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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 224’s Amanda Nunes

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight queen, Amanda Nunes, is set to defend her title opposite well-rounded up-and-comer, Raquel Pennington, this Saturday (May 12, 2018) at UFC 224 inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

To the surprise of just about everyone, Nunes has risen from the status of “solid contender” to “unbeatable champion” in just about two years. Her defeat of Valentina Shevchenko may have been a very competitive split-decision victory, but the win effectively sent her toughest competition down to a new weight class and truly established Nunes as the best.

Now, she’s a 10-1 favorite over her division’s No. 2-ranked contender. Her rise has been shockingly fast, and now the question becomes whether or not she’ll be able to hold onto that aura of invincibility.

Let’s take a closer look at her skill set.

Striking

Nunes is perhaps her division’s largest fighter, and she’s an efficient mix of powerful and fast as well. Her size and athleticism are the reason why many request a match up between her and Cris Cyborg, as she’s perhaps the only woman with comparable physical gifts.

On the whole, Nunes game relies on short combinations of the jab and cross that make the most of her range. She’ll stick her opponent with a long strike or two — both Nunes’ jab and cross pack a serious punch — before pulling back a step. If her foe tries to answer back with strikes, Nunes will bounce back in with a 1-2.

Touch, pull, and return is one of the most basic striking concepts, but Nunes applies it very well mostly with just the jab and cross (GIF).

Nunes’ relationship with range control is interesting. Earlier in her career, Nunes would punch herself into the clinch quite often, which did lead to takedowns for the Judo brown belt. Unfortunately, it also tied up her power and allowed her opponent to slow her down as well.

Her last three fights — the three biggest wins of her career — have been different. Rather than seek the clinch, Nunes has stayed behind the jab and remained long far more effectively. This was quite noticeable opposite Miesha Tate, as “Cupcake” was forced to take bad shots from way outside of range due to Nunes’ crisp jab and long cross.

Nunes’ last bout was a further example of range control and, more than anything else, patience. Opposite an extremely crafty striker in Valentina Shevchenko, Nunes had to rely on his size advantage without offering the counter striker any easy opportunities to land. The end result was a smart-but-boring approach of out-pointing the expert striker with rangy kicks, and we examined the specific tools used in this week’s technique highlight.

NUNES FOF VIDEOS

Even outside of the Shevchenko fight, the main tool of Nunes’ distance kickboxing is the right low kick. She often throws it without setup, which can be an issue, but the kick packs enough power that her opponents are often able to capitalize. When landed cleanly, she’s able to spin her opponent around or sweep a Southpaw to the ground. Plus, her leg kicks were strong enough to break down and finish Shayna Baszler (GIF).

Lastly, Nunes does nice work in the clinch. Her strength allows her to yank around her opponent from the collar tie without much difficulty, helping her set up knees. Additionally, a failed trip can be converted into offense against an off-balance opponent.

Wrestling

Physicality is very helpful in kickboxing, but it’s dominant in wrestling. A Judo brown belt, Nunes can overpower most opponents in the clinch, but she’s also able to grind for a double leg against the fence if necessary.

In the clinch, Nunes very often looks to trip her opponent. While fresh and at her sharpest, Nunes will aim for small foot sweeps or a subtle outside trip. This is where she does her best work, as Nunes definitely has the technique to land these takedowns. Alternatively, Nunes can dig her underhook deep into a body lock and lock to force her foe to the mat, which is most effective when chained with one of the aforementioned trips.

As Nunes grows tired, her takedown attempts become more desperate. When that happens, she’s far easier to reverse. Aside from that situation, she’s rarely taken down.

In the second match with Shevchenko, a double leg in the fifth round likely secured Nunes’ the split-decision win. Shevchenko was briefly put on the mat after a failed throw, but Nunes transitioned into a double leg as the Russian athlete went to stand. Shevchenko defended well with an underhook, but Nunes did an excellent job of continuing to drive into the fence. Eventually, she was able to narrow Shevchenko’s stance, lock her hands, and complete the shot.

Once on top, Nunes is really devastating. She does an excellent job of gaining posture, as she generally avoids sitting back on her knees even while in guard. Because of that, she’s proven to be effective from all positions with her ground strikes and does a lot of damage from there.

In guard, Nunes quickly finished Sheila Gaff in her Octagon debut. After forcing her foe to the mat, Nunes did not allow her opponent to control her posture, stepping up onto one foot and framing with her arm. Once that space was created, Nunes was able to drop hard elbows and end the bout (GIF).

The above GIF pretty perfectly demonstrates the difference in physicality between Nunes and most female Bantamweights.

Opposite Cat Zingano, Nunes showed off her full ground and pound display, particularly in the first round. From guard, Nunes dove in with heavy right hands and postured within the guard admirably. She also stepped up to a leg in half guard to deliver hard elbows, a frequent technique for the Brazilian (GIF). Finally, when able to advance past her opponent’s guard, she did an excellent job of controlling while landing hard shots.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, Nunes has finished three of her opponents via submission. Each of those submissions came via rear naked choke, and there’s a definite pattern to how Nunes secures that hold.

After rocking her opponent, Nunes does an excellent job of jumping into back mount and looking to finish with the submission. This was the case in her bouts with McMann and Tate, but the latter stoppage in particular showed some nice technique.

From turtle, Nunes secured wrist control on the far arm — a devastating strategy that is becoming more and more common — and stood over her opponent. Tate was unable to do much but absorb punches from this spot, so Nunes really forced her to give up the hooks. With wrist control and hooks, Nunes was able to easily hip in and flatten her opponent out. That’s the worst position in the sport, meaning the choke was all but locked up at the point (GIF).

It’s also worth mentioning that Nunes does a very nice job of cutting through her opponent’s guard. She’s able to do so effectively because of her posture, as her opponents have a difficult time maintaining a tight guard while eating hard shots. With the guard loose, Nunes will methodically move into half guard and then mount, delivering hard punches and elbows the whole time.

Conclusion

Nunes enters this bout as a 10-1 favorite, expected to trounce Pennington and move on to face Cris Cyborg over the Summer. She’s found her stride and made the most of her athletic gifts after a mixed start to her MMA career, resulting in an extremely dominant fighter who routinely finishes opponents. While I predict that Pennington will give the champion a much tougher go of things than the odds makers expect, the future seems incredibly bright for the 29 year old with two title defenses to her name.

*****

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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