Amanda Nunes is still the UFC women’s bantamweight champion. Many, including Valentina Shevchenko and what felt like a majority of the people in attendance Saturday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, were not convinced that Nunes deserved to retain such an honor after UFC 215.
It wasn’t as though Shevchenko blew Nunes out of the water Saturday night, electing to employ a tactical game plan that, while an effective fighting strategy, doesn’t always culminate in clear-cut decisions. But while Shevchenko barely managed to make an overwhelming impact on the outcome of the fight, Nunes arguably did even less.
The overarching narrative in the weeks leading up to fight night surrounded Nunes and her ability, or lack thereof, to go the distance in a five-round affair. Having exhausted her resources in previous fights as the third round came to a start, Nunes would have to be able to effectively compete for two additional rounds if she didn’t put Shevchenko away early. Given the challenger’s elite-level striking and durability, chances are this wasn’t going to be a quick finish for either woman.
“A lot of people think that I can never get it in the five rounds. I prove it tonight, I’m the real champion,” Nunes said during her post-fight interview on FOX Sports 1.
“My strategy was to be calm and make her to do all the work,” she added. “I did my work and finish the fight strong. And still.”
By fight’s end, Nunes did indeed prove she could go five rounds without slowing down all too much. The issue, however, was Nunes never intended on going very fast at all. Rather than go 0 to 100 mph for five to 10 minutes, she sat comfortably at around 35 mph for 25 straight minutes. She conserved her energy to stay in the fight for five full rounds, but did so easily by not fighting very much to begin with. She, in the eyes of at least two judges, did enough to earn the victory.
She will, and justifiably so, receive her fair share of credit for imposing a necessary game plan against a crafty opponent.
She will also receive a solid helping of criticism — also somewhat justified. For as effective as Nunes was for five rounds, she wasn’t in any way entertaining a vocal portion of the 16,000-plus people in attendance in Edmonton Saturday. That’s not the sort of fighter mixed martial arts fans have come to know and appreciate — one who’d prefer to avoid risks in order to secure the win.
This was not the same fighter who used her fight-ending strikes to stop Germaine de Randamie, Shayna Baszler, Sara McMann, Miesha Tate or Ronda Rousey — opening the door for a wide array of criticism shortly after the fight.
Nunes fought safely to defend her title. But while MMA, and professional sports in general, often abide by an “any means necessary” mentality, Nunes would be wise to ask how fighting without risks has boded for welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. Remaining a champion is certainly important to those skilled enough to attain the title, but alienating a majority of the fanbase by virtue of the means to that end is certainly a problematic concern that deserves attention.
“I wanted to make this fight for the crowd, but tonight, this fight was for me,” she said to MMAjunkie. “To go five rounds, to prove I’m the best, (and) that I’m here for a reason.”
Nunes will now disappear for the remaining four-plus months of the year, allowing her underwhelming title defense over Shevchenko to serve as the one and only appearance she made in 2017. It’ll be a fairly disappointing follow-up for Nunes after a stellar 2016, which not only featured Nunes crushing then-champion Miesha Tate to win the belt at UFC 200, but also starching Ronda Rousey to defend the crown last December as well.
Few, understandably, will be eager to see this version of Nunes return.
That notion will only further itself given what circumstances the division is currently surrounded by.
There isn’t a single woman on the UFC roster who could rightfully claim to be the No. 1 contender at 135 pounds. Presently, Shevchenko, Holly Holm, Julianna Pena and Rousey take up the first four spots in the rankings at women’s bantamweight. Shevchenko’s obviously out of the picture in the meantime, Holm is only one victory removed from a three-fight losing streak, Pena last lost in January, and Rousey is essentially retired after her devastating loss to Nunes last December.
That leaves Raquel Pennington, who, while on a four-fight winning streak, isn’t exactly a blockbuster draw inside the Octagon. She also hasn’t fought since last November, needing at least one more appearance (and victory) to secure her spot as Nunes’ next dance partner.
Both the UFC and its women’s bantamweight champion have a great deal of work to do if her championship reign is to get back on the right foot.