Will Unheralded Felicia Spencer Teach Amanda Nunes a Lesson at UFC 250?

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJune 6, 2020

NORFOLK, VA - FEBRUARY 29:  Felicia Spencer poses for a post fight portrait backstage during the UFC Fight Night event at Chartway Arena on February 29, 2020 in Norfolk, Virginia. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Mike Roach/Getty Images

Some unsolicited advice to middle school students in Florida:

Get your homework in on time.

Because your docile online math teacher just might be a badass MMA fighter, too.

Then again, if things go especially well this weekend, she'll probably be a bit more lenient for the next few assignments. Because she'll have happily changed her nameplate to "Badass UFC Champion."

"I'm feeling great. I'm excited. My team's excited," said Felicia Spencer, who'll tangle with Amanda Nunes atop Saturday night's UFC 250 pay-per-view from Las Vegas. "We're just soaking it in. It feels crazy that it's finally here. It's been a long time coming. It feels good to be almost at fight night."

Indeed, though she's been a pro for barely five years, Spencer's winding path to a UFC title shot began with a six-fight stint in the Invicta FC promotion, where she was crowned champion in November 2018.

She debuted in the UFC on a Fight Night show the following spring and was in the co-main event at UFC 240 exactly 70 days later—rendering Cris Cyborg a bloody mess but dropping a unanimous decision.

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - JULY 27:   (R-L) Cris Cyborg of Brazil battles Felicia Spencer of Canada in their featherweight bout during the UFC 240 event at Rogers Place on July 27, 2019 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Jeff Bottari/Getty Images
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A first-round erasure of Zarah Fairn in February was a return to the win column and yielded the match with Nunes, though its initial May 9 date was pushed back four weeks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rescheduled shot will come at the UFC Apex facility, with no fans in the building.

But it's OK with Spencer, who's climbed the competitive ladder in a low-profile manner while holding down a gig as a sixth-grade algebra instructor from her home base near Orlando.

She moved to Florida from her native Canada and attended high school in Englewood, then graduated from the University of Central Florida and has since been both a classroom and virtual teacher.

Still, while some would strut down hallways or burst into meeting rooms with title belts and other evidence of extracurricular endeavors, Spencer said her outside activities are discussed only when someone happens to ask.

"If a kid brought it up or a parent, then it was not anything I shied away from," she said. "I've been in the classroom as well, and the first day in the classroom, everyone knew that I was a fighter.

"In the virtual school, I think there was less Googling your teacher or just figuring out who your teacher is. So, I don't think that most knew of my other life, but usually it was students who were also aspiring to be a great athlete or stuff like that. It was cool to have conversations when they came up, but it was a lot more rare than I would have expected or that you would have guessed."

Also rare is finding someone outside her team who believes she'll topple Nunes.

John Locher/Associated Press

The reigning featherweight champ doubles as the UFC's bantamweight champ and is widely considered history's greatest female mixed martial artist. She's won 10 straight bouts since a TKO loss to Cat Zingano in 2014, only going the distance three times while disposing of high-profile opponents like Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey, Cyborg and Holly Holm within a single round.

She's a 6-1 favorite of linemakers at the Caesars Casino, too, and, at least according to a column posted by Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole, doesn't seem to be all that concerned with Spencer.

"She has nothing to lose, and she's going to make me be ready for everything," Nunes said. "She doesn't have that much, to be honest, and I see holes. I see these holes and I know how to take advantage."

If she's at all insulted by the slight, Spencer doesn't show it.

And rather than be discouraged by her imminent foe's acclaim, she insists she revels in it.

"I love it. She is great. And that just makes it even better when I win," Spencer said. "I hope people do value her. All of her accomplishments are real. Everything that she's done is real. She's made a statement in her career, and now it's just time for me to make mine. I hope people do hold her up in high regard; it'll just make it that much sweeter when I win."

Exactly how that could occur is a mystery, though some have made suggestions.

Typical analysis on the internet envisions a Spencer victory via late-round stoppage after a fight in which the challenger either survives or evades a striking onslaught, then gets it to the ground and runs Nunes' gas tank dry while chasing a submission with skills that earned her a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Four of Spencer's eight career wins have come by rear-naked choke, including a fourth-round defeat of Pam Sorenson for the Invicta FC featherweight title. Nunes, on the other hand, has submitted only three of 17 career victims and was beaten by an armbar applied by Ana Maria India in 2008.

"I think she does (have a great chance)," said Chael Sonnen, a three-time UFC title challenger, on ESPN's Ariel & The Bad Guy show. "To tell you that this is going to be a competitive fight and that they're going to work and they're going to go some rounds, I feel very confident."

Spencer is quite aware of the smart-money viewpoint and sees validity in it, but she refused to commit to a specific Saturday night battle plan—or at least one that she was willing to share.

Instead, she said, she'll be able to win largely because she refuses to lose.

"What I know I bring to the table is a lot of pressure and a lot of things that are unusual from what people are used to getting in a fight," she said. "Most people would say that my advantage would be on the ground, which I can't argue, but I'm very comfortable everywhere. I feel like I can adapt in a split second, and when there's an opening, I'm able to take it.

"I'm not just here to show up and fight. I feel like in any position and in any situation in the fight, I'll be able to take control of it and impose my will. I don't think it's going to be a cakewalk. I don't anticipate a first-round or a second-round or maybe even a third-round finish, but I do believe I can finish the fight before the five rounds are up."

And if that happens, well...let's just say the middle-schoolers can relax a bit.

The teaching gig may wait awhile.

"I can always go back to teaching. I cannot ever come back to this type of an opportunity," the 29-year-old said. "We'll see where life takes me. I'm full-in UFC fighter now. It's my only profession, and I'll take advantages of opportunities that come (after Saturday).

"I'm not expecting a version of Amanda that's not ready to go five rounds. It's not really part of a game plan to just make it to Round 4 and then capitalize. I'm not counting on just outlasting. I don't want to outlast her. I want to finish her. I want to win every round. The last time I had a five-round title fight, I finished in the fourth round. It was a tough fight and I can see it being sort of similar."

      

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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