LAS VEGAS (AP) — After Amanda Nunes released the chokehold that finished her stunning victory at UFC 200 on Saturday night, the new bantamweight champion leaped onto the cage and pointed ecstatically at her girlfriend, Nina Ansaroff.
Nunes became the UFC’s first openly gay champion with her first-round submission of Miesha Tate. While the Brazilian bantamweight celebrated, Nunes also spared a thought for the history-making nature of her accomplishment.
“This is amazing,” Nunes said. “The most important thing is I’m happy with my life. … She means everything to me. This girl, she helped me every day.”
Nunes (13-4) and Ansaroff are mixed martial artists who live and train together in Florida. While Ansaroff’s strawweight career hasn’t reached Nunes’ bantamweight heights, she has passionately supported Nunes’ rise in the crowded 135-pound division.
“She is so amazing, the most amazing person,” Nunes said. “I love her so much. … Nina is the best training partner I ever had in my life.”
Their teamwork showed in the upset victory by Nunes, who wasn’t widely expected to become the UFC’s fourth different bantamweight champion in nine months.
Nunes staggered Tate early with a precise right hand. She battered the champ throughout the round before easily sinking in the choke that forced Tate to tap out with 1:44 left in the round.
The fact that Nunes and Tate were the main event in the UFC’s landmark show was another milestone in the promotion’s enthusiastic embrace of women’s MMA.
President Dana White has said that Ronda Rousey’s talent and marketability basically forced him to create a 135-pound division in late 2012. But the UFC has aggressively pushed the sport ever since, adding another division and turning numerous fighters into big names.
In fact, women headlined two of the three shows during International Fight Week, with strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk beating Claudia Gadelha on Friday night in perhaps the most entertaining bout of the entire three-day extravaganza.
MMA and its fans frequently subvert their meathead reputations in surprising ways: After Tate and Nunes were promoted to the main event this week following Jon Jones’ removal from the card due to a failed drug test, a Nevada-record 18,202 fans still paid a record $10.7 million to watch UFC 200 at the new T-Mobile Arena, although pro wrestler Brock Lesnar’s return to the sport played a major role.
Earlier this month, the UFC also started an initiative to benefit the LGBT community in Las Vegas, selling T-shirts reading “We Are All Fighters” in rainbow lettering. Lesnar’s opponent, heavyweight Mark Hunt, and light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier were among the fighters who wore the shirts during fight week, with sales proceeds going to a local community center.
“Just as it takes courage to step into the octagon, it takes courage to stand for what you believe in,” said Lawrence Epstein, the UFC’s chief operating officer. “We’re proud to stand with members of the LGBTQ community in their fight for equality.”
Nunes’ victory catapulted her atop a bantamweight division already featuring Tate and former champions Holly Holm and Rousey, whose unbeaten reign seems like it ended years ago, not last November. Holm will headline a prominent UFC show on Fox later this month in Chicago, while Rousey hasn’t indicated she’s close to a return to competition.
The 135-pound field also includes Julianna Pena, a rising challenger who thrashed veteran Cat Zingano earlier on the UFC 200 card. Pena could be the next fight for Nunes, who said she would welcome any challenger for her belt.
But first, Nunes is likely to embark on the rounds of talk shows and public appearances that seem to follow the champion of what’s emerged as perhaps the UFC’s most important division in crossing over to casual sports fans.
Rousey, Holm and Tate all became popular outside hardcore MMA circles. Nunes’ fierce fighting style and engaging personality could do the same for her.
Nunes realizes she’ll also get plenty of publicity for her sexual orientation, and she appears to welcome it. Shortly after her win, the Florida resident was asked about the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando last month.
“It was very sad,” Nunes said. “I wish these days didn’t happen anymore. Peace in the world is very important. I don’t think the USA is going to let this happen again. I think it’s going to stop.”
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