The “greatest of all time” conversations are a surefire way to fire people up across social media and sports debate shows. Is the greatest NBA player of all time LeBron James or Michael Jordan? Is it Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson or someone else in boxing? Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, but does he top the list over the likes of Jerry Rice and Lawrence Taylor?
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Women’s MMA is a different beast when it comes to this conversation, considering that the first official female MMA fight took place less than 30 years ago in 1997 and didn’t start getting mainstream attention until Gina Carano and Cris Cyborg faced each other in 2009. The sport exploded when Ronda Rousey became a global superstar and forced UFC president Dana White to bring women into his promotion.
Since then, the conversation about who the greatest female MMA fighter is has involved just a handful of fighters. Once Rousey’s stranglehold over women’s MMA was obliterated by Holly Holm, the conversation shifted to Cris Cyborg and Joanna Jedrzejczyk until Amanda Nunes went on a six-year rampage during which she knocked out Rousey, Cyborg and Holm while beating Valentina Shevchenko twice. But then she was submitted by massive underdog Julianna Pena in December.
The two will meet again at UFC 277 and Nunes will aim to reclaim her women’s bantamweight championship by proving the first fight was just a bad day at the office.
If Nunes wins, there really isn’t an argument about her status as the greatest female mixed martial artist of all time. But what happens if she loses?
The answer may shock you.
Even if she loses, Amanda Nunes will remain the greatest female mixed martial artist of all time.
To some, it may sound ridiculous considering that Pena would have defeated Nunes twice. However, very few would consider Pena the greatest of all time because she has suffered one-sided losses to the likes of Valentina Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie. To be clear, this is not projecting how the rest of Pena’s career would play out. Instead, it merely suggests that Nunes’ accomplishments to her would keep her at the top of the list as of July 31, regardless of whether she wins or loses. Obviously, that can all change if Pena went on a remarkable string of wins, but it would take a lot of time for her to craft a resume that rivals Nunes.
The only person who could rival Nunes is Valentina Shevchenko. The problem is that Shevchenko has lost to Nunes twice and her summary of her falls just short of what The Lioness has accomplished.
As it stands, there is no woman in MMA who comes close to what Nunes has accomplished. Aside from the litany of names that she ran roughshod over, she’s also the first and only fighter—male or female—to win and defend world titles in two different weight classes simultaneously. She also has the most consecutive wins by a woman in UFC history with 12 and has a stranglehold on most finishes in the bantamweight division with eight. What she did to Cyborg also cannot be overlooked and is the fight that thrust her into this position to begin with.
After losing her first pro MMA fight in 2005, Cyborg mauled every opponent put in front of her for the next 13 years. The only thing holding Cyborg back from taking her place as the GOAT was that she hadn’t fought in the UFC. She claimed the UFC women’s featherweight title in 2017 and then met Nunes a year later.
Although she was the underdog, Nunes demolished Cyborg in under a minute and cemented her place at the top of the mountain. No other active fighter has come close to doing what Nunes did to Cyborg.
Fighters lose. It happens. And some fighters have just struggled with certain people. Muhammad Ali just couldn’t seem to crack the Ken Norton code, but few question whether he’s the greatest boxer to ever live. Considering the infancy of women’s MMA, there’s just not a lot of history to draw from.
What Nunes has done far supersedes the accomplishments of women in MMA. That won’t change regardless of the outcome in her rematch with Grief. Of course, she has a lot riding on this fight to keep her legacy intact. But what she’s done is already worthy of the GOAT conversation.
The fact of the matter is that her peers have a lot of work to do before being able to enter the conversation. And that won’t happen tomorrow, next month or next year. Eventually, someone may catch up to Nunes. But when Nunes wakes up on July 31, 2022, she’ll still be the greatest female mixed martial artist of all time.