Five for Fighting: The Five Things That Define Amanda Nunes

On May 12th Amanda Nunes will attempt to defend her title for a third time, this time against a former Bantamweight dark horse who arrived in the Ultimate Fighting Championship via The Ultimate Fighter. This is an interesting bout between a fighter who was seen as a potential champion and a fighter who was seen as a legitimate journeyman. It’s an interesting dynamic that will play out in many ways over the length of this championship tilt.

But we aren’t talking about that today; today we are taking a look at the champion and the five things that define her and her overall fight game as a whole. Discussing how and why her game is effective, the root of her style, the limitations of her style and how it has contributed to her becoming a legitimate star and in the eyes of some a future Hall of Famer.

5) On the Counter – Amanda Nunes is an aggressive counter puncher, unlike a passive one who will set traps to counter pressure or an active one who will provide openings to draw out a specific shot to counter. Nunes stalks her opposition, often coming behind an educated jab by stalking her opponents she keeps them under duress by making them feel the impending doom that comes as a result of her forward motion and positioning. This forces her opponents to move more than is required to maintain a comfortable distance from her, made harder by her explosive ability to close distance; it also makes opponents trigger happy as they over respond to every strike, every feint with their own strikes,

They burn precious energy trying to avoid any chance of being forced into or drawn into an exchange with noted power puncher Nunes to counteract this Nunes will use her long range weapons, her favorite being the jab, long right hand and front kick. These are used to draw out meaningful counters which allow her to time, gauge distance and find angles through measured footwork, to land counters that are often in the form of 1-2, straight and overhand rights or left and right crosses as she did versus McMann and Tate. The combination of Nunes dictating the terms of engagement and then swiftly countering any and every attempt for an opponent to initiate offense of counter Amanda’s probing offense essentially keep fighters on the defensive.

They become cautious, limiting any attempts to strike and being unwilling to do the necessary steps to work into range to make takedowns or takedown attempts a factor in the fight which only compounds their problems as Nunes will up her pressure in stalking and begin countering in three’s, four’s & fives instead of one’s and two’s which she did versus Rousey.

4) Miles Per Gallon – Throughout the three phases of her career, Nunes has found a way to improve her footwork, her poise, her ability to transition from striking to wrestling to grappling, the nuance and layers of her offense and defense on the feet what she has been unable to improve is her ability to fight at any sort of pace for any sort of prolonged period of time. In the early stages of her career it was blamed on training part time, in the second stage it was blamed on fighting the wrong fight in this the prime championship phase of her career it has been stated that she has conquered her issues as it pertains to conditioning and sustained offense. To that I say nay. Nunes gas tank is no better or worse than it was before in instances where she attempts to finish and cant she gasses badly. This occurred in a win versus Valentina Shevchenko, where the champion gassed so hard she was on the defensive throughout the majority of the third round and getting beaten within an inch of her life before it ended.

Then there was the Zingano fight, where after dominating Cat and essentially beating her pillar to post before snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as she gassed and Zingano proceeded to beat her into submission. Even in her career defining win over former pound for pound entrant and two promotion bantamweight queen Nunes countered Rousey early and often, picking her apart before erasing her with a reality altering finishing salvo. Superficially it looked like a dominant win that had not even the slightest hint of  adversity, and it in fact was that one sided; but if you looked really close, you saw towards the tail end of that salvo that Nunes snap on and rate of strikes dipped dramatically.

If in fact Rousey made it out the first round, what would have happened to Nunes would she have eked out a win ala Shevchenko or would she have been pummeled and ultimately stopped by the Rowdy one. The fact is when forced to work, or when she pursues a finish Nunes activity and athletic ability show signs of fatigue as the volume and explosiveness present early in fights falls to the wayside.

3) Spot Duty – At her most effective Nunes is not engaged in prolonged exchanges on the feet or on the ground; she is much like ATT compatriot and fellow champion Tyron Woodley in that she fights in spots. Woodley likes to neutralize opposition, taking away their ability or willingness to find the spaces where they can open up offensively, or assert their game plans; Nunes has followed suit in a similar fashion and for a similar reason which is that both have concerns about their ability to thrive in a fight where the pace maintains or worse yet gets built up each round.

The difference is Nunes seeks to pressure opponents, by keeping them on the back foot she takes control of the cage and forces them into a defensive role, one 95% of mixed martial artists can’t play convincingly, limiting their attempts to initiate or counter her with strikes or clinch and takedown attempts due to them being under duress, as well as being reactionary. It’s harder for fighters who aren’t accustomed to fighting off the back foot, to do so with even middling success because it goes against the nature and training of most fighters. This helps her control the pace of the fight and the amount of volume thrown by either fighter because she is pushing fighters back which hindering any attempts at initiating or countering offense whether it’s a strike, clinch or takedown.

2) Can’t Teach Talent -Nunes is an attribute-based striker/fighter. A lot of her success in plying her trade as a striker is rooted in her physical durability, her physical strength, her explosiveness, and her punching power unlike the majority of girls in the division (outside of Rousey), Nunes can hit for power, not for average. This means that she can set or change the tone of a fight with any single strike, which affects both her efficiency on offense and her consistency on defense, as most fighters are wary of getting into exchanges with her or attempting to walk her down to set up takedowns with strikes. The ability to end fights with one shot changes the dynamic of most fights.

On top of her physical strength and her explosiveness (which enhance her ability to determine where the fights take place, as she can explode into takedowns or out of bad positions on the ground) Nunes also has the strength to bully opponents in the clinch, control them on the ground, and physically wrench them off when they attempt single, doubles, trips, or body lock type takedowns. You have an explanation as to why they are not forced to work, allowed to dictate the direction a fight moves and able to dictate where a fight takes place, as well as how and when a fight is finished. There are better, more diverse and more layered strikers, wrestlers and grapplers  than Nunes just like there are better and more developed basketball players than Lebron James; but just like you can’t teach the set of tools James brings to the table, you can’t teach the set of tools Nunes does either.

The margin of error and level of comfort these attributes create allow for a fighter to be poised, disciplined and intelligent in how they approach and adjust to a fight. Because fighters won’t take the risks (opening up offensively), apply the pressure (cutting the cage down behind a jab) or use the tactics (repeated takedown attempts/scrambles) necessary to expose limitations in their technical skill set and physical tool kit.

1) Can Pitch, Can’t Catch – Nunes isn’t soft or mentally weak; but she is a fighter used to working with certain guarantees in a fight, that she will be the bigger stronger more durable more explosive fighter. She is also used to working under the assumption that her opposition cannot stand up when forced to bear the brunt of these attributed and that knowledge will have them fighting scared at worse or in an extremely cautious manner at best.

As stated earlier this allows her to dictate terms of engagement, length of engagement and pace of engagement; when she does this she is very effective, as shown in fights versus Tate, McMann, and Rousey. But when she has overplayed her hand and been put on the defensive, her defensive responsibility, counters and escapes tend to fall apart as stated versus Zingano she was sublime in her savagery, aggression and athleticism. But once she began to tire, she showed no way of slowing the fight, working her way into a better position or turning the fight with a submission; even when she won versus Shevchenko in the first fight she had no ability to effectively defend herself or slow the fight or regain control, instead she sought to survive. Begging the question had she been in with a more punishing, physical or physically gifted fighter would she in fact have eked out that win. In loss to Sarah D’alelio, where she was out hustled to a decision loss and the split decision win over Shevchenko we saw that when Nunes was not in complete control she was neither as dynamic, efficient or dominating as she is when she is indeed determining where and how a fight goes.

Secondly when she has tired Nunes hasn’t been nearly the same as when she is fresh, and I don’t mean from a technical perspective; I mean in regards to body language and will to fight back. Holly Holm, Justin Gaethje, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Eddie Alvarez, Valerie Letourneau, Ronda Rousey, Carlos Condit went down swinging when roles were reversed. Sometimes the fight turned other times the fight ended in favor of their opponents; but when Nunes has been put under the duress she has put other under, when she has been forced to take a quarter of the abuse she has inflicted on others she has folded either being stopped or being outworked to decision losses.

Amanda Nunes is one of the better all-round mixed martial artists, having won multiple fights over a variety of opponent’s and styles in a variety ways (decisions, knockouts and submissions). Nunes isn’t world class with her wrestling, grappling or striking, she is very effective in all ranges.

Though attribute based, her striking is rooted in solid fundamentals defined by tight circular movement and surprisingly efficient footwork given her superior athleticism (cheat code). Nunes feints and fakes are excellent; they create openings and draw out attacks for her to counter which helped her develop into the aggressive and systematic counter-striker you see now. The meat and potatoes of her game are her crushing low kicks and carefully times punching combinations; in clinches she flashes technical skill, but as stated earlier she has the ability to bull her way in and manhandle most opponents. Especially given that the majority of girls in the division lack the skill to neutralize her physicality or physicality to neutralize her skills, Nunes wrestling/grappling game is opportunistic at best. It’s not nearly defined as her striking, but she can create opportunities to assert herself in that area as a side effect of her balanced and dynamic striking style as she has developed a solid set of body lock, trips and reactive shot takedowns.

Amanda Nunes may very well be the most destructive and dynamic fighter in the history of women’s bantamweight in the eyes of some, she already is. But the fact of the matter is she isn’t unstoppable; while blessed with an abundance of physical skills, a practiced and measured fight strategy. As well as a poise and ability to execute that is a direct result of the many physical and technical advantages she lords over the division, she is still vulnerable when forced to work, still picks her spots to fight and has clear defensive and offensive limitations when she isn’t allowed to dictate how and where a fight goes.

Though she has to be favored in this fight on Saturday; the film says there is no reason for Nunes, her camp or her fans to be sure of anything. As Pennington has the will, skill, versatility and durability necessary to push she and more importantly beat her.