Amanda Nunes stood in the center of the Octagon on June 10 in Vancouver, British Columbia, reveling in the lusty ovation the crowd at Rogers Arena gave her after she announced she was immediately retiring as an MMA fighter. She left not only as the UFC’s women’s bantamweight and featherweight champion, but also as the undisputed greatest of all time in women’s MMA.
There was a joy in Nunes’ voice as she spoke after completing an extraordinary career, but not everything she said was about herself.
Nunes’ retirement meant that there was no longer a Brazilian champion in the UFC, something that had been a constant ever since Anderson Silva became its middleweight champion in 2006.
Nunes urged her fellow Brazilians to get their acts together and earn another championship for their country.
Amanda Ribas, the ninth-ranked UFC flyweight and one-time teammate of Nunes’ at American Top Team, paid close attention to those words.
“Amanda was a huge inspiration for me,” said Ribas, who faces No. 11 Maycee Barber on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC on ABC 5 at VyStar Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. Ribas is a -200 favorite at BetMGM, with Barber at +165 on the comeback.
“When I first trained at ATT and I was not yet a UFC fighter, she saw me working and she pulled me aside,” Ribas told Yahoo Sports. “I remember it so well. She said, ‘Amanda! You need to relax. I relaxed and all that hard work I put in paid off when I wasn’t so tight. Just relax and you’ll be fine.’ And that’s what I’ve done.”
Ribas has become one of the more popular flyweights despite not yet owning a signature win. It seems as if she’s perpetually smiling and she is a positive, outgoing person who seems to be having fun no matter what task she’s handling.
She’s worked at keeping a positive mindset, she said, and feels it’s made a difference in her game. The winner of Saturday’s bout will likely establish herself as a legitimate title contender, while the other will drop a few notches and have to work her way up the ladder.
Unsurprisingly, Ribas had nothing but praise for Barber and said she worked harder than ever to prepare for this fight because she knows Barber always has a great gas tank. Conditioning is often the difference between winning and losing when fighters are so evenly matched.
Ribas purposely pushed herself so that she’ll be able to push in the final, perhaps deciding seconds.
“Maycee Barber has a good hype around her, but she gets that hype because she’s a good fighter and she always comes to fight,” Ribas said. “She’s good in so many areas, but her conditioning is always [excellent]. I trained hard on my conditioning because I believe that is what could win or lose this fight.”
Ribas is a black belt in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo — just like Nunes — and has settled in as a flyweight after jumping back and forth between flyweight and strawweight over the years.
She’s 2-2 in her last four, losing to Marina Rodriguez before defeating Virna Jandiroba at strawweight before going back to 125 pounds, where she lost to Katlyn Chookagian before defeating Viviane Araujo in March.
The division seems more wide open now since Alexa Grasso defeated longtime champion Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 285, breaking a stranglehold Shevchenko had on the belt.
Ribas took Nunes’ post-UFC 289 words seriously and is intent on becoming a world champion. These are the kind of fights that the greats like Nunes and Shevchenko routinely won: Difficult matches against difficult opponents. Ribas is excited to begin the journey toward title contention.
“Alexa Grasso really showed what can be done, and that there’s not a lot of difference between the champion and a lot of the top contenders out there,” Ribas said. “[Shevchenko] is an amazing fighter and I respect what she has done and what she has done for the sport. But Alexa defeated her and showed all of us that it is possible. You need to believe and you need to put in the work, but what I realize is that we’re not as far away from [winning a title] as maybe it might have seemed before.”