Amanda Nunes entered her latest bantamweight title defense expecting to face Holly Holm at her most elusive and tactical.
What she got was something else entirely.
Nunes couldn’t explain it, but there was something off about Holm on Saturday during their co-main event bout at UFC 239 in Las Vegas. Known for her methodical striking, Holm, a former UFC and boxing champion, did not shy away from engaging more directly with Nunes, a fighter who has developed a reputation as one of MMA’s most feared finishers.
Perhaps Holm should have practiced caution as she normally does, because after a brief feeling-out process, Nunes set up a head kick that landed clean across the front of Holm’s head and she was too dazed to stop Nunes from finishing with follow-up punches. Making the ending particularly shocking was that Holm had previously never been knocked out in MMA competition.
At the evening’s post-fight press conference, Nunes told reporters that she saw a different Holm than she’d seen in the past, so she resorted to an alternate strategy that produced yet another highlight for her reel.
“She showed up differently tonight,” Nunes said. “I thought Holly was going to move a lot, I thought she was going to in and out, run a little bit, try to clinch me, but she stayed still there. I have to do something else, I have to do Plan B because my first one was chase her and she kind of showed up different and it was better for me how she showed up tonight.”
Nunes said it was her front kick to Holm’s mid-section that would later set up the head kick finish. As Holm became more hesitant and protective of her torso, Nunes started to seen an opening that she could exploit.
It helped that Nunes had been drilling the perfect combination for a scenario like the one Holm presented to her on Saturday.
“This weekend I was in the hotel room, me and Nina (Ansaroff) started practicing hook, straight, and finish with the [head] kick. Because I knew she was going to run that way,” Nunes said. “Every time before I sleep we always do it over and over until like, ‘I might catch her with this one. I’m gonna do this.’
“I have the best coaches in the world and we do this over and over, it was something that I have the whole time that I haven’t had the chance to show yet, but tonight was a good night to show, I’m very happy about that.”
Nunes mentioned that immediately following Jorge Masvidal’s five-second KO of Ben Askren provided her with an extra boost, describing the vibe at T-Mobile Arena as “awesome.” She snagged a massive knockout win of her own and in doing so may have cleared out the bantamweight division. Nunes also holds the promotion’s featherweight championship, giving her options for her next title defense.
She said she’s keeping an eye on the winners of the July 13 bantamweight matchup between Germaine de Randamie and Aspen Ladd, and the Cris Cyborg-Felicia Spencer featherweight matchup set for July 27.
One thing she won’t be doing anytime soon is rematching Holm, though she didn’t downplay the challenge she faced in dispatching the former UFC bantamweight champion.
“I don’t think it was easy. I think I had very good timing,” Nunes said. “I got the right moment. I didn’t even think Holly expected that. We all know Holly is a pretty tough opponent, but tonight was my night.”