Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
A dirty word in MMA is retirement.
The moment a fighter says that two-syllable word—retire—it becomes as close a guarantee as there is to death and taxes that their next fight will end in defeat.
Amanda Nunes is smart. As she approaches her main event bout at UFC 289 against Irene Aldana, she has been meticulous in her approach to avoid that word.
“It’s not easy to talk about,” says Nunes. “I don’t want to talk about it because I love the competition. I cannot tell you this is my last fight. Right now, I’m focused only on the fight.”
Nunes was wise to omit any mention of the words retire and retirement. She has too much at stake in this bantamweight title bout. A win would further cement her place as one of the greatest of all time, while a loss would be damaging. If Aldana wins, it would mark Nunes’s second defeat in three fights, which would highlight how she is no longer operating on the same elite caliber at 35 as she once did during her reign of dominance. But Nunes is entering the bout healthy and whole, embracing the opportunity to defend her belt.
“My body, my mind, my spirit, I’m ready,” says Nunes (22–5). “My ground game, my wrestling, my strikes, everything is ready.”
This was intended to be a bout against Julianna Peña, who shocked Nunes in December 2021 when she defeated her for the title. Peña simply took it to Nunes, rattling her with a vicious striking assault before ending the bout with a rear naked choke.
Nunes exacted her revenge last July, absorbing a great deal of punishment while pummeling Peña en route to a unanimous decision. But their trilogy was called off when Peña suffered broken ribs during training camp, allowing Aldana to take her place.
“Things changed for Julianna,” says Nunes. “I was preparing for her and then I was told it will be Aldana. I didn’t mind. I knew from the beginning I was going to fight either Julianna or Aldana. I’ve changed a few little things in the camp and moved on.”
Aldana (14–6) has won her last two fights. She is an extraordinary boxer, which could present problems for Nunes.
“Aldana moves a lot, and Julianna chases you, so there are some similarities, but Aldana is more technical,” says Nunes, who has a tendency to throw some shade at Peña in her interviews. “Aldana’s double leg is tough. She can move her hips and mount. She’s so well-rounded. I respect her, and I sharpened everything up. I know I can’t make mistakes against her.”
Nunes is one of the greatest to ever step foot in the Octagon, and her run in the UFC—12 wins in a row, 13 of her last 14, winning only but two of her 17 bouts in the Octagon—will stand the test of time. Even if she won’t discuss retirement, there is a very real chance she’ll leave her gloves in the cage Saturday night. If that is the case, her exit would provide an enormous gap in MMA.
If it happens, she won’t go into detail until Saturday. And that is a wise decision. Nunes knows what to avoid in the leadup to a fight, and the retirement conversation is all too often the kiss of death for a fighter.
“This fight is my only focus, and I’m looking for a finish,” says Nunes. “That is what motivates me. I am excited to see my hand raised once again.”
Roosevelt Roberts and Cody Gibson adding substance to The Ultimate Fighter
The Ultimate Fighter: Team McGregor vs. Team Chandler aired its second episode earlier this week, and the highlights have been the fights, even if they have been quick.
There have been two fights so far, both of which were won by Michael Chandler’s veterans team. Roosevelt Roberts won last week, and Cody Gibson was victorious on this Tuesday’s episode. Roberts and Gibson have very different backgrounds, but both their stories are full of inspiration.
It has been interesting to hear Roberts and Gibson speak about getting cut by the UFC, effectively seeing their dream taken away. A new chance has brought forth a remarkable drive and tenacity from both men, which has been evident in their words—and actions in the cage.
During this week’s episode, Landon Quiñones—who is part of McGregor’s prospects team—was speaking too much and too loud at TUF house for Roberts’ taste. Roberts challenged Quiñones to fight, an offer that was declined. It all led to some wonderful insight from Roberts, who detailed his attempt to rejoin the UFC, saying, “When you take something away from somebody and then you dangle back that piece of meat in their face, that is a hungry person right there.”
In an episode where McGregor was the focus, credit to the Ultimate Fighter team for planting seeds for the inevitable bout between Quiñones and Roberts. There will also be more to Gibson’s journey after his victory, adding an intriguing story line around McGregor and Chandler.