Pre-Fight Thoughts: Cris Cyborg -vs- Amanda Nunes
While this fight between reigning featherweight champion Cris Cyborg and similarly dominant bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes is a legitimate superfight, you wouldn't know it from the utter dearth of marketing the UFC has done for the bout. Both women come into this fight riding streaks of dominant wins, with Cyborg not having lost since her pro debut in 2005 and Nunes having cut a swath through the 135 pound division since capturing the title in mid-2016. Suffice it to say, both fighters currently lack peers in their respective divisions and it makes sense to match them up now — this superfight isn't depriving any contenders of their chance at either title.
The intrigue this fight offers is the potential for Cyborg to finally face someone with similar ferocity and power. At this point, the only opponent Cris has had who came even close to matching her brute physical strength was Holly Holm, but that really only presented itself in the clinch and ultimately didn't serve Holm too well as she lost a lopsided decision. Nunes has raw power and is capable of throwing hard strikes, so things should play out a little differently given the stylistic differences between Nunes and Holm. Whether comparable strength and a decent kickboxing game is enough to truly challenge Cyborg remains to be seen, however.
While it is true that Cyborg has looked so dominant and unbeatable due to a lack of legitimate bantamweights for her to fight, she has made the best of the opportunities presented. There simply is not a thriving 145 pound women's divison at this point, and Cris has made do with expertly defeating every opponent thrown her way — even if the majority of them were blown-up bantamweights. In those wins, Cyborg displayed tactical and physical skills which should give anyone thinking of challenging her pause. There is far more to Cris's game than simply bumrushing her opponents, swinging for the fences and hoping a hard shot lands.
At first, I looked at this match-up as a potential concern for Cyborg: she's facing a hard-hitting, strong fighter, unlike any of her previous opponents. However, the more I've thought about the fight, the more I believe Cyborg should still be the heavy favourite to win. Nunes is a tough out, and certainly has the potential to play spoiler here, but her style is probably the biggest concern here. Nunes, historically, starts fights very strong — almost too strong, in fact — and has accrued some losses due to running out of steam. Nunes can put an ungodly beating on someone, no doubt, but if it's not enough to end the fight then things get iffy.
I think Cyborg's technical prowess will be enough to dictate where the fight takes place, and I don't see Nunes wanting to clinch with her either. In general, superfights involving one fighter moving up to face a bigger foe have favoured the larger fighter. I don't see this fight bucking that trend, for as skilled as Nunes is I think Cyborg is equal if not superior, and Cris's physical advantages will simply exacerbate this. In trying to visualise the fight, I can't see any position where Nunes has an advantage; I'm not even sure if the fight went to the ground that Cyborg would have much difficulty. In the end, this is one of those fights where I think there really is only one likely outcome — Cyborg either via finish or decision — even if there is always a chance that Nunes manages to defy the odds.
What initially seemed like a close match-up on paper now seems like it should be another case of Cyborg showing the world how dominant she is. Still, I am intrigued by this fight: the the possibility of an upset, to perhaps see new wrinkles in Amanda Nunes' game, and overall just to see how it actually plays out.
Published: December 29th, 2018.