It’s entirely possible Saturday night’s UFC 239 card at T-Mobile Arena featured both the best male and female fighters in the organization’s history.
Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones added to his case with yet another successful title defense, even if it was a far-from-dominant split-decision win over Thiago Santos.
Amanda Nunes made an even more compelling argument with a first-round knockout of former champ Holly Holm to retain one of her two UFC titles.
“Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Jon Jones,” Dana White said at the post-event news conference. “That’s the class she’s in now. She’s got (the women’s bantamweight and featherweight belts), and she’s willing to defend them both and she’s healthy. She’s fighting all the best in the world, destroying them and she’s not hurt. She’s in the back skipping around with a big smile on her face. This woman is tough, man. She’s unbelievable. Pound for pound, absolutely one of the greatest of all time.”
With the win over Holm, Nunes has now defeated every woman to ever hold either the 135- or 145-pound belts in the UFC. She has a win over the current 125-pound champ for good measure.
“This is about history and continuing to prove I’m better than all these girls in my division,” she said. “I proved it again tonight.”
Raising her profile
Still, there has been a question as to whether her popularity with the fans will ever catch up with her success in the cage.
White said he believes it’s only a matter of time until her greatness is appreciated.
“Amanda Nunes is a star,” he said. “I wouldn’t say before tonight that everybody believed she was the best and everything else, but it gets to a point where you can’t deny it anymore. Amanda Nunes is the (expletive).
“Some people, it just takes a little longer (to be appreciated). Nobody cared about Chuck Liddell until he knocked out Tito Ortiz, that the whole thing blew up and went crazy. Anderson Silva, I remember having conversations about how many times this guy won and he hadn’t really become a star. Then Ronda Rousey bursts on the scene and becomes the biggest thing ever. Same with Conor McGregor.
“It’s different with different people and takes different time. We did a $6 million gate and the numbers were massive tonight for this event in every way. All the numbers are huge and she was a big part of that as the co-main event.”
She may start to become a victim of not being able to find a worthy challenger to generate additional interest after essentially clearing out the competition. Nunes appears intent on once again fighting Cris “Cyborg” Justino at 145 pounds, even though she already ended Justino’s 13-year unbeaten reign back in December.
Justino is set to fight Felicia Spencer at UFC 240 on July 27 with a possible rematch against Nunes on the line.
Regardless, Nunes says she next wants to defend the featherweight belt and continue to be active in both divisions.
Show him the money
Jones is also tempted by a move outside his division to challenge for the heavyweight belt, but he says the reward has to be tempting enough in terms of financial incentives.
For now, he’s content continuing to dispatch of all the rising challengers at 205 pounds.
“My passion is at the light heavyweight division,” he said. “There’s so many guys that are coming up right now, and there’s so much work to do be done still. People always say, ‘Jon, you’ve cleared your division.’ I don’t look at it that way. I’m impressed by all the fighters. There’s so many guys.”
He first claimed the belt in the division in 2011 and has won 12 straight fights since, with the only interruption to his reign coming as the result of legal troubles and questionable drug tests.
“These guys now are younger than him and have been kinder to themselves outside the octagon then he has been,” White said. “This stage of his career is really what’s going to define him as the greatest.”
Both fighters continued to stake their claim to the title on Saturday and now await worthy adversaries to help further make the case.
UFC 239 by the numbers
Perfomance bonues ($50,000): Jorge Masvidal, Amanda Nunes, Yadong Song, Jan Blachowicz