One of the most accomplished fighters in UFC history returns to the octagon Saturday to try to avenge a recent loss and reclaim her champ-champ status. But becoming a beloved icon in her native country is no longer one Amanda Nunes’ concerns.
Nunes has defeated a who’s who of UFC stars between 2015 and 2021, but she still isn’t as beloved as legends like Jose Aldo, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Cris Cyborg, the last of whom she knocked out in 2018.
“I think it’s because I live here [in the United States], and my career really started here in the UFC and in big promotions like Strikeforce,” Nunes said on Trocação Franca. “I had to leave Brazil, otherwise I would have stopped fighting already. You know how it goes, sponsorships and everything in Brazil.
“When the opportunity came and doors opened for me, I went in, and thank God I became who I am. Maybe [Brazilians] like more those who stay in Brazil, I don’t know. Maybe they don’t like me — really, what can I do?”
Nunes fought once as a champion in Brazil, headlining UFC 224 against Raquel Pennington right after back-to-back wins over Ronda Rousey and Valentina Shevchenko. The bout took place in front of 10,696 fans, the second-lowest attendance in eight UFC events at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro.
Going into her seventh U.S. fight and first in Texas, “The Lioness” said she doesn’t waste any time thinking what could be done to up her numbers.
“That doesn’t even cross my mind today,” Nunes said. “I swear, that’s something I forgot already. My biggest pleasure is to step in that cage and do my job. My life is good, financially speaking, and I do what I do for my family, and that’s what matters the most to me. [Nina Nunes and I] are living such a wonderful moment in our lives now with [our daughter] Reagan — life has changed so much. Lots of love and peace. She brought so much happiness for us.
“And that, man, I swear, about popularity [in Brazil] — many people say we need to be popular to have sponsors and all. I don’t have that popularity in Brazil, but I’m very well-known out here in the United States. All my sponsors are from here and Europe. I have a great life, [am] financially stable with my sponsors, and that’s it, man. I never had any opportunity with a Brazilian company until this day. So, to me, my life here is better.
“People give me love when I go to my hometown, talk to me and take pictures. We really feel that love. Maybe [I don’t have that] on social media, but when I go to Brazil, people recognize me. [But] my life is here. I make money with anything I do here. Anything. If I travel, if I’m invited to go somewhere, I’m always getting paid. If I go to a restaurant or a bar, if I make an appearance in a party – nobody invites me to go to a place for free.”
Nunes loves Brazil and plans to fly back to Bahia to visit her family, which she hasn’t been able to do since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But moving back full-time is out of the question right now.
“If you ask a lot of people if they want to leave Brazil, there’s a lot of people that want it,” Nunes said. “Each person has their own opinion about staying in Brazil or here [in the United States]. Nobody is less Brazilian or anything like that. I love the country I was born in, but everybody seeks what’s best for them, where they will have the best opportunities and get well-paid.”