UFC 250: What makes Amanda Nunes such a great champion?

By Nick PeetMMA writer
Amanda Nunes of Brazil strikes Germaine de Randamie of Netherlands
Amanda Nunes beat Germaine de Randamie in her last fight at UFC 245 in December 2019

Amanda Nunes returns to the Octagon this weekend, headlining UFC 250 behind closed doors at the promotion's own Apex facility in Las Vegas, and few fans are expecting anything other than another legacy-lifting show of dominance from the simultaneous two-weight world champion.

Montreal Maths teacher turned top contender Felicia Spencer will be in the opposing corner in the early hours of Sunday morning (UK), when Brazilian-born but Florida-based Nunes will aim to successfully defend the UFC featherweight championship for the first time after back-to-back defences of her bantamweight crown.

Unbeaten in her last 10 fights, 'The Lioness' has evolved into the greatest champion in the history of women's mixed martial arts. Inside six years, she's not only claimed the scalps of her biggest rivals, but devoured their own designs on greatness in the process.

Spectacularly, neither Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Cris Cyborg or Holly Holm - all former champions - made it out of the opening round. Whilst Nunes has also defeated current flyweight champion Valentina Schevchenko twice during her recent remarkable run of successes.

With light-heavyweight Jon Jones and flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo recently relinquishing their title belts, there is a real argument that Nunes, above all others on the UFC roster, is the pound-for-pound best fighter in mixed martial arts today.

A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the 32-year-old is outstanding on the ground, but she's always favoured stand-up and it's the evolution of her striking that has enabled Nunes to push the ceiling in what female fighters are capable of.

And it's not only the skill set that sets the double champion apart. A huge part of her success is down to fiancee Nina Ansaroff, herself a UFC strawweight contender. Their love story has helped to build the most formidable fighter women's MMA has ever seen. Nunes' focus and intensity is unrivalled.

Submitting Tate to win UFC gold, then beating Rousey into early retirement sent shock waves through the sport.

But it was her first-round obliteration of Cyborg that took Nunes' legacy to the next level. An underdog, she tore up the script, ended her fellow Brazilian's 20-fight hot streak, ignoring the 17 knockouts on Cyborg's ledger, to demolish her in 51 seconds.

What is it that makes Nunes so formidable?

Here are three characteristics in her fighting style to look out for, and ways in which Spencer may be able to circumnavigate the dangers to find success of her own.

1. Distance control

Amanda Nunes
Nunes knocked out Holly Holm to defend her bantamweight world title at UFC 239 in July last year

Nunes is a master of range and uses leg kicks to keep her opponents at the end of her strikes and also take the legs from under them. Calf kicks, inside kicks and teep kicks to the stomach are all tools she employs to ensure rivals stay at the end of her long strikes.

When she took the 135lb title from Tate, Nunes used her full arsenal of kicks to keep her opponent from closing the distance, before busting her up with overhand rights. More recently, she utilised low kicks to chop down Raquel Pennington's striking base.

From the opening bell, Spencer must apply intelligent pressure. Closing the distance quickly to push Nunes onto the backfoot and trapping her against the fence is key to wear down the champion. Heavy elbows and knees to the stomach and thighs could pay off later and take away Nunes' movement, whilst trips and hip tosses allow for energy-taxing control.

2. Body power

Amanda Nunes beats Sara McMann in 2015
Nunes won performance of the night for her victory over McMann in 2015

Nunes' capacity to shrug off takedown attempts and push back out of the clinch are fundamental to her ability to keep the fight where she wants it - at arm's reach. Her upper body strength, at bantamweight at least, is conclusive.

After getting hurt on the feet, Tate tried to utilise her wrestling skills to stifle Nunes, but she soon found herself belly down and then tapping from a rear naked choke. Similarly, Sara McMann's wrestling prowess meant she started as favourite when paired with Nunes in 2015, but the Olympic silver medallist failed to keep Nunes on the ground and, when she did, she ended up tapping out too.

However, relentless wrestling and recovering from takedowns is exhausting and with Nunes having never fought a full 25 minutes at 145lb, there are questions around how the extra 10lb will impact on her cardio. Spencer's grinding style can take its toll - if she can get the champion into deep water.

3. Firefighter

Amanda Nunes beats Cris Cyborg in December 2018
Nunes knocked out Cris Cyborg after 51 seconds to win the featherweight world title in December 2018

Undoubtedly the biggest tool in Nunes' arsenal is her boxing. Slick head movement and sound footwork complement a heavy overhand right and busy left jab. The champ has proven time and again that when it comes to a toe-to-toe firefight she's got the power and accuracy to finish anybody.

Rousey's false sense of security in her own striking game made their fight arguably the easiest of Nunes' career. Rousey's looping punches were no match for the champion's straight strikes. And, in supposedly her toughest test, Nunes went toe-to-toe with Cyborg to prove her boxing was levels above even the most feared puncher in women's MMA history.

What chance of an upset this weekend?

If Spencer can get out of the first 10 minutes when Nunes is at her most dangerous… If the champion, used to fighting in packed arenas, is found wanting for motivation with no fans in the Apex… If Spencer can take advantage of having her first UFC main event take place without the pressure of those fans… then maybe, just maybe we could have an upset.

However, Nunes' CV of destruction suggests another hugely one-sided display from the sport's greatest female fighter this weekend.

I'm expecting a couple of rounds as Spencer isn't naive enough to stand and trade with the champion. Expect a submission to strikes or to rear naked choke before the championship rounds.