On Saturday night, we were treated to one of the most dominant, complete and composed title defending displays in recent octagon memory, as hometown hero Amanda ‘The Lioness’ Nunes retained her bantawmeight championship in a one sided beat down of the talented Raquel Pennington, over five rounds.
The victory marked the Brazilian’s third successful title defence. Nunes’ previous outing was a narrow, decision victory over two time former foe Valentina Shevchenko, which followed a dramatic knock out of former bantamweight division queen Ronda Rousey at UFC 207.
Struggling with a broken nose between rounds four and five, Raquel, despite her initial unwillingness and under eventual corner orders, began the fifth and final round. In the early exchanges, which were again dominated by Nunes, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt scored an outside trip and established both hooks on a defense less ‘Rocky’ Raquel. With Nunes pounding on the challenger from back mount, the referee had no choice but to step in with Pennington’s nose decorating the cage with claret.
After another dominant and almost routine win for Nunes on the biggest of stages, who can challenge her next?
Cris Cyborg featherweight superfight
The only logical step forward for Brazil’s two biggest stars is an eventual, exciting Superfight. Featherweight champion Cris Cyborg continued her similarly dominant reign over the albeit shallow division with a late notice knockout victory over promotional debutante Yana Kunitskaya at UFC 222. Were it not for the untimely injury to Max Holloway ahead of UFC 222, we may have originally had Cyborg vs. Nunes for the 145lbs gold at UFC 224 last weekend.
Initially, it seemed Justino had no intention of meeting her compatriot in a defense of her strap, but after her win over Kunitskaya, Cyborg admitted that if the UFC, the fans and Nunes herself were interested in a bout, she would entertain it. Both women are arguably #1 and #2 in terms of natural striking ability with former strawweight queen Joanna Jedrezjczyk coming in a close third in terms of the female ranks, not to mention both Brazilian’s are excellent grapplers. Expect this title tilt to finally get the green light toward the tail end of 2018.
Ketlen Vieira clash
Another all Brazilian affair, would see Nunes pitted against talented grappler and undefeated phenom Ketlen Vieira in search of her fourth successful title retention. The Manaus native burst onto the UFC scene in April, 2017, with a decision win over Ashlee Evans-Smith and extended her unbeaten run with a submission victory over Sara McMann at UFC 215. Her most notable career win to date came against former title challenger ‘Alpha’ Cat Zingano at UFC 222, utilizing her Judo black belt to out score the returning striker over three rounds. The split decision victory more than likely earned her a potential shot at Nunes’ throne. Vieira offers an interesting match up for Nunes, particularly with her grappling prowess, but in terms of striking, they are oceans apart.
Cat Zingano vs. Marion Reneau winner
While this may be the least likely of all of these meetings, it would be a hugely dangerous match up for Nunes, particularly if former foe Zingano emerges victorious against Reneau. Nunes suffered her lone UFC defeat against Cat back in 2014, finding herself on the receiving end of some brutal elbows from the Minnesota fan favorite.
Zingano will of course meet wily BJJ player Reneau this summer at UFC Fight Night Boise, and a notable finish for either contender could catapult the winner toward a shot at the Bahia bruiser Nunes, especially considering the slim pickings within the division’s top five. Number one ranked contender Holly Holm is currently exploring the featherweight division and will meet Invicta FC great Megan Anderson at UFC 225. Number two ranked Pennington just had her siege halted while top three challenger Julianna Peña is coming off a surprising submission loss to now flyweight title chaser Valentina Shevchenko, and recently gave birth to a baby girl in January so a return in the current climate is on hold.
Words by Ross Markey.