The UFC chose a great matchup to co-headline its final pay-per-view of 2018: a female superfight between featherweight champion Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino and her bantamweight counterpart Amanda Nunes.
Justino (20-1) hasn’t lost since her pro debut in 2005. Nunes (16-4) is on one of the most impressive runs in the history of the sport, with victories over Valentina Shevchenko, Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate in the past two-and-a-half years.
Which female champion will emerge victorious on Saturday? ESPN spoke with some of the best coaches in the sport to find out.
Javier Mendez, American Kickboxing Academy
Cyborg is a little stronger and a little bigger. And her cardio has proven to be formidable all the way through. For Amanda, her advantage is the technical quickness.
I’m always of the belief, you fight to an opponent’s weaknesses more than their strengths. You have to alter how you attack the game, and Amanda needs to alter because she’s fighting an opponent different than any she’s ever fought. And that can’t happen on the night of the fight or two weeks before a fight. It has to be a good six weeks of preparation.
In this fight, she has to be in and out, but she still has to sit on her punches. If you don’t sit on your punches, Cyborg is not going to respect what you’re doing. If you don’t sit on your punches, she’s going to run you over. So for Amanda, who does have power, she has to work on the quickness of getting into the pocket, releasing, and getting out. You can’t stay there. You can’t plod. You have to jump to the target. You can’t do it any other way. She has to be light on her feet, sit down on the punches, and be light on the way out again. She can’t be flatfooted. That would be a big advantage for Cyborg. I’m going to go with Amanda. I like Amanda, I believe she brings the right game plan to the fight and executes it.
Marc Montoya, Factory X
Cyborg is going to want to stalk her down and put her in position to land one of those bombs she throws, press her against the fence a little bit — be the bully. If I was Nunes, I would bully her back. I would own the center and use my range. I would use feints and takedown attempts, whether they are solid or not, to keep Cyborg guessing and never allow her to get set. I would chip away. In order to move a mountain, you have to move a pebble at a time. That’s how I would look at this fight.
Chip away, chip away — and as she gets frustrated, that’s when you land the ones that count. Everyone I’ve talked to recently says Cyborg will win. I disagree. I think Nunes is going to win that fight. I think she has to have a mentality built around movement, but not the movement that allows Cyborg to chase. If she’s on the perimeter, on the sponsors the whole time, she’ll lose. If she owns the center, uses angles off the center, then regains the center, she’ll be able to beat her. Another thing is because Cyborg comes forward, Nunes’ long punches are going to miss sometimes. She’s going to have to utilize elbows and knees in order to get her space back.
If you do that, eventually it starts to take Cyborg’s confidence away. Cyborg is used to hunting. In order to beat somebody who hunts, you have to hunt them back.
Editor’s Note: Nunes trains out of ATT
I don’t think either one has faced an opponent as good as they’re about to face in each other. Cyborg is the favorite on paper, but Amanda brings something to the table she’s never seen before. Cyborg has to prepare herself for that. The good thing for Amanda is she knows exactly what she’s up against: the most dominant female fighter to ever step in the cage.
I think it will come down to who gets off first. If Cyborg gets ahead of Amanda, it’s going to be very hard to bounce back from that, and vice versa. They are both so dominant offensively, I don’t think one will let the other recover if they get ahead. Cyborg reminds me of Jon Jones because she doesn’t have to move a lot. She’s always in good position, because she’s always been so much bigger than everybody else. When you watch her fight, she doesn’t get hit very clean, because she’s always in a good position. For Amanda to get her out of position, she knows she has to get her reaching on punches and reaching on kicks. I’m always going to ride with my teammate. Amanda will stop her in the fourth round, but it won’t be easy.
Firas Zahabi, Tristar MMA
Listen, I really want Amanda Nunes to win. I’m not a big Cyborg fan, and I hate to say that, but she’s been busted for steroids [in 2011] and I feel like she’s been on steroids for a long time. She was beating up young girls who didn’t know what they were getting into. They didn’t know they were getting into a fight with somebody who had 10 times more testosterone in their system. I don’t have respect for somebody who does that. And I know there are other fighters who have been caught, and I put them in the same boat. Cyborg is just very obvious. It’s obvious she’s been on a lot of steroids. There’s just no denying it. The side effects of steroids are abundantly clear in her physiology.
I believe Amanda is the better natural athlete, but this is not a natural case in my opinion. I think it will be a very hard fight for her. She can outbox Cyborg, but all around, I give Cyborg a 55 percent chance to win.
I doubt there will be many grappling exchanges. I feel there will be a takedown here and there, but not a lot of scrambling on the ground. There won’t be a lot of exchanges on the ground, other than one fighter holding the other down. I thought Holly Holm would beat Cris ‘Cyborg’ and I was wrong. I think Amanda Nunes can win with her hands but in the end, ‘Cyborg’s’ wrestling, clinching — and she’s too strong physically.
I have to go with Cyborg. She’s gonna finish it in the fourth round, TKO, at 3:27.
Cyborg is just game. She’s down. She’s mean. She’s got good technique and power. Obviously, there’s a lot more that contributes to a fight, but those are the things that set her apart. As long as she comes in with a good camp, healthy and focused, she’ll win the fight. I do give Amanda a chance, but the odds are in favor of Cyborg.
Ray Longo, LAW MMA
The keys in this fight are for Nunes to move in and out and utilize her speed and accuracy. Cyborg is big. It’s going to come down to how Nunes deals with that size disadvantage, because it looks big. Nunes has to utilize footwork and head movement. If she tries to meet power with power, that’s going to be a tough fight.
I do think Amanda has that skill set. But Amanda is somebody who likes to utilize her range, and it won’t be there this time. She’s going to have to implement her footwork. If she has people around her who believe in her, and she believes in herself — if you mesh together those support systems, you have a shot at winning. I’m picking Cyborg though. She’s just too big and too strong. She wins by TKO in the fourth round.
Mark Henry, New Jersey striking coach
Cyborg’s cardio can go all day. I think Cyborg will bring pressure early and often, and get Amanda tired. Kind of like what [UFC lightweight] Al Iaquinta just did against Kevin Lee. Iaquinta banked on him slowing down late and just kept that pace going. I think that’s what Cyborg has to do.
I also think Cyborg has the edge mentally, just because she’s probably the best woman fighter to ever walk the planet. I think it’s mostly her heart and determination. Don’t get me wrong, she has technique, but I think her intangibles are the most important thing about her. Her cardio, her aggressiveness, her will to win and put her country on her back. I’m gonna take Cyborg by split decision.
Duke Roufus, Roufusport MMA
Amanda is used to fighting people she’s had to battle with. Cris, for lack of a better term, she’s been the hammer. She’s been the bully the whole time. I’m excited to see how she reacts to another woman who is going to stay right there, and is just as skilled. Amanda has been in some tough scraps where she’s had to dig deep. I’m not saying Cris isn’t tough, but she hasn’t been forced to do that in the UFC.
I still think the advantages go to Cris. A great, big fighter will always beat a great, smaller fighter in my opinion. It’s harder for the fighter moving up in weight. This will probably be one of the best women’s fights of all time, though. Cris has improved a lot technically, but when it comes down to scrap, that’s what she does best. She’s a natural fighter. She hasn’t lost sight of who she is, and that’s Cyborg. A beast. When it comes time to lock horns, she’s got that mindset. I’m taking Cris.
Rener Gracie, Gracie University
As precise and powerful as Amanda is, I think the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘Will that be enough going up a weight class?’ If they walked around the same weight, I think it would be a different story. Amanda is an incredible striker and grappler, but I don’t see it happening for her with the weight disparity. Cris’s physicality and athleticism is just so unprecedented, I have to pick Cris.
If I was coaching someone who had the physical attributes to even allow them to compete with Cris, I would coach them like I do [UFC featherweight] Brian Ortega or anyone else: Become a master at seizing the one opportunity with jiu-jitsu.