Amanda Nunes celebrates her victory against Valentina Shevchenko during UFC 215

An explosive featherweight title clash caps off a stellar year for female fighters at UFC 232, with Amanda Nunes taking on Cris Cyborg.

It’s arguably the first proper women’s super fight as American Top Team product Nunes bulks up ten pounds to face the most dominant and physically imposing woman in history. Apart from, perhaps, Roseanne Barr. Both have been on a raging trajectory toward one another for years, and having run through almost everyone else in their respective divisions, there was simply no other fight to make.

The Challenger

Amanda Nunes is younger, leaner and hungrier, just like an actual lioness. How does she win? Good thing you asked, otherwise this article would be superfluous and suspiciously brief.

Her game has improved by leaps and bounds in the last few years. Back in the old days, she used to come out and swing her arms until she got tired and either won by strikes (to Nunes’ surprise almost more than her opponent’s), or fell down and lost. Now she has a game plan and she sticks to it. Most importantly, her coaches at ATT have taught her patience.

This was demonstrated best against Valentina Shevchenko in their second fight. Nunes displayed iron determination to remain focused and patient, staying on the outside and forcing Shevchenko to come to her. She attacked when she needed to, using her superior range and power to great effect, and kept Shevchenko at bay with those ATT patented leg kicks. She didn’t fight to win, she fought not to lose. The same could be said of her defense against Raquel Pennington. Instead of steamrolling the much weaker, slower, less skilled opponent, she stayed patient, picked her shots and broke Pennington down with leg-kicks until the fight was stopped.

If Amanda Nunes wants to win two belts this weekend, she absolutely cannot stick to that same script. Firstly she’s got to overcome the stigma that Cyborg sends before her like an avenging army. She has to smash that enigma of invincibility, because despite her name, Cyborg isn’t actually a robot. We think.

Nunes is arguably the faster puncher, and her leg kicks are a potent weapon. Likely due to the fact that both fighters are strong and skilled on the ground, we might see this one staying on the feet. Wherever it goes, Nunes must stay aggressive. Push Cyborg into deep waters and find out how good she is when she’s on the back foot.

One unknown about Cyborg is that she’s never been truly tested. The closest she came was in her five-rounder against Holly Holm. Being stung, getting frustrated and tired and rallying through those challenges is something she’s rarely had to face. If Nunes can push her there, we may see a Cyborg that doesn’t know how to handle that pressure. Her speed and power will be the clincher for her in this fight, if only she doesn’t take her foot off the gas even for a moment.

The Champ

Cyborg is a different animal altogether. She’s no Meisha Tate or Ronda Rousey. She is a well-rounded bomber who doesn’t appear to have many cracks in her metal exoskeleton. She hits hard, she’s good in the clinch and against the cage, she’s relentlessly aggressive and her ground-game is underrated only because she’s rarely pushed to utilize it. In other words, Cyborg is the perfect killing machine.

If we’re thinking percentages here, one could say she’s only used 60% of her maximum power. This is a human-weapon who trains for a marathon but only gets to run the first three hundred meters. In this fight, she’ll be hungry to go the distance and will look to Nunes to give her a decent challenge.

Because somebody friggin’ has to. Where’s the fun in beating the sparkles out of one undersized and overwhelmed bantamweight after another? In Nunes she’ll finally get to face an opponent who won’t freak out and crumble at the mere sight of her. An opponent who hits hard and accurately, and who is coming out of one of the best camps and corners in the game.

Much like her opponent, Cyborg wins this contest with pressure. She’s said as much in press-conference interviews, and if there’s one thing she knows how to do, it’s intimidate people until they tap through sheer terror. Luckily the only gear Cyborg has is forward. Which probably makes parallel parking difficult.

Nunes really doesn’t like fighting going backward. She likes to be in control, and when that’s taken away from her she loses much of her potency. These fighters are very similar in terms of reach and height, but Cyborg will once again have the advantage in weight and strength. Bully Nunes to the cage and force her engine to work at top speed, tire her arms and remove the threat of her leg-kicks. Make things ugly, grimly, uncomfortable. All things Cyborg is a master at. Suffocate Nunes and disable her best weapons. Do that long enough and the bantamweight champ will crumble. Just like everyone else before her.

Brazil vs. Brazil

Really, Nunes and Cyborg are very similar to each other. Despite their former dominance, we may see an extremely entertaining and evenly matched exchange. Cyborg is not known for her one-punch power, and while Nunes does hit hard, neither is she. This one will come down to who is the better prepared, and who has the sneakiest tricks. At long last we’ll finally get to see Cyborg run the rest of the marathon, and if she wins, will she even want to fight again, or will she hang up her gloves and call it good? After all, behind a monster like Amanda Nunes, who else is there waiting in line?

And if Nunes should emerge triumphant, can she go back to her ordinary life of punching the faces off unworthy bantamweight challengers and hoping the UFC puts some shine on her for once? For two fighters at the very pinnacle of their sport, there is no higher for them to go. Either way, this fight will be one to watch.

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