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Laura Sanko praises Amanda Nunes’ rise to legendary status, believes trilogy fight with Valentina Shevchenko ‘makes a lot of sense’

Laura Sanko has seen the rise of Amanda Nunes first-hand.

In fact, Sanko’s first and only professional fight took place in the opening contest of Invicta FC 4 in January 2013, which just so happened to be the final time Nunes competed outside of the UFC.

While both women competed on that fateful night at Memorial Hall, Sanko walked away with a submission win over Cassie Robb, while Nunes dropped a unanimous decision to Sara D’Alelio.

Sanko would go on to start a family not long after her lone pro appearance and would transition into a broadcaster for the UFC, Invicta and LFA, while Nunes would go on to win 14 of 15 octagon appearances, become a two-division champion, and one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport.

“The Lioness,” who has also added Mom to her incredible resume, added to her historic run recently with a first-round submission win over Megan Anderson in the co-main event of UFC 259 to retain her featherweight title. Nunes established dominance with the first shot she landed before ending things with an inverted triangle-armbar to earn her 12th straight win.

Thinking about how far Nunes has come over the years led Sanko to take a stroll down memory lane back to Invicta FC 4.

“It’s amazing. It’s truly, truly amazing,” Sanko told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “It’s funny because I was having this conversation with my husband and he said, because she and I fought on the same card in Invicta, ‘I remember seeing her sitting on a bench,’ and where we fought in Invicta was in this sh*tty building in Kansas City, Kan. and back then there wasn’t very much media, there was nothing fancy about it. Invicta has always been super special, but it doesn’t have the UFC budget.

“So she was sitting there and doing her thing. And you have to remember that Amanda Nunes was not the GOAT when she was fighting back in the day. To me, that makes her ascension so much more special. She’s had those ups and downs. She’s lost to the Sarah D’Alelio’s of the world, but for her to pick herself up, dust herself off and really coming into her prime at this stage of life, to be a mom, and be on top of the world, it’s just so freaking cool.”

Nunes captured the bantamweight title at UFC 200 with a submission win over Miesha Tate. After a title defenses against Ronda Rousey, Valentina Shevchenko and Raquel Pennington, the American Top Team standout stopped Cris Cyborg in 51 seconds to capture her second title at UFC 232. She has gone on to successfully defend both of her titles twice since then.

The win over Anderson put Nunes in second place for the longest active win streaks in the UFC behind welterweight champ Kamaru Usman (13). To see the success Nunes has had, Sanko believes it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.

“She’s a wonderful human being,” Sanko said. “What you see of her in her interviews, or her Instagram, or wherever, is her. She is as wonderful a person as she comes across. So genuine, so caring, and I just could not be happier for her dominating these two divisions. It makes the future interesting, but I’m thrilled that she’s the one holding the flag these days because it couldn’t be held by a better person.”

The big question coming out of UFC 259 for Nunes is where does she go from here? Julianna Pena called Nunes out immediately after her title defense on Saturday. Germaine de Randamie—who Nunes has defeated twice, the most recent being at UFC 245 in December 2019—is ranked No. 1 at 135 pounds and is coming off a submission win over Pena in October. Following the first submission win of her career, de Randamie told MMA Fighting that is she got one more shot at Nunes and loses, she would retire on the spot, which would make a heck of a storyline.

The only fighter in the top-six on a winning streak currently is Yana Kunitskaya, who just picked up a decision win over Ketlen Vieira at UFC Vegas 19 in February.

When asked what makes sense, Sanko was able to make cases for Pena and de Randamie, but there is one popular choice that sticks out to her the most.

“It’s so hard, right? She has cleared out two divisions,” Sanko said. “I wouldn’t mind the Julianna Pena fight, and I actually wouldn’t mind the Germaine de Randamie fight. That’s an interesting thought she puts out there because—if you’re just going down a list—she’s already fought her, she’s already beat her and normally you would scratch that one off, but that was a good fight. If Germaine could approach it differently, you might see something slightly different.

“But you make these straw man arguments because there is no clear good answer. I wouldn’t mind a third fight with Valentina Shevchenko. She has come the closest to beating Amanda Nunes [during this run] and a lot of people thought she did beat Amanda Nunes in the second one. For her to be the one who has come the closest, to have equality in terms of their status as fighters makes the fight way more interesting—no offense to Julianna Pena, Germaine de Randamie or any other contender.

“In terms of PPV pull, Nunes vs. Shevchenko 3 makes a lot of sense, although normally you don’t get that third fight when you’ve beaten someone twice. That’s just the situation we’re in.”

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