In contrast to her ferocity in the cage, Amanda Nunes is about as nice and gregarious a person as the current UFC roster has to offer.
That's all well and good for interviewers like me, but this Saturday at UFC 277, Nunes will have to make sure she recaptures her edge. The women's MMA GOAT will need nothing less if she is to gain her revenge against Julianna Pena, who now holds the UFC women's bantamweight strap that belonged to Nunes for five years.
Nunes, who is still the UFC women's featherweight champ, admitted after the shocking loss to Pena back in December that she was distracted and indulging in the spoils of success. Honestly, who can blame her? As one of only four fighters to simultaneously hold two UFC belts, she's earned it.
Still, onlookers noted her lack of stamina in the fight, which saw Pena overcome an early battering to outbox and eventually choke out the Brazilian in the second round. Nunes would later attribute it to an incomplete camp and struggles brought on by a bout with COVID-19 and a knee injury. However, a simple lack of commitment in the gym before the camp remained a part of the narrative in the run-up to the rematch. The rivalry with Pena was further enhanced by the two coaching opposite each other on the 30th season of The Ultimate Fighter.
In advance of Saturday's main event at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas, Bleacher Report spoke to Nunes about her preparation for the rematch with Pena—and what she's doing to correct past mistakes.
Had you done any coaching before The Ultimate Fighter?
Nunes: Back in the day, I used to coach little kids in judo and jiu-jitsu, but nothing at the professional level. It was mainly just to help out, help my partners. But I enjoyed it a lot, doing that.
Did you enjoy coaching on the show?
Nunes: It was a very good experience for me. At first I was a little bit nervous to coach them, I'm not gonna lie to you. I wanted to be sure I was able to help. I was especially nervous to coach the guys. They were heavyweight guys. (laughs) I didn't have much experience; [partner] Nina [Ansaroff] had more experience with coaching than me. She has been in a lot of corners before. She was there to help me on the show. But once we started, I started to make friendship with all of them and talk to them. The heavyweight guys had such open minds. The girls, too. Maybe coaching is something I could do in the future. I don't know.
What did you learn about Julianna Pena during TUF?
Nunes: (pauses) I just think that Julianna Pena is a very weird person.
Nunes: I don't know. She's just weird for me. She always has these different vibes. Nothing against her. Nothing personal. She's just weird.
Let's talk about your camp for the rematch. For the first bout, you had COVID-19 and a knee injury. Have you had better luck the second time around?
Nunes: Yes, definitely. I had a full camp this time. The first camp was hard. Because of COVID, I was struggling a little bit with my lungs. But the big thing was my knees. I wasn't able to move how I like to move in training because everything was hurting. So I was training one day, then taking two days off. It wasn't how I wanted to do things. But that's how it is.
Your original camp didn't seem to go so well for several reasons.
Nunes: Yes, we all make mistakes. Sometimes I have a hard head; I don't want to listen. And [the Pena loss] was what I got for it. But we all have to move forward. I'm not going to stop doing what I love to do. So I had to learn. I feel like now I know how to lose. You lose, but you move forward. I know what I have to do to come back to the top again.
You and others had suggested that coming into the fight you were a little too comfortable with success, that maybe you weren't as motivated as you had been in the past.
Nunes: That is true, too! Man, I did this for seven years. You don't think I can enjoy a little bit? I always say that the UFC changed my life. They really believe in me. Everything I've ever asked of them, they've done for me.
But I still have a long way to go. I want to fight until I'm 40. But I wanted to enjoy for a while. I didn't lose the belt just because of that. I still want to win. I still trained. I did everything that I could in that camp, you know what I mean? Being in pain, and with my lungs being bad, I still stepped in the cage.
But yes. I do want to enjoy my life. A lot of people want to be in my position. A lot of fighters want to be able to enjoy life, and I'm happy to be able to.