Three years ago, the plaudits came thick and fast for Amanda Nunes when she knocked out Cris Cyborg inside a minute for the UFC women’s featherweight title.
A decade as a professional fighter rolled into 51 seconds of near perfection meant ‘The Lioness’ completed her mission to become the alpha female of mixed martial arts.
Through perseverance and pain, Nunes – often underrated and pigeon-holed as a brawler – became a two-weight world champion at the age of 30.
It was her seventh first-round finish and 15th stoppage in a 17-fight career to that point.
Everything came together in a brutal enactment of perfection. It marked her maturity as an elite fighter, with an almost endless list of achievements.
She became the first female in UFC history to hold two titles simultaneously, notched wins against former champions Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, and two over current flyweight title-holder Valentina Shevchenko.
Downing Cyborg that night in California was a seminal moment. It turned her into a bespoke champion.
But now Nunes has a new challenge – seeking redemption, by winning back the bantamweight title after being the victim of one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.
Julianna Pena defeated her in December by a second-round rear-naked choke submission, and now, at UFC 277 in Dallas, Texas on Saturday, Nunes must defeat her nemesis.
After all that she has achieved, it makes this challenge for the 34-year-old that bit more intriguing as she still comes into this contest as the favourite to return to the throne.
Win or lose on Saturday, Nunes’ place in history is already set.
Cyborg came into the bout against Nunes in 2019 still widely regarded as the greatest female fighter in MMA history, with a record of 20 wins and one defeat.
Without question, she was is the most destructive and dangerous female fighter in this modern era of grappling.
Cyborg had not lost since 2005; she had been taken to a decision just once since 2008. And yet Nunes eviscerated her.
The victory saw Nunes become the sixth fighter in UFC history to win titles in multiple weight classes, and the third athlete to hold two titles at the same time, following in the footsteps of Conor McGregor and Daniel Cormier.
I spoke to Nunes at the time and she said letters had poured in from fans for months following the victory. Many were to tell Nunes she was the ‘GOAT’ (greatest of all time) in women’s MMA.
“Everybody tells me now,” she says. “I have to say I am, because people tell me. Everybody tells me. I believe them and now I say I am. I deserve everything that I have in my life.”
There is no easy rise to greatness. Nunes is the living embodiment of that and the Brazilian fighter’s climb to be considered the greatest female MMA exponent of the modern era could not have been accomplished without the pillars of her life being in place.
Her early life set the template.
Brought up as the youngest of three sisters by a single mother in Pojuca – a small town 41 miles from Salvador, the capital of Bahia, in Brazil – she was in good hands.
Ivete, her mother, a boxer herself, recognised the traits of her daughter.
As a child, Nunes had fights in the streets, so her mother took her to capoeira classes, where she learnt the traditional dance and martial art, and from there it was on to karate classes, boxing gyms, and a developing life in the fighting arts.
At 16, she enrolled in jiu-jitsu, influenced by her sisters Vanessa and Valdirene.
The first great leap forward for Nunes, prior to moving to the US, was a move to Salvador, where she was the only woman living and training in Edson Carvalho’s gym.
Immersed in that life, she cleaned the mats in the morning, trained all day, and then grappled and sparred with men, always holding her own.
I fully expect her to be a different animal against Pena this weekend.
‘A tough night lies ahead for Diaz’
Elsewhere, ageing fan favourite Nate Diaz has been matched against wrecking ball Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 279 in Las Vegas on 10 September.
Sweden’s Chimaev, 28, has the opportunity to add a UFC legend to his list of beaten opponents, and the likes of the UK’s former UFC world title challenger Dan Hardy has been critical of the bout, viewing Diaz as horribly overmatched.
Since 2013, Diaz, 37, has had eight UFC appearances, and it has been reported that this is the final fight on his current contract.
Given where he now is in his career, it will be his toughest fight too.
“I still don’t believe that guy’s going to come and show up,” Chimaev said on The MMA Hour.
“That skinny boy. We will see what’s happening.”
A tough night lies ahead for Stockton, California’s Diaz – one of the most popular UFC fighters in history.