At UFC 250 Amanda Nunes reminded fans once more why she is the greatest female fighter to ever do it.
For five dehumanizing rounds, the dual champion battered tough contender Felicia Spencer, en route to becoming the first athlete to simultaneously defend a title in two different weight classes.
After extending her win streak to eleven, many were left with one question and one question only: who is next for “The Lioness”?
Despite recently defending her featherweight throne, Amanda Nunes remains adamant that she will continue her reign of terror across two weight divisions. However since capturing her first title back in 2016, Nunes has made all of her adversary’s look amateur, dismantling every 135 and 145 champion in the promotion’s history; most of these wins coming by way of knockout. Due to this, it’s evident why many are left pondering who the next big challenger is for Amanda Nunes.
At featherweight, there is no deserving contender with an exigent skillset likely to faze her, and with the division being home to such few fighters, bantamweight looks like the answer.
You may be asking who is left at bantamweight for Nunes? After all, it took her less than a round to run through longtime contender Holly Holm. One woman quite literally punched her ticket to ‘Nunes Station’ last December, establishing herself as a legitimate threat that deserves every ounce of respect from her fellow combatants. This woman goes by the name of Irene Aldana.
Who is Irene Aldana?
Irene Aldana hails from Culiacan, Mexico, and currently sits at #5 in the official bantamweight rankings. A professional since 2012, she has amassed a record of 12-5, with all but 3 wins coming by way of finish.
After a successful stint in Invicta which included a title shot against veteran Tonya Evinger, Aldana jumped ship to the UFC in late 2016, dropping a unanimous decision in her debut. Following two disappointing defeats in the early stages of her promotional tenure, “Robles” bounced back with three big wins against respected opposition, the most recognizable of these being a ‘Fight of the Night’ with Lucie Pudilova.
Aldana is best described as a puncher because of her dexterous ability with the hands, often lighting up the opposition with her powerful right hook. Power and pressure are likely her two key assets, playing a major role in near enough every victory.
Asides from her offensive attributes, the 32-year-old vexes the traditional Mexican chin and grit, proving more than once that she is capable of biting down on the mouthpiece and moving forward. Scarcely do we see a competitor march towards Nunes to play her at her own game – Aldana would certainly be willing.
Since a defeat to former title challenger Raquel Pennington last summer Irene has picked herself up and brushed herself off, quickly gathering momentum with two emphatic wins. In December of last year, she faced the highly touted Ketlen Vieira, who many believed should’ve received her crack at Nunes long ago.
Following a competitive few minutes which saw both participants tagged early on, the undefeated Ketlen Vieira appeared to be taking control of the action. Aldana was clearly struggling on the backfoot, absorbing multiple straight right hands in the process. With just seconds remaining in the first round, “Robles” stepped in with a lead hook, flattening her counterpart with immediate effect. The win earned her ‘Knockout of the Month’ from various media outlets and to put it lightly, changed the trajectory of her career.
After announcing her arrival in the upper echelon of the bantamweight division, it became conspicuous that only a handful of matchups made sense for the surging contender. Despite the UFC regularly assembling unusual bouts, they can’t really go wrong with Aldana in this scenario. A title shot, or a number one contender’s bout – it really is as simple as that.
It’s no secret that Amanda Nunes is the world’s best bantamweight and featherweight, so, for this reason she would walk into a potential bout with Irene Aldana as a hefty favorite. Her raw power and overall striking ability are enough to force Aldana on the backfoot, forcing her to stay mobilized and slowly sapping away at her gas tank.
While I would lean towards Nunes, heavily, Aldana absolutely has the skills required to dispatch of the two-weight world champion.
Even though she has a habit of overextending in her punches, Aldana is superb at sneaking shots past the guard and clipping her opponent on the chin. She does this by threading together combinations which prohibit her foe from catching a break. Sooner or later, they leave their chins exposed. This somewhat tolerant yet reckless approach has worked well for her in recent times.
“The Lioness” has a distinct advantage in the grappling facet, quite easily holding the skills to punish any bantamweight on the mat. But if her recent triumph at UFC 250 demonstrated anything, it’s that she loves beating people at their own games.
Irene Aldana, if remaining patient and calm over the course of five rounds, has more than a “punchers chance” of conquering the Queen of the Jungle. Can power, speed and good old-fashioned Mexican grit carry Aldana to greatness? Only time will tell. With Nunes stating that she will not be competing again this year, it is doubtful that we will be seeing the two square off for some time.