“The Lioness” puts her bantamweight title on the line Saturday night in Las Vegas, facing the only former UFC champion at 135 pounds she hasn’t beat yet. The Brazilian considers herself the greatest female fighter in MMA history, and thinks that a win over “The Preacher’s Daughter” at UFC 239 adds more to her legacy as an athlete.
“I won the belt and I have to continue defending my title and continue to make history,” Nunes told Brazilian reporters during a media scrum on Tuesday. “This is a great fight and I’ll continue on this path.”
She’s not obsessed with it, though.
“I’m prepared to go five rounds,” Nunes said. “We can’t get in the cage thinking that we’ll win quickly, that we’ll get the knockout. I’m ready for five rounds. I can win this fight in a decision. On the feet and on the ground, I’m ready. Of course that I’ll try to knock her out, but I’m not attached to this idea. We have five rounds. The opportunities will definitely come throughout the fight and I’ll be ready to capitalize on that.”
Unlike the first time she challenged for UFC gold, Holm doesn’t enter UFC 239 on a winning streak. The Jackson Wink product was unbeaten in nine professional bouts when she faced Rousey in 2015, but has now won only two wins over her last six Octagon appearances.
For “The Lioness”, Holm has earned another shot at the belt.
“Holly has fought the best of the division,” Nunes said. “Coming off losses or not, she has headlined several shows, fought Cris and put on a really tough fight, beat Ronda. She wasn’t on a good streak, but if you look at the division when this fight was done, there was no one else to fight. There’s a history with Holly, she was a boxing champion, a former champion in the UFC, so if you think about it it’s a good choice to defend my belt.
“We both are the only women that beat Ronda Rousey. There’s a history involved. Holly and I always were the underdog in our fights, so there’s a history. I think it’s a fight that makes sense and it’s going down Saturday and it will be a great show for everybody. Right after that we’ll have a new contender and the story will continue.”
Competing in Las Vegas for the first time since being forced to pull out of a fight with Valentina Shevchenko with chronic sinusitis, Nunes says the weather in Nevada is perfect this time and won’t affect her before or during the contest.
When the cage closes, Nunes knows what to expect for her opponent.
“Holly is a dangerous athlete, moves really well, has good boxing and kickboxing. But, at the end of the day, this is not boxing or kickboxing, this is MMA,” Nunes said. “I know Holly is an intelligent and strong athlete, I know she’s training the clinch, something she used against Cris Cyborg. I know she’s working on the ground, something she used against Megan (Anderson). We can say Holly is evolving today and becoming well-rounded.”
“I’m prepared for every moment of the fight,” she continued. “It’s possible that she could some to strike with me, but also close the distance and grab me to lower my cardio using her clinch and her strength close to the fence. She stays strong in every round, but I’ll also be ready in every round. I’ll be alert for everything. That will be very dangerous for her because I’ll be sharp when she gets in a good range, and I definitely won’t miss it.”
As for what’s next after Holm, Nunes made it clear she’s moving up to featherweight to defend her second UFC belt.
“It has never been made before, defend both titles,” she said, “so I’ll be the first to do it.”
However, when asked for specific options for the future, including a trilogy bout with Valentina Shevchenko or a potential co-promotion with Bellator for a rematch with their featherweight champion Julia Budd, Nunes wouldn’t say anything different than “my focus is on Saturday.”
The same happened when Nunes was asked about Cyborg and the recent controversy involving the former UFC champion. Earlier this week, Cyborg disputed Dana White’s claims that she had turned down a rematch with Nunes prior to the booking of Nunes-Holm. Asked if whether or not the UFC really offered her a rematch with Cyborg, the American Top Team fighter wouldn’t confirm or deny it.
“My focus is on Saturday and after this fight we can talk more about Cris,” Nunes said. Asked again, Nunes added “it’s important to continue focused. After (the fight), I’ll definitely talk about it at the press conference, when I’m sitting there with my new belt.”
In a recent interview with ESPN, Nunes explained why she decided to change her mind on retirement after telling the media during UFC Fortaleza in February that she could hang up the gloves following the potential bout with Holm in 2019. The reason, she said, is that she had a few drinks before talking to the media in Brazil.
“My mom had just come to talk to me, kind of asking me to do it,” Nunes said. “The last fight was huge for me. The whole preparation was really heavy for me and for her because Cris was the most feared fighter on the face of the earth and for my mother, me moving up in wight, skinny and all, my mother got really worried.
“That interview happened right after I talked to my mom, but when I got to the United States I really put my feet on the ground and, ‘Well, I have to continue. I’m going to stop now that things are happening in my life? I’m a fighter. What am I going to do if I stop fighting? Study? Soccer? No. I’m 31 years of age and I’m uninjured, never had any surgery, nothing. I can continue.’ And I changed my mind. Changed it pretty quickly.”