Would the Challenge of Fighting Kayla Harrison be Enough to Lure Amanda Nunes Back?

April 19, 2024
1 month

Kayla Harrison answered many of the questions her skeptics had at UFC 300. The most pressing question would be how would Harrison handle the weight cut? For most of her career, Harrison has fought at 155 pounds. 

When Harrison decided to come to the UFC, the promotion didn’t sponsor the weight class. If she wanted to eventually fight for a championship at bantamweight, Harrison needed to cut down to 135 pounds. The best MMA news sites show Harrison passed the test with flying colors.

At UFC 300, Harrison weighed 136 pounds, which is within the 1-point allowance for non-title fights. Harrison impressed in the octagon as well. She made quick work of the former bantamweight champion by submitting her in the second round.

With Harrison likely set to be paired with bantamweight champion Raquel Pennington next, if Harrison wins, where else can the UFC find championship-caliber opponents? Harrison had been a long-time training partner of Amanda Nunes.

Nunes retired last year following a dominant career that saw her become the only woman to hold championships in two different weight classes in the UFC. Nunes was recently seen posting videos about Harrison’s win.

Will the challenge of extending her legacy be enough for Nunes to return?

Harrison Could Use the Bump in Prestige

A fight with Nunes may be Harrison’s best-case scenario. Before Harrison left the PFL for the UFC, her former promotion was trying to set her up to fight Cris Cyborg. Cyborg, who is often mentioned along with Nunes as one of the best women’s fighters ever, was a two-division champion in Bellator before the PFL absorbed the promotion. 

But contract negotiations broke down, and Harrison finally decided to join the UFC. Harrison had been one of the more intriguing cases in MMA history. She had long avoided signing with the UFC, and her resume is filled with victories against opponents people don’t hold in high regard.

Harrison, the first American woman to win the gold medal in Judo, was a two-time PFL lightweight tournament champion. However, Harrison lost in the finals of the PFL tournament in November 2022 to Larissa Pacheco. It was the first defeat of Harrison’s career, dropping her record to 15-1.

Some people who closely follow MMAfighting latest news thought the loss to Pacheco may limit her opportunities to fight other places. With not many other promotions offering a 155-pound weight class for women, PFL was desperate to get the fight done with Cyborg.

Nunes Sends Out Message to Harrison

Harrison didn’t bother calling out Nunes because she thought Nunes was happily retired. But Harrison found out that Nunes had posted a video where she had a long list of fighters she beat in her career and reaffirmed her position as the greatest of all time (GOAT). Following a quick win over Holm, Harrison had anticipated getting callouts on social media from Nunes and Cyborg.

Both Nunes and Cyborg also have wins over Holm. A fight between Harrison and Cyborg will likely never happen in the UFC. Cyborg was a former UFC champion, but she had a major fallout with UFC CEO Dana White following her loss to Nunes.

Any chance of that fight coming to fruition went out the window when Harrison left the PFL.

Nunes Hasn’t Been Gone That Long

Unlike when fans clamor for the return of Ronda Rousey, who has been gone from the sport for nearly a decade, a comeback for Nunes seems reasonable. Nunes’ last fight against Irene Aldana at UFC 289 was last June.

Over the final few years before her retirement, Nunes wasn’t as active due to the lack of challenges. Things did seem to get supercharged for Nunes when she took a stunning loss to Julianna Peña at UFC 269. Peña’s problem was that she couldn’t sustain that success.

When the two fighters rematched, Nunes pounded Peña in a five-round unanimous decision victory. While Peña wanted a third fight between the two women, how dominant Nunes was kind of cooled much of the intrigue in the rivalry.

During Nunes’ last fight, it didn’t appear like she had the same kind of intensity she did in the past. While Aldana is a solid fighter, she appeared to be a title challenger Nunes would easily finish. Nunes didn’t struggle to put the pressure on Aldana but wasn’t able to lock up a knockout or submission despite being in dominant positions for extended stretches.

Nunes has 23 career victories; 13 of them ended with a KO and four ended with submissions

Is Harrison an Intriguing Enough Challenge to Bring Nunes Back?

MMA breaking news shows that nothing has been announced regarding what Harrison’s future was. While Harrison’s win over Holm was impressive, beating Holm isn’t the career statement it was a few years ago. Holm has slowed as she gets older and hasn’t looked like the same fighter.

Some former professional fighters believe Harrion’s grappling credentials would give her the edge. Nunes recently became a mother and may need some serious money to think of a reason to come back to the octagon. She doesn’t have much to prove for her legacy.

Nunes, 35, has wins over Rousey, Holm, Cyborg and Valentina Shevchenko. There is little doubt of her legacy in the sport. Harrison still has a lot to prove.

The UFC should try and do what it can to make this fight. Nunes is an exciting, well-rounded fighter who has delivered countless classic performances. Harrison is an all-world grappler who is dangerous against any opponent she can put her hands on. It seems unlikely this fight gets done, but it’s one that fans would enjoy.

Women’s MMA hasn’t yet built a long history. That means many legends are still in the right age window to fight. Nunes hasn’t been gone that long. Harrison will welcome the challenge.

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By Dean McHugh.