The game of hot potato involving the UFC Women’s Bantamweight championship in the wake of Ronda Rousey’s title loss last year continued on Saturday when Amanda Nunes obliterated Miesha Tate to take the 135-pound belt in the UFC 200 main event.
One year after announcing UFC 200, the marquee event finally went down at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The card underwent a bevy of changes in that time, from a headliner of Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz to Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier to Brock Lesnar vs. Mark Hunt and finally, the matchup between Nunes and Tate.
Nunes (13-4 MMA, 6-1 UFC) used that platform to deliver her best performance to date. She hurt Tate (18-6, 5-3) with strikes just minutes after the fight began, breaking the nose of “Cupcake.” Shortly thereafter, Nunes took advantage of her dazed opponent by climbing on the back and locking in a rear-naked choke to force the title-winning submission at the 3:15 mark of Round 1.
The new champion said the fight went exactly as expected, and now that she has the belt, she’s willing to defend it against all comers – that includes Rousey.
“My plan for this fight was working my patience – I know the whole time I have everything to beat Miesha,” Nunes said. “I wanted to take my time and wait for the best moment. I did it tonight.
“I’m the champion now,” she continued. “Whatever the UFC wants. I’m the champion now.”
Although Tate entered the fight with a glowing confidence she would keep the belt and move on to notable matchups against the likes of Rousey and Holly Holm, her plan was thwarted in crushing fashion.
Tate was humble in defeat and claims not to have overlooked her foe. She had a hard road to gaining the belt, nearly retiring from competition along the way. To lose it in her first defense was heartbreaking, but Tate promised not let it deter her from working back to her former glory.
“It was a long road but I think that’s my personality, I’m kind of a juggernaut when it comes to this sport,” Tate said. “One fight doesn’t make or break me. I’m obviously disappointed in what I did but I made that mistake. I knew Amanda was a fast starter and I got under fire a little too much and she caught me and I wasn’t able to recover.”
Prior to Nunes’ title-winning upset, former UFC Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar (6-3, 5-3) made his highly anticipated return to the Octagon. He looked better than ever in a three-round unanimous decision over heavy-hitter Mark Hunt (12-11-1, 7-5-1).
Lesnar, who is also a famed professional wrestler for WWE, hadn’t competed in MMA since a December 2011 loss to Alistair Overeem. He officially retired from the sport last year, claiming he would never be seen again. He made a surprise return for UFC 200, though, vowing that the sickness that plagued him in his previous UFC run was a thing of the past.
Lesnar showed up in a big way in his first fight in more than four years, scoring multiple key takedowns and pounding on Hunt with hard punches to secure the first and third rounds on the judges’ scorecards.
Before the fight, Lesnar was in a serious mood during all his interviews. He was unwilling to commit to a future with the UFC beyond his encounter with Hunt, and that was still the case afterward. Lesnar’s immediate plans include a return to WWE for a scheduled match with Randy Orton at SummerSlam on August 21st.
Lesnar wouldn’t reveal whether the UFC fight was a contractual one-off or if he can return again in the future. What he did reveal, however, is that whatever happens next, it will be his call.
“Brock Lesnar does what Brock Lesnar wants to do,” Lesnar said after the fight. “I believe that my future is already laid out for the next month. Once the dust settles there, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I had one hell of a time tonight, and I enjoyed myself, so we’ll see what happens.”
Lesnar, who turns 39 this month, has to decide whether he wants to make another run in MMA, since his window is seemingly closing each day. He looked as athletic and explosive as he ever has, though, and was able to handle an opponent in Hunt that’s had more fights in the past three years than Lesnar’s had in his entire career.
“I’ve been gone five years, I step into the Octagon tonight, a guy ranked Number Eight in the world,” he said. “You can write what you want to write, but I think I’m the toughest son of a bitch, and it puts me right in the game. Granted, I’ve got some work to do, but don’t we all? If I want to make that decision to keep fighting, I will. I’m a 39-year-old man, and I’m pretty proud of myself.”
Although UFC 200 was loaded with noteworthy contests, perhaps the most significant storyline of all was Anderson Silva’s (33-8 MMA, 16-4 UFC) heroic decision to fight UFC Light Heavyweight champion Cormier (18-1, 7-1) on just two days’ notice.
At the beginning, Cormier was slated to rematch Jon Jones in the main event of UFC 200. However, just three days out from the event the UFC announced Jones had been flagged for a potential anti-doping violation and would be pulled from the card in a shocking turn of events.
Cormier was devastated to lose the chance to fight Jones, who handed him his only career loss in their first meeting at UFC 182 in January 2015. He still wanted to compete, though, and that’s when Silva offered his services to fight up a weight class against one of the sport’s elite competitors.
Fans praised Silva, the former longtime UFC Middleweight titleholder and future Hall of Famer, more than any other fighter as he made his way to the cage as a better underdog for the first time in more than a decade. His moments of glory were few and far between after that, however, because Cormier had his way with “The Spider” over the course of three rounds and picked up the lopsided decision win.
Although Cormier’s biggest strength is his wrestling, and he routinely wins fights by taking opponents to the ground, the live crowd despised his strategy of taking Silva down round over round. Silva showed strong defensive instincts by avoiding submissions and serious damage, and Cormier said he did his best after an emotionally draining week that saw him scheduled against arguably the two best fighters the sport has ever seen in Jones and Silva.
“I can’t really pay attention to that any more,” Cormier said of negative crowd reaction to his fight. “The first time it happened, I got angry. I tried to explain it, and it just didn’t make any sense. Now, I can’t really try and dictate people’s emotions. I can only take care of what I can take care of.
“People don’t understand the situation that I’ve been in over the course of this last week,” he continued. “For me to go out there and get a victory over someone like Anderson Silva, that’s enough for me.”
Other notable winners at UFC 200 included Jose Aldo (26-2, 8-1), who captured the interim UFC Featherweight championship with a unanimous decision victory over Frankie Edgar (20-5-1, 14-5-1) in a rematch of their February 2013 bout at UFC 156, and Cain Velasquez (14-2, 12-2), who returned to action for the first time since losing the UFC Heavyweight title last year with a first-round thrashing of Travis Browne (18-4-1, 9-4-1).
Aldo last appeared in the Octagon at UFC 194 in December when he was knocked out in a championship fight record 13 seconds by Conor McGregor to lose the 145-pound belt he held for nearly five years.
McGregor is currently occupied with a scheduled rematch against Nate Diaz at UFC 202 next month, but promised to return to his weight class after that to defend the title. “The Notorious” was sitting cage-side at the event in Las Vegas, and after the fight, Aldo sent a clear message to his rival about his plans for their seemingly inevitable rematch.
“He can be sure that next time I catch him here he’s not going to be as lucky as he was the first time,” Aldo said through an interpreter. “I’m prepared and we can fight right now if we wanted to. We’ll see if he keeps his word and, if not, I’ll have to find somewhere else to fight him.”