Why Nunes’ next challenge will be her biggest ever

MOMENTS AFTER THE fifth-round bell sounds in the women’s bantamweight title fight at UFC 245 in Las Vegas in late December, reigning champion Amanda Nunes wraps up challenger Germaine de Randamie and sends her to the ground. From this moment forward, nearly the entire five minutes is spent with Nunes on top of de Randamie, landing body shots, Nunes’ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt on full demonstration. The seconds tick until the horn sounds, and Nunes takes a pre-announcement victory lap around the cage.

“Another one bites the dust,” ring announcer Jon Anik says.

The opening round had been a flurry — Nunes first locking de Randamie in a guillotine, then subjecting her to a heavy ground-and-pound, then locking her up in an arm triangle. It was a miracle that de Randamie had survived the onslaught. But there is a reason Germaine de Randamie has not lost an MMA bout in the past nine years to anyone not named Amanda Nunes. De Randamie fought back in the second, by way of a successful question mark kick and flying knee, then a near triangle submission in the fourth.

It was the most adversity Nunes had faced in the Octagon in years.

But Amanda Nunes, it seems, is inevitable.

Now, standing in the middle of the Octagon, arms raised, her championship belts placed on her shoulders by UFC president Dana White, Nunes trots around the cage. Her wife, fellow fighter Nina Ansaroff, looks on from a few feet away, wearing the cap Nunes walked in with backward on her head. It is Nunes’ fifth defense of her bantamweight title. Only Ronda Rousey has more.

When she returns to the Octagon at UFC 250 against Felicia Spencer on Saturday to defend her featherweight title — her other belt — she will make the same walk surrounded by the same people she has for the past seven years. But the family that has surrounded Nunes as she has dominated her sport is about to get an addition — one that promises to change her career in a unique and unprecedented way.

THE REALITY IS that there isn’t much left for Amanda Nunes to do in the sport. If she beats Spencer on Saturday, it would mark her first defense of the featherweight title. She has beaten every woman to ever hold the bantamweight title. In 2018, she knocked out Cris Cyborg in the first round to become the first woman “champ champ,” holding belts in two weight classes. By all measurements, Nunes is one of the most successful LGBTQ athletes in history — and in the conversation of greatest athletes of all time, full stop. As someone who casually mentioned retirement nearly two years ago, it wouldn’t be crazy to think Nunes might walk away from the fight game.

She does, after all, have a new challenge ahead.

On March 5, Nunes tweeted a picture: She and Ansaroff were holding aloft a tiny white and navy blue gingham dress with frilly shoulder sleeves, and a pair of miniature white dress shoes with white ribbons on the toes. The tweet announced that Ansaroff was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Raegan Ann Nunes, and due to give birth in September.

It was a tweet years in the making.

Nunes and Ansaroff have been open about their relationship since they first got together nearly a decade ago. It’s sometimes easy to forget that they’ve been a trailblazing couple. Nunes became the UFC’s first publicly out LGBTQ champion in 2016 after choking out Miesha Tate to capture the women’s bantamweight belt. Four years later, there has not been another.

Last June, after Ansaroff’s last fight against Tatiana Suarez, she and Nunes decided the time was right to start a family. They opted for in vitro fertilization and were successful on the first attempt. “It wasn’t like I’m retiring to start a family,” Ansaroff says. “I want to have my daughter and continue fighting. I’m actually very curious to see how my body responds. I’ll probably take a year or two and then have another one.”

When Nunes and Ansaroff decided to become parents, they knew they’d be open about that too. “The less we address that it’s anything different, the less people pay attention to it being something different,” Ansaroff says. “I don’t need to say that this is a different kind of family because we’re both women.”

Now Nunes, 32, dreams of the day she will look to the edge of the Octagon and see her daughter.

Being a mom and an athlete isn’t new, of course. Many women have given birth and gone on to continued athletic success. Serena Williams in tennis, DeWanna Bonner in basketball and Michelle Waterson in the UFC, to name a few. But not all mothers give birth, and Nunes will be the wife of a woman giving birth — a first in UFC history.

“There’s no difference,” Nunes says. “I can’t wait for Raegan to see me finally. I want to be able to take her to the fights so I can have memories of her there with me.”

In all, the past several years for Nunes and Ansaroff have been groundbreaking. Their role in the progression of LGBTQ history has been fundamental. And when Nunes takes to the Octagon this Saturday — on the first weekend of Pride Month — it will be a visible statement for many in their community.

Except, apparently, for Nunes.

“I didn’t even know it was Pride Month,” Nunes says, laughing. “I’m focused on my job. And Pride Month comes with it. Of course I’m going to support everybody. But the main part of my job [is to keep] making history.”

And as she tells it, she’s not going anywhere.

“I’m looking forward to getting my hand raised and walking away with my belts,” Nunes says. “Every time I think I don’t have anything else left, something comes up. Life always [shows] it to me.”