When Amanda Nunes defends her women's bantamweight title tonight live from Rio de Janeiro against Raquel Pennington, the fight itself will pale in comparison to its true historical significance.
Pennington is openly lesbian and she is engaged to UFC strawweight fighter Tecia Torres. Nunes is openly lesbian and she has been in a public relationship with fellow UFC fighter Nina Ansaroff.
Tonight's UFC 224 bout celebrates inclusion as this is the first championship match by two openly gay competitors.
Jimmy Smith breaks down the title fight between defending champ Amanda Nunes and #2 contender Raquel Pennington ahead of UFC 224: Nunes vs Pennington this Saturday, May 12 only on Pay-Per-View. Subscribe to get all the latest UFC content: http://bit.ly/2uJRzRR Experience UFC live with UFC FIGHT PASS, the digital subscription service of the UFC.
Nunes became the champion at UFC 200 when she defeated Miesha Tate via rear-naked choke in the first round. At the time, she was one of the first openly gay fighters in the UFC and the first to win a title. Since then, more and more women competitors feel comfortable being open and honest with their truth.
When Liz Carmouche faced then-UFC champion Ronda Rousey at UFC 157, she was the first gay competitor to challenge for a UFC championship. Women in combat sports have excelled faster in mixed martial arts than boxing, both professionally and culturally. The veil of taboo that lingers over the men's ranks doesn't exist in MMA and tonight's event is the culmination of reversed repression that began when Dana White opened the women's ranks in the UFC.
Neither Nunes or Pennington have the ideal professional records. Both have losses and share being finished by Cat Zingano, yet each also has had enough big wins to warrant this moment in their respective careers. This fight is not a dog and pony show of women fighters who have more value in their faces than in their fists. No, these ladies can bang.
On Episode 1 of UFC 224 Embedded, strawweight Mackenzie Dern reflects on a lifetime spent in jiu-jitsu, and middleweight Kelvin Gastelum wraps his camp with a sparring day. Women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes gets a massage at home, then packs alongside her girlfriend, strawweight Nina Ansaroff.
Nunes obliterated Ronda Rousey in less than a minute on her feet with a standup game that is now legendary. Her win via technical knockout due to punches was even more impactful as Rousey was returning after a year-long hiatus prompted by losing the bantamweight title to Holly Holm. The fight sent Rousey to the WWE and was an unofficial torch pass to the new women's bantamweight division.
Pennington is currently on a four-fight win streak but has been out of competition since UFC 205 in 2016. Still, both she and Nunes are not the darlings of the UFC. Nunes viciously took down the Rousey marquee one punch at a time, and although she wears the belt, lower level fighters like Paige Van Zant get all the marketing push and subsequent sponsorship. The fact that she is a blonde haired, blue-eyed beauty that happens to fight, like Ronda Rousey, is not lost on anyone paying attention.
“I know I’m not the beautiful girl and I don’t have the blonde hair and the blue eyes," Nunes said to Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports. "I am not the kind of face the UFC wants to put out there, but I’m OK with that.”
UFC 224 is a homecoming for Nunes, who now lives in South Florida but is from Brazil. As she steps into the cage against yet another brave warrior living in their truth, know that it is a true full circle moment of acceptance and celebration of the athletic abilities of two women unafraid to be who they are with the bright lights shining brighter than ever over MMA's acceptance of them.