While scientists will debate whether animals can smell fear, Amanda Nunes swears that she can. Reigning champ of the UFC’s bantamweight and featherweight divisions, Nunes, 31, will arrive at pre-fight press conferences and weigh-ins, face her opponents and then note that the air grows dense with trepidation. “I can tell right away,” says Nunes. “They do not want to be fighting me. Sometimes I can, like, even [sense] why they don’t want to fight me.”
Valid reasons are manifold. Nunes is been a one-woman threshing machine, mowing down the field. On the last week of 2016, Nunes first pierced the general sports consciousness when she mauled Ronda Rousey, sending Rousey into retirement—or off to the WWE, anyway. Since then, Nunes has imposed her will on all comers. A Brazilian now based in South Florida, Nunes is dangerous on the ground where she can bring her jiujitsu training to bear. But she has won her last three fights by delivering a take-out menu of stand-up strikes, including a devastating head kick to knock out Holly Holm in July. Undefeated for more than five years now, she might well be the UFC’s GOAT; she is certainly the GOAT for the female division.
As the UFC looks for worthy opponents for Nunes, there’s one pro fighter she’ll, assuredly, not be facing in the cage anytime soon. She and UFC strawweight, Nina Ansaroff, met as sparring partners and fell in love. They are engaged and attempting to become parents. Ansaroff will carry the child. “She’s my baby mama,” Nunes says of Ansaroff. After the child born, all bets are off. “She knows where to find me,” she jokes. Maybe.
Nunes will try and defend her bantamweight belt against Germaine de Randamie, a Dutch kickboxing specialist, Saturday at UFC 245.
SI: Do you remember what it feels like not to win?
AN: I don’t even remember. Losing sucks.
SI: What about it?
AN: Everything. No one wants to lose in sports. But especially not in this game.
SI: At this stage, what’s your level of nerves when you go in there?
AN: I have butterflies the week of, a little bit. Then I walk out and there, the excitement comes, and everything goes away….But it wasn’t always like this. It’s a lot of lights on you. A lot of pressure. And a lot of people don’t know how to respond to those things. They end up like losing their mind, don’t remember things, when the fight starts. I have this problem in the past. I used to know everything but when it becomes fight day something was like off, I couldn’t put it all together. I mean, it’s a crazy sport.. But experience helps.
SI: You say you can spot fear in your opponent—
AN: Oh, yeah. I know the face. I know it before the fight. And I know it during the fight. There’s a moment that comes and you know: I can break my opponent.
SI: For example?
AN: For example, my fight against [Cris] Cyborg. The first time we see each other, I was reading her perfectly. The first press conference, I could already start to put things. The press conference is very important. It’s just the opportunity to look in my opponent’s eyes, and I really be able to feel you know something. I don’t know how else to explain it.
SI: Does this feel like a job?
AN: A job, yes. A fun job, but a job. The day of the fights [is only part of it.] You feel like you have to do everything in the time, you know? Like go train this time, the coach is waiting for you at nighttime. This is your job you have to be there. The day of the fight it’s like, ‘This is my time,’ you know.
SI: You don’t have a hard cut?
AN: I used to be very good at [cutting] weight. But I am not young anymore.
SI: What was your upbringing like? What was your family life?
AN: My mother was a single mother and it was me and my two sisters. She worked in the Brazilian government. She raised us all well. I didn’t have a hard time. My mom worked pretty hard to make sure you always had everything.
SI: How did you get into this of line of work?
AN: My uncle was a fighter in Salvador [Brazil]. And I always played sports. I grew up playing soccer. And my sister was the one who really introduced me to jui jitsu and I started from that. I like the fighter style because jiu jitsu is kind of like wrestling, like fighting, you don’t punch each other but you hug each other. You finish each other. After training jiu jitsu, everything I saw after that I want to try. I want to try judo, too. I start training. And I compete in judo. I started boxing and I loved boxing….
SI: You are…what, 14, 15 16?
AN: Sixteen, yeah.
SI: You are watching, who? Anderson Silva?
AN: It’s funny, so back then I didn’t even watch any fights. I just watch my friends compete against each other in the gym.
SI: Do you remember that you were you getting paid for some of these smaller shows?
AN: The smaller shows in Brazil I got one time 300 real [around $75] to show and sell tickets and if I won, I would get a gi, a kimono.
SI: So how are you paying for groceries?
AN: This is the thing you know? I don’t have any bills anyway in Brazil. No bills, no kids, nothing. Just live the life, and whatever you have, you be able to like really survive. And you also have a lot of people with you. I have my family. My family always helped me. They knew something.
SI: What’s the most you’ve been injured?
AN: I don’t have any bad injuries, just hips but I was just bruised, a deep bruise. Things like that.
SI: you never broke a bone?
AN: No. Never a surgery.
SI: How did you meet Nina?
AN: I met Nina at the gym that I came to south Florida for. And one day she showed up—I am always the only girl in the gym. That was five or six or seven years ago.
SI: Did you spar with each other?
AN: Yeah, we did. Many times. Before we got together we sparred all the time. She made me pissed off a lot because she is very tough. She wrestles well. Her background is from taekwondo. But she has good jiu jitsu and strike.
SI: Love at first sight?
AN: No, it wasn’t love the first time at all. We always talk about that like, I really thought she was going to be my friend, we were gonna hang out together, have some fun, but I never thing we were gonna end up together…A couple friends would say, ‘You guys been hanging out too much.’ Its like: ‘She is my friend.’ And then I start to think about it. ‘Holy shit yeah we have been together a lot.’ But we didn’t even realize it like anything.
SI: You don’t spar with her anymore?
AN: No we don’t spar anymore. I don’t want to punch Nina in the face anymore. We want to push each other, not punch each other. She is gonna be my baby mama.
SI: Somebody told me that you would be happy to fight each other.
AN: Our retirement fight.
SI: You would make your retirement fight against her?
AN: I would why not for sure. Eh I would say we play around. We would do a catch weight.
SI: How does expecting a child intersect with your fighting?
AN: You know we want the family to grow. We feel young we want to play with our kids. We want to have time to be able to play with the kids, relive everything again. Be a kid again.
SI: So you like having beef with an opponent?
AN: I don’t really care. Because it doesn’t matter for me. If you’re my friend I am still going to try to kick your ass you know? These things [point to fists] give you so much power, you know?
SI: That’s your superpower right there?
AN: Yeah, definitely.