Amanda Nunes’ talent is undeniable. Dana White, Ariel Helwani and many others have dubbed her the greatest female fighter of all time. So why is it that Nunes’ popularity hasn’t experienced the same level of growth as her beaten opponents? And what does the future hold for the two-division champion?
“The Lioness” has wiped out some of the fiercest competition. She is currently riding a 9 fight win streak and has finished over half her fights with first-round victories. She is heralded by fighters and fans alike for her superior athleticism. Her MMA arsenal has overthrown top female fighters such as Valentina Shevchenko and Miesha Tate. However, the media spotlight has often glazed over the champion and shone a light on her former adversaries.
Nunes’ UFC 207 opponent, Ronda Rousey is credited for pioneering the UFC’s women’s division. Rousey was the first women to be officially signed to the UFC. She became the first female champion in 2013 and defeated six opponents in a row. As the women’s division began to grow, Rousey faced her first real adversity: Holly Holm. She lost via a second-round knockout. She also suffered a first-round KO loss to Amanda Nunes in her next fight. Whilst many now critique Rousey as a ‘media product’, she effectively capitalized off her UFC reign. She has built a career that transcends the UFC, securing nutritional supplement deals, movie appearances and a career in the WWE. As recent as May 2019, Rousey sat down with Megan Olivi to discuss the impact her UFC career has had on the sport and maintains a position in the media spotlight.
In a similar respect, Holly Holm has opened doors in the UFC women’s division and become a fan favourite, irrespective of her recent losses. Nunes’ dismantled Holm during the first round of their UFC 239 showdown. Despite this, Holm still has over double the Instagram followers and has major partnership deals with brands such as Mountain Dew. Ronda Rousey has over 12 times the amount of instagram followers than Nunes, despite losing to her.
Arguably, this is because Rousey and Holms’ careers both conform to the narrative of the ‘American Dream’. “The Preacher’s Daughter’s” soft and caring demeanour in contrast to her ruthless fighting style is something the captured the curiosity of a nation. Likewise, the media often exploits Rousey’s aggressive manner in polarization to her feminine appearance. This character dichotomy created a new category of the ‘MMA hero” that mobilised both athletes to an iconic status. It solidified both fighter’s ‘brand image’ and resulted in lucrative pay-per-view fights. They created a cultural legacy that popularised women’s fighting and bridged the gap for an emerging market of female fans.
Their success stories prove that marketability can impact a fighter’s career. Media success and fighting success don’t always align, but it is no secret that public interest can fast track or amplify a fighter’s influence. Conor McGregor is a prime example of a fighter who’s notoriety enhanced his career.
However, Nunes’ doesn’t fit the cookie-cutter mould that her opponents created. She has a linear approach to the fight industry and rarely engages in trash-talking antics. She also has little focus on creating a personal ‘brand’, as we see in fighters like Nate Diaz and Colby Covington. Many fans knew very little about Amanda Nunes prior to her fight against Rousey. Considering her skillset, her status hasn’t garnered the same commercial recognition that other fighters have.
Nevertheless, her recent wins against Holm and Cyborg have put her in a pivotal position to maximise recognition and strategically consider her future. But, some recent news leaves Nunes’ legacy up in the air.
Last week, it was revealed that Cris Cyborg has left the UFC. Her fight against Felicia Spencer at UFC 240 was the last bout of her contract. “The Lioness” beat Cyborg in December 2018 at UFC 232. She KO’d Cyborg during the first round. Nunes’ shocked the world by delivering Cyborg’s first loss of over 12 years and solidified her GOAT status among fans. Dana White said that Cyborg was running away from a rematch, but Cyborg disputed this and asked on different occasions for a rematch. She called out Dana White for bullying her but was later released by the promotions company when her contract finished.
Cyborg’s departure means Nunes’ potential matchups are less certain than ever. The featherweight division is now looking sparse. There are no major players on win streaks to suit a potential bout. A Cyborg vs Nunes rematch could have been a lucrative opportunity and a popular fight for fans. But Cyborg’s departure means that Nunes loses some of her ‘marketability’ capital that could leverage a high-profile, pay-per-view bout.
In comparison to other sports, the UFC is a relatively new organization that is constantly evolving. In that sense, it doesn’t have the same tournament infrastructure that has nurtured talents such as Serena Williams or Paula Radcliffe. The uncertainty of Nunes’ potential matchups and unfulfilled marketing power leaves her future in the UFC unknown. But one thing is for sure, Amanda Nunes has some of the greatest talent the UFC has ever seen.