Amanda Nunes vs. Megan Anderson co-headlines UFC 259 this March 6, 2021 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, United States.
One sentence summary
David: The Lioness vs. Tall Girl from Netflix
Phil: Maybe this lady can win because big and punch...?
Record: Amanda Nunes 20-4 Megan Anderson 11-4
Odds: Amanda Nunes -900 Megan Anderson +700
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: Amanda Nunes has nothing left to prove, but here we are. Normally I hate that phrase. “Nothing left to prove” - why compete in the first place, then? There’s always something to prove: whether it’s that you’re still the champ, faded but not obsolete, or that you can and beat the tall girl in the division. Which undercuts my point, but I guess a girl’s gotta eat. This really is a pointless fight as far as title fights go. Nunes is thinking about her future beyond the cage, and even though it’s already there, Anderson is a warm body who would love nothing more than to make people like us eat our words with a cheese grater.
Phil: This victory lap stage of Nunes’ career is reminiscent of Okami-era Anderson Silva. The last time there was much real tension around her fights was against Cyborg, and if Holm and de Randamie offered some meaningful threats, they were also very much not favoured to win. Unlike Silva, there are few dangers waiting in the wings for Nunes, so serving up warm bodies until she leaves the sport seems to be the order of the day.
David: Anderson is 3-2 in the UFC. Her biggest win was a bizarre eye injury suffered by Cat Zingano. Megan caused it in the same way Belfort caused Randy Couture to stop fighting in their rematch. Which is to say, Anderson has done very little to actually fight for the title. There’s no bigger indictment than hearing Anderson exclaim “I’m the only fighter on a win streak!” Which is like saying McDonald’s is the only place serving burgers on the corner of Commerce and Main in San Antonio, TX. Credit to the establishment and the work everyone’s putting in, but...Maybe I’m being a little harsh, but Anderson has done nothing more than talk the biggest game and so here we are. I certainly hope it’s a good fight.
Phil: To give some credit to Nunes’ run, this is the first really headscratching challenger. All of the names on her docket are quality fighters in one way or another. Anderson is... big? She once got her toenail stuck in Cat Zingano’s eye? That’s pretty much it.
What’s at stake?
David: Nunes might feel compelled to retire earlier if she gets no resistance. Maybe it’s the opposite, but it’ll be weird if Anderson wins because I can definitely hear a few “welcome to the Anderson era” (in that sense that there can be no other ‘era’) overreactions. Nonetheless, the real stakes are the division itself, and whether it’s got a future when the champ is gone.
Phil: Man it would be weird if Anderson won. Not only would she be a colossal underdog but it doesn’t even feel like there’s any narrative there. It’d be like if... Chris Cariaso beat Demetrious Johnson.
Where do they want it?
David: Nunes hasn’t really had to change much, but she never gets enough credit for being so adaptable. There’s a reason why the Ronda Rousey bloodletting is so one-sided and it’s because Rousey gave it all up so sweet. Nunes was probably seeing things like Terminator’s robotic interface, checking off all the errors, and pinpointing all the vulnerabilities that allowed Nunes to spam the right punches for fear of cognitive overload. It was like watching the car get beat up in SFII. Point is, she has a real mind for offense, when to switch it on, and when to switch it off. The Shevchenko fights were great counterexamples of Nunes being a ‘brawler’ (although I still argue brawling is too often seen as a pejorative, and implies “lacking technique” when that’s not always the case). This is a great fight to showcase her range acumen because Anderson doesn’t commit to big strikes, so Nunes can either make it easy on herself (takedowns, leg kicks, counter rights), or real easy (takedowns, leg kicks, counter rights).
Phil: To her credit, Nunes has not rested on her laurels. Despite being the best athlete in the division(s) she’s gone some way towards being creditably considered the best striker and the best wrestler as well. This doesn’t mean either game is tremendously deep, but being able to throw long, straight punches, a counter left hook, and front kicks while being tall and powerful is going to be enough to deal with pretty much everyone she’s going to run into at bantamweight or featherweight. Similarly, a body lock and top game is enough: perhaps someone like Sarah McMann might have a better pure wrestling game, but she has enough manifest flaws that it doesn’t really matter.
David: For all the criticism directed at Anderson for being an ‘unworthy’ challenger (guilty), she still presents her own string of challenges. Anderson will have a slight reach advantage — although not as much as you’d think given the height disparity — and to the extent that she uses it well, Anderson probes and flicks a lot (even switching stances) in order to lead and land with her rear hand. It makes for a somewhat conservative attack, but an active one. Tyron Woodley she is not. It helps that Anderson is willing to attack the body with her strong hand, as well as knees (which both came in handy and did not come in handy against Holm). Overall, Anderson works a tight, conventional, if-unremarkable game on the feet. Her ground game is where things get a lot less tight, but at least she’s capable of leveraging her frame to scramble up when she can. She won’t show Nunes anything hasn’t seen already, but I think their exchanges should prove a lot of fun.
Phil: Anderson’s main advantages are that she’s huge, powerful and aggressive. Those are at least good traits for an underdog to have! Being willing to sell out on huge moments of offense, varying her targets, and throwing with all four limbs means that she might be able to crack a defense which has largely relied on Nunes being the taller woman in the cage. The disadvantages are that Anderson doesn’t seem to have much actual skill as a striker, and is a simply bad grappler.
Insight from past fights
David: At its absolute worst, this fight could look similar to the Holly Holm fight, where Anderson had moments (read: moment), but was otherwise completely neutralized by ground and air attacks. Nunes has shown an ability to take what’s in front of her, and if that means an easy takedown, so be it. Nunes’ striking prowess doesn’t leave her just because she’s on the ground. With a vicious ground and pound, and a bloodthirsty sub game, I don’t see many interactions where Anderson can pull ahead. Even in matchups where Anderson’s striking was a deciding factor, her opponents were either overmatched and got swarmed, or they literally ran into her punches (Dumont). Nunes will serve her up none of this.
Phil: I think it’s probably the GdR fight, where Nunes hits takedowns to minimize risk. The potential saving grace for those who have to sit through it is that Anderson, while bigger, is a far worse grappler than even Germaine de Randamie, so there’s a solid chance she just gets submitted and we don’t have to sit through five rounds of top control.
David: Nunes’ lingering ankle injury, perhaps? Can’t think of anything legit, but if Anderson has a chance, it’ll come from us not having more to say in this section after the fact.
Phil: Nunes has not been looking like quite her physical self lately, and as mentioned has been considering retiring. If there’s a time for her to get hulk smashed out of the cage inside a round, it’s probably now.
David: This is all Nunes, and I don’t think any added analysis will clarify the talent disparity. Nunes has the power, the speed, the talent, the cardio — Amanda Nunes by TKO, round 2.
Phil: When Nunes wants to take Anderson down, she can. That should be early and unlike Holly Holm, she should be able to get Anderson out of there. Amanda Nunes by submission, round 2.