A little over 18 months ago, Amanda Nunes was getting close to the point where she might retire.
One of the most shocking outcomes in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) occurred when Julianna Pena defeated Cris Cyborg, a 35-year-old Brazilian double champion who is widely recognized as the finest ever women’s mixed martial artist. Cyborg had held the bantamweight title for more than five years.
Nunes, who also holds the featherweight belt, is the only woman to ever have two championships in the promotion. She has defeated a number of former champions, including Cris Cyborg, Ronda Rousey, and Valentina Shevchenko. Nunes is currently the only woman to ever hold two titles in the promotion.
But as Nunes evaluated her future in the sport, she realized that her brilliant CV was missing one thing: the opportunity to revenge a title loss.
“Sometimes you are in a sad spot, like I was when I lost my belt, but the motivation came back,” Nunes told BBC Sport.
“Obviously I didn’t want to lose the belt, but that experience was interesting because I was sad – but it was a different type of sadness.
“It made me hungry like the beginning of my career. Everything came together again. Fire, hungry to train, to do good and gave me a second motivation.”
Nunes made changes, leaving MMA academy American Top Team and setting up her own gym in Florida, before regaining her title in convincing fashion six months later to become the UFC’s first two-time double champion.
On Saturday she will aim to draw on her newfound motivation when she defends the bantamweight title against Mexico’s Irene Aldana at UFC 289 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, Canada.
Part of Nunes is thankful for the defeat by Pena as it helped her break more records and prolong her career, setting up the fight with Aldana.
“When I lost the belt it made me better. I made a lot of adjustments in my life as a human and a fighter,” said Nunes.
“I think even for the fans, too. The fans were like ‘oh my god, now she’s going to get the belt and become the champion again’, so I feel like it was good because a lot of champions they lose the belt and are never able to get it again – they fall apart.”
‘I feel the fans will miss me when I retire’
Nunes is towards the end of a stellar career which has spanned 15 years, 27 fights and included two of the most dominant title reigns in UFC history.
Before her defeat by Pena, Nunes was on a 12-fight winning streak which included seven title defences across bantamweight and featherweight.
Pundits and fellow fighters, like light-heavyweight Anthony Smith, have speculated when Nunes may retire, but she says it is a decision that will be made on instinct.
“I think that is an open thing – I have to decide when I feel,” said Nunes.
“Before I feel I cannot say ‘oh, it’s going to be the last’ or whatever, because I have to feel it inside the cage. When everything is done I’ll know from that.”
Nunes says her achievements inside the octagon have already cemented her legacy as “the best champion ever who never gave up”.
“I broke a lot of records. I lost the belt, I got the belt back. I was a busy champion,” she said.
“I definitely made my life very busy, going up and down divisions, defending the belts and making the fans eager to see me every time I step in the cage.
“I feel the fans are going to miss me [when I retire] and that’s a good feeling – to make so much history that people will be like ‘man, I wish she would be able to keep going’.”
‘I can’t wait to see what Aldana brings’
Nunes was originally set to face Pena in a trilogy fight before the former champion pulled out with injury last month and was replaced by Aldana.
Aldana last fought in September, stunning Macy Chiasson with a rare up-kick finish, and has won 14 of her 20 fights in an 11-year career, including four of her past five.
Nunes is excited for the fresh challenge the 35-year-old brings.
“She knows how to use her reach, has good boxing and can knock me out too, so I have to be aware, fast, composed, powerful and make her pay,” said Nunes.
“I have a bunch of things I have to do to make her play my game. I have my wrestling, I have my ground game, I need to mix it up.
“I’m excited for this. I can’t wait to see what she’s going to bring to the fight.”