That’s how Kayla Harrison enters the conversation.
Harrison is a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo as well as a two-time PFL lightweight champion, and the fact Nunes has dominated the UFC as both a 135-pounder and 145-pounder have people clamouring for a superfight between the two in the near future.
But Anderson Franca, the Muay Thai coach for both Nunes and Harrison at American Top Team in Florida, said on this week’s episode of MMA Fighting’s Portuguese-language podcast Trocação Franca that the matchup may not come to fruition — at least not for now.
“Kayla helped Amanda Nunes a lot for this camp,” Franca said. “Expectations are high, but I don’t think this fight happens. I’m neutral here and hoping this fight never happens because I like both of them. They are always here with me, so I’m hoping it doesn’t happen. But I don’t know, man. We’ll see. It all depends on the cash, but, [if it’s up] to me, this fight doesn’t happen.”
Franca said he hasn’t spoken to Harrison about her plans yet since he was deep in Nunes’ and Pedro Munhoz’s camps for UFC 269, as well as training Thiago Santos, Edson Barboza, and Thiago Santos for their upcoming UFC bouts.
But he likes a different superfight for Harrison instead.
“If I had to choose, I’d definitely want her to fight Cyborg, who’s a great athlete, one of the best athletes Brazil and world have ever seen,” said Franca, referring to Bellator featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, a former 145-pound champion in the UFC, Strikeforce, and Invicta FC. “She’s a fantastic athlete, but I think it would be a great fight. A sell-able fight, too. I think Kayla would have a shot.”
Asked if the judoka is ready to stand against one of the best strikers in MMA history after a short 12-0 run in MMA, the Muay Thai coach said he is confident in Harrison’s abilities.
“Absolutely,” Franca said. “We wanna go step-by-step with her stand-up. She can mix it up better than Cris Cyborg. I think that fight today would be a striker vs. grappler fight.
“[But] I think she will stay one more season with the PFL, so I think we have to give it time. That fight has everything to happen, but I think it takes one more year.
“Kayla is an Olympic athlete, she accepts great challenges and is ready too,” Franca continued. “If the fight gets done [and we say], ‘Kayla, you’ll fight Cris Cyborg tomorrow,’ she’ll fight her. Myself as a coach, I think she could stay one more year at PFL and go step-by-step, but I don’t know how the financial part is, if she will re-sign with the PFL or sign with another organization. I haven’t talked to her about that yet.”
Nunes’ next step, regardless, goes down Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena when she puts her champ-champ status on the line against Pena.
Franca calls the contender “a warrior” and doesn’t buy the narrative that Pena is a walk in the park for “The Lioness.”
“We’re ready to win the fight. We’re ready to go five rounds if we have to,” Franca said. “[Pena] gave Valentina [Shevchenko] a hard fight, she took her down in the second round, if I’m not mistaken. She ended up being submitted, but she gives her all in there. I think it’s going to be a hard fight. Amanda is on a different level but she has a strong mind, she knows how to handle it all. We have huge respect for Julianna Pena, I think it’s going to be a a great fight. It won’t be an easy one.
“Everybody keeps saying [it’s going to be easy], but Amanda doesn’t. Amanda has a good head, she’s the champion, she knows she has to give her all every time she’s in there. What makes Amanda different is that she changes completely once she gets inside the octagon. She’s focused. She knows it’s going to be a hard fight and she’s ready for it.”
The winner of the 18th season of The Ultimate Fighter in 2013, Pena made a name for herself with slick grappling and a handful of UFC stoppages since her reality show run, but also was tapped by Valentina Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie to split her past four appearances with a 2-2 octagon record.
And Nunes’ team is expecting a takedown-heavy approach from Pena this Saturday.
“Julianna Pena is a grappler but she also trades on the feet,” Franca said. “I believe she’ll try to keep the fight in the grappling area, but she’s a warrior that comes forward and throws kicks, so we have to be ready at all areas. She was submitted by Valentina and Germaine, two strikers, but she has submitted a lot of people too. She’s dangerous in the jiu-jitsu area, so Amanda has to be very focused and centered for this fight.”