Amanda Nunes occupies an interesting space not only in the UFC but also in the realm of sports in general. She is the current UFC bantamweight and featherweight champion (1) and is regarded as the greatest women's fighter of all-time. However, the general public does not know much about her, an aspect that has been explored (2) at length. People have spent time pointing fingers at the UFC (3), something that UFC President Dana White feels a certain way about (4). While Dana White is an easy target, blaming him would not only be convenient, it would be inaccurate.
As much as fans love winners, fans also love feeling like they have been along for the ride with their favorite athletes, especially when said athletes have faced adversity on their way to the top. To quote Eddie Maisonet, "We (the fans) need a reason to give a damn." What Amanda Nunes lacks in star power is through no fault of her own. Instead, it's on the people who want to see her be a star to tell her story. It’s on the people to give fans the chance to invest in her. It’s on the people to make people give a damn.
The fighter who goes by the nickname of The Lioness had the eyes of the MMA world on her when she won the bantamweight title at UFC 200 in 2016 (5) against Miesha Tate. She had just as many eyes on her, if not more, at UFC 207 when she took on and defeated Ronda Rousey in her first title defense (6) in December of the same year. Rousey made her return to the Octagon 13 months after being knocked out and losing her title to Holly Holm. Rousey already experienced immense success before her loss to Holm in November of 2015 and her matchup with Nunes. Rousey’s exploits were embedded in the eyes of MMA fans around the world. Ronda Rousey's story was easy to tell. Nunes was the champion, yet her story was a blip on the radar (7).
Nunes experienced losses in the Octagon, but they were not seen by fans in real-time. She did not have the complete attention of fans when she lost her only UFC bout in 2014 (8) to Cat Zingano as well as her other three losses before joining the UFC. Losses give fans an opportunity to console, a medium to sympathize, a reason to care about an athlete outside of their triumphs. In 2014, the UFC wasn't the draw that it is now and women's mixed martial arts certainly did not have the sustained support as it enjoys in 2019. Fans didn't get the opportunity to take the journey with Nunes as she suffered her loss to Zingano simply because they didn't know about it.
Think about it like this: LeBron James has three NBA championships, including the 2016 championship (9) as part of the only team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. As much as he is held in the highest egard, fans also saw him come up short repeatedly in his quest for his first championship in 2012. Fans remember the losses to the Celtics in the 2008 and 2010 NBA Playoffs (10), the inexplicable loss against the Magic in 2009 and the Finals defeat to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. Fans had front-row seats to all of those setbacks.By the time LeBron won the entire thing, his fans were genuinely thrilled, and relieved for him because they saw the journey. Take out LeBron's name and insert Kobe Bryant's and his three airballs in the 1997 NBA Playoffs against the Utah Jazz (11) or the Lakers losing the 2008 Finals to the Boston Celtics (12) and the journeys are similar. Fans love those two athletes partly because they saw them at their professional lows in real-time, and watched their paths to redemption. Amanda Nunes has not had that opportunity. For the most part, fans have only seen her succeed, although she has had numerous setbacks and losses well before the wins, titles and accolades piled up.
Over the past several years, she has beaten the best that the UFC has to offer (13) from the person who was the first UFC featherweight champion, Germaine de Randamie (14) to Tate to Rousey to the current flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko to Raquel Pennington. Nunes went on to conquer arguably the most feared fighter in women's MMA history (15) in Cris Cyborg at UFC 232, then followed it up with a knockout victory over Holly Holm (16)seven months later at UFC 239. She's done all of this while adapting to a new culture, a new country and learning a new language and thriving in media environments (17) which influence athletes to market themselves to grow their name and brand (18). Amanda Nunes did the latter while not knowing how to speak English around 2014. Sports fans love winners but they also love being a part of the journey as their favorite athletes go through adversity. To fully appreciate the journey of Amanda Nunes, fans would have to take a step out of the present and examine her past (19). In today's fast-paced society, that requires incentive for people to do unless the mere fascination of an athlete's story does enough to suffice.