Amanda Nunes shuns fame, embraces lack of UFC promotion: ‘I’m not the beautiful girl’

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Amanda Nunes refers to herself as “a simple girl who loves my job.” Her job, of course, is separating other highly trained women from their senses with the magical power in her fists.

Nunes, the UFC women’s bantamweight champion, is a fierce competitor whose professional goals include racking up a long series of title defenses and establishing herself as one of the best to do it.

Doing so, though, would coincide with her primary life goal: Enjoying her friends and family and living a quiet life away from the spotlight and the trappings of celebrity.

She’ll put her title on the line Saturday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, against Valentina Shevchenko in the co-main event of UFC 215, one of the most compelling women’s bouts the UFC could make.

Nunes possesses great punching power and a varied game that give her the ability, if she remains focused and in control, to do things in the sport most women could never even dream of accomplishing.

Amanda Nunes poses during the UFC 213 ceremonial weigh-ins in Las Vegas. (AP)

Fulfilling that vast potential comes with a potential downside: Fame. The more successful and dominant an athlete is, the more famous he or she becomes. And it’s something Nunes has thought much about.

“I don’t want to be in an airplane all the time, flying around and making appearances,” Nunes said. “I wouldn’t enjoy my life like that. My life is good. I travel a bit, I can have fun but I like to stay at home and spend time with my family.”

Nunes’ competitive side got the best of her following UFC 207, when she obliterated Ronda Rousey in just 48 seconds in her first title defense. The focus of the promotion was almost entirely on Rousey and it was difficult for Nunes not to feel ignored.

It hurt her pride that she was forced to take a backseat in the fight’s build-up to the uber-popular Rousey, an ex-champion who was making her return to the game after more than 13 months away.

She expressed her disappointment with that at the time and brought it up again this week unsolicited in a conversation with Yahoo Sports.

“The name of Ronda Rousey is No. 1 in the UFC and everyone knows this,” Nunes said. “I’m not famous like that. I’m a girl who loves to fight, that’s all. When you become a UFC fighter, you know it’s going to change a little and you’ll get a certain amount [of attention], but when you fight Ronda Rousey, they will promote her and no one else. It’s Ronda, Ronda, Ronda and not everyone else.”

As she speaks, it sounds as if she’s bitter at a slight from eight months ago. Old wounds heal slowly and her pride was dented when she was shunted to the background despite entering the bout at UFC 207 as the champion.

But as she speaks, she makes a surprising pivot. Fans mob Rousey wherever she goes and was in such demand from the media that by the time she fought Nunes, she had instituted a media blackout.

That’s not the kind of life Nunes wants for herself, and especially not for her family and friends, so she accepts the notion that no matter how good she becomes, she’s never going to be another Rousey.

“I honestly don’t care in this moment,” Nunes said. “If they want to promote me, make me a focus, cool. That’s good for both of us and there would be more money for me, of course. But if no, if they don’t want to promote me, that’s cool, too. I have money. I made more money than I ever thought.

“And I would hate it if I had to get a bodyguard to be with me everywhere I go. No. I don’t want that. I want to be able to walk around like a normal person. I don’t want my family to have to go through that.”

Still, the champions the UFC throws its promotional might behind – Rousey, Conor McGregor, Chuck Liddell, Georges St-Pierre, among many others – wind up making the most money and getting to call the shots.

Nunes took extraordinary heat from the fan base as well as from UFC president Dana White after she pulled out of a bout with Shevchenko set for UFC 213 in July at the last moment. She was cleared by a doctor, but because of a sinus issue, chose not to fight. Nunes defended her decision and noted she has no history of pulling out of fights.

“The people who criticize, they don’t know anything about me and they aren’t going to pay my bills [if I lose because I’m sick],” she said.

But her decision put the UFC in a difficult spot as a major pay-per-view was to unfold without its main event.

Nunes regrets what happened from a business standpoint and said she felt she had no choice but to pull out. But the first time matchmaker Sean Shelby approached her about rescheduling, she agreed to the terms without complaint.

She points out that while Shevchenko trained and incurred expenses for that July fight that never happened, the UFC chose to pay Shevchenko. Nunes had the same expenses and wasn’t paid. She came out of it worse than anyone.

So as she moves forward, she’s not expecting the UFC to suddenly make her the focal point of its marketing and public relations campaigns.

“I know I’m not the beautiful girl and I don’t have the blonde hair and the blue eyes,” Nunes said. “I am not the kind of face the UFC wants to put out there, but I’m OK with that. I’m going to live my life and be happy. If the UFC decides to promote me that would be awesome, but I trust them. The UFC knows what they are doing.

“If they think they should promote someone else, fine. Just give me the fights and let me do my job and I will be happy. Whatever the UFC decides is fine with me. I’m just a fighter and that’s just what I want to do more than anything else: Let me fight.”

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