Is it time for Amanda Nunes to challenge Cris Cyborg?

Amanda Nunes

On Saturday night, the UFC returned to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with the star-studded UFC 224 card. 11 of the 13 fights on the bill ended in finishes, including the main event, which saw Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington collide in a bantamweight title fight. In her third successful title defense, “The Lioness” dominated a game Pennington, finishing her by TKO in the fifth round, simultaneously elevating her impressive win-streak to seven.

In her post-fight speech, an emotional and classy Nunes explained how facing a “friend” in Pennington was the toughest challenge of her career so far. She even invited Pennington and her fiancee, former American Top Team representative Tecia Torres, to join her during her heartfelt Octagon interview with Jon Anik. However, Nunes barely had time to enjoy this moment before the big question of “what’s next?” seemed to pop into everyone’s minds.

In front of Brazil and the rest of the world, Nunes had an opportunity to steer her ship, but she remained respectful and stated she didn’t want to name any names before she’d spoken to her team. Although it was perhaps a sensible decision to wait until her thoughts clear and her emotions calmed, this was still the moment in which Nunes could have created hype for potentially Brazil’s biggest fight in UFC history.

Was it a missed opportunity to call out 145-pound champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, or was it too early for Nunes to begin considering this fight?

Cyborg, who has lost only one of her 21 mixed martial arts contests, had an anticipated arrival to the UFC almost exactly two years ago, but only Holly Holm has provided any real challenge for her in her first five Octagon bouts. A much larger fighter than Nunes, Cyborg was never able to make the cut down to the 135-pound bantamweight division that Nunes inhabits. In fact, she had to endure an absolutely harrowing cut to compete at a 140-pound catchweight. This would mean Nunes would have to fight Cyborg at featherweight, outside of her current weight class, which is an undeniably risky thing to do. The payoff if she wins, of course, would be huge, as she would almost certainly be crowned the toughest woman on the planet.

At present, there aren’t a lot of viable contenders for Nunes’s bantamweight title. She’s already defeated Valentina Shevchenko twice, Holly Holm is a tough 1-4 in her last five fights, Cat Zingano is on a three-fight skid, and a matchup with the rising Ketlen Vieira just doesn’t seem to pack much of a promotional punch just yet. Cyborg is currently dealing with a similar lack of contenders in the UFC women’s featherweight division, which is precisely what created talk of this potential super fight to begin with.

At this stage, a potential Amanda Nunes vs. Cris Cyborg fight seems like the perfect opportunity for both women. It would establish the winner as the bona fide pound-for-pound queen of women’s MMA, and allow time for a top contender to emerge in both of their divisions. The big questions is: is it a fight that the UFC and the two dominant champions can make happen?

This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 5/14/2018.