana.

UFC President Dana White has pushed he idea of Nunes vs. Shields. As a promoter, there is no bigger women’s fight he could make right now to draw general public interest. There is no fight that could elevate Nunes star power and drawing power. And unlike with male boxing champions, where the price to get them to fight in UFC would break the budget, many top women boxers, Holm the most notable, left boxing for MMA because on the women’s side, MMA is where the money is.

Obviously we are talking two different sports. But a world championship, or multiples of that, in boxing, doesn’t mean you’ll be successful in MMA. Nunes, when asked about Shields, said that she would take her down and submit her, and that is the most likely result of such a fight. The notion that you teach the boxer some takedown defense and they can impose their skillset is wrong as well, because the standing skillset in an MMA fight is entirely different than in boxing. For even a great athlete like Shields, it would take years for her to be experienced enough under these rules to have much more than a puncher’s chance. Really, the greatest of all-time against someone 0-0 shouldn’t be sanctioned, but you can argue that’s no different from Mayweather vs McGregor, and sanctioning of that fight never seemed to be much of an issue.

Ultimately, it’s whether Shields will put herself in the position where she can build up her name bigger than in any of her boxing matches, make money, but also likely lose. It’s not a loss in her sport. Ultimately, the ball is in her court. For Nunes, the best thing possible is for it to happen.

Let’s look at how Fortunes changed for five stars on the loaded UFC 245 show.

KAMARU USMAN - Usman (16-1) was the big winner on Saturday. He broke the jaw of super villain Colby Covington (15-2) with a fifth-round knockout of a fight that was essentially even going into the final round.

Because of the opponent, it was Usman’s highest profile career fight. And it was probably his most exciting as well, a thriller that would be a match of the year contender.

As far as his next opponent, that’s a no brainer. White immediately talked of Jorge Masvidal (35-13). Masvidal has become one of the true rising stars of UFC in the past year, with his wins over Ben Askren in record time, and then dominating Nate Diaz. There’s nobody else that would garner close to that level of attention. The next contender down, Leon Edwards (18-3), has eight straight wins, but Usman already beat him four years ago.

ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI - Volkanovski (21-1) ended Max Holloway’s (21-5) two-and-a-half year run at the top of the featherweight division. Volkanovski, despite giving up several inches in height, was able to control the distance with his low kicks, which kept Holloway from landing meaningful blows most of the fight.

Holloway’s record in the division is good enough, and no other challenger is ready, so a rematch makes sense. Zabit Magomedsharipov (18-1) has the record that would get the shot, but there were question marks coming off his last win against Calvin Kattar. Magomedsharipov tired and was in real trouble in the third round, in a fight looking like it would be far more of a problem if it went five rounds. That was a classic example of a fighter scoring a win over a strong opponent but hurting their chances of getting a title match.

AMANDA NUNES - Going with the idea the Shields fight isn’t happening any time soon, the most notable names she could face would be either Aldana (12-5) or Aspen Ladd (9-1).

Ladd (9-1) beat Yana Kunitskaya the week before, but she was stopped in 16 seconds by de Randamie in her prior fight. Aldana has losses to Raquel Pennington, Katlyn Chookagian and Leslie Smith.

MARLON MORAES - Moraes (22-7-1) scored as close a decision as you can get against new bantamweight Aldo (28-6) on Saturday. Moraes got a split decision, and reporter scorecards as listed on MMA Decisions had it even, with 50 percent giving it to Moraes and 50 percent to Aldo. The general consensus was Moraes won the first and Aldo the second. The third was close enough that it could have gone either way, and it was Moraes’ lucky day.

It was close enough, and exciting enough, that you could book a rematch directly and people would be fine with it. Another option is Petr Yan (14-1), who beat Urijah Faber on Saturday.

PETR YAN - Yan looked so impressive that you could easily match him with champion Henry Cejudo (15-2) next. Not only that, but he’d probably go into that fight as the favorite.

With Cejudo injured, and also holding the flyweight title, that is a belt that he should defend first against Joseph Benavidez. If that’s the case, Yan should face Aljamain Sterling (18-3). Moraes is also an option. But Yan should be in a fight where the winner faces Cejudo, and Cejudo just beat Moraes,. So Sterling, who Cejudo hasn’t faced, makes more sense as Yan’s opponent. Another option is Cody Garbrandt (11-3), since the two had words after the show and Garbrandt is from the same Team Alpha Male camp as Faber.

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