Out Lesbian Fighters Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington Make UFC History

Herstory will be made on May 12, 2018  in the MMA world. The UFC 224 bout between Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington will mark the first time in UFC history that two openly lesbian fighters will compete for a divisional world championship. You probably haven’t heard much mentioned about this important detail surrounding the big fight because sexual orientation, obviously, does not affect one’s ability to box, to fight, or to do any sport. Thus, it isn’t a topic often broached by regular sports news. Still, this fact matters, because lesbian representation matters. Gays and lesbians won the fight for marriage equality only three short years ago, and it feels great to know one of us will win this (literal) fight, too.

Both women have spoken up about being lesbians who appreciate how accepting the UFC has been of gay fighters. After coming out in 2016 and revealing her relationship with fellow UFC  fighter Tecia Torres, Raquel Pennington told Flo Combat, “I think a lot of people are nervous to stand for who they are. I’m definitely not one of those people. It’s nice to be around other athletes who are proud in the own skin and stuff, and it’s great that we have an organization that supports us.”

Amanda Nunes is widely known for being the first openly gay champion of the UFC. When she defeated one of the reigning names of the sport, Miesha Tate, in 2016 for the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship title, she celebrated the victory by kissing her partner – both in life and in the ring – Nina Ansaraoff. She told Lesbian News, “This girl, she helps me everyday. I love her. It’s amazing (to be first UFC gay champion). I am very happy with my life. That’s the most important thing.”

Amanda Nunes, photo via Sherdog.com

The below article by Kevin Wilson unpacks this Saturday’s fight and was first featured on our partner site, Sherdog.com.

Amanda Nunes will headline her fourth pay-per-view event in a row when she defends her Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight title against Raquel Pennington in the UFC 224 main event this Saturday in Rio de Janeiro.

Nunes captured 135-pound gold at UFC 200 a little less than two years ago, as she decimated Meisha Tate with punches before dispatching her with a rear-naked choke. She has since begun compiling a case as one of the greatest female mixed martial artists of all-time. Pennington, meanwhile, finds herself on a career-best four-fight winning streak that includes victories over Tate, Jessica Andrade and Bethe Correia. Now, she has her chance to dethrone the sport’s bantamweight queen.

Breaking Down the Paths Nunes and Pennington Took to UFC 224 

The Cusp of Greatness

Nunes was relatively unknown before her win over Tate, and some felt she did not deserve a chance at the belt, let alone the opportunity to headline one of the biggest UFC events to date. Instead of shying away from the moment, Nunes silenced the critics with her first-round finish of one of the pioneers of woman’s MMA. After the Brazilian won the title, fans and pundits started to take Nunes more seriously — and rightfully so. She has quietly become one of the best strikers in the division and has the grappling skills necessary to hold her own on the ground or quickly return to her feet.

Nunes is known as a pressure fighter, but what makes her style so interesting is her patience while being the aggressor. Sounds weird, right? Notice how Nunes pressures Tate to the cage but never overextends or throws any wild strikes. The biggest problem for most pressure fighters is the threat of counters. Nunes has been exceptional at pressuring just enough to make her opponent uncomfortable, and she intelligently picks her strikes while avoiding her opponents’ return fire. 

Against Ronda Rousey, many thought Nunes’ aggressiveness would result in the two women engaging in the clinch or another position from which the “Rowdy” judoka could hit one of her patented armbars. Instead, Nunes applied intelligent pressure, never allowed Rousey to tie-up and picked her apart with a series of jabs and right hooks. While she swung wildly at times, Nunes was unconcerned with Rousey’s ability — or inability — to counter.

Although better known for her striking, Nunes holds the rank of black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and offers some of the most vicious ground-and-pound in the UFC. Fighters are oftentimes too busy jockeying for position on the ground, forget to strike and wind up being forced to their feet by an impatient referee. Nunes knows how to posture and strike from any position, leading to a number of ground-and-pound finishes.

The Usual Underdog

Pennington has spent her entire career as an underdog, and her encounter with Nunes will be no different. A lifelong athlete, she did not start her formal martial arts training until she was 19. Now, just six years into her professional MMA career, Pennington has a chance to shock the world and continue thriving as the underdog, like a real-life Rocky Balboa.

Pennington excels fighting off of her back foot, an ability that could serve her well against the champion. Few fighters can maintain their composure when faced with an aggressive opponent, often folding under the pressure. Against Andrade, perhaps the most aggressive fighter in the bantamweight division at the time, Pennington controlled the distance with deadly accurate jabs before stepping back and landing right hands while Andrade flailed forward.

Even with her back to the cage, Pennington can absorb strikes on the forearms and come back with counter right hands. Pennington’s ability to excel under pressure is a rare skill in any fighter, let alone someone who has only been training for 10 years.

While Pennington’s standup is the straw that stirs the drink for her, she has a stealthy good clinch game and proven submission skills. She secured one of the few bulldog choke finishes in Ultimate Fighting Championship history when she put away Ashlee Evans-Smith at UFC 181 in December 2014. Pennington locked in the choke while standing, dropped to her knees to add leverage and continued to apply pressure until Evans-Smith lost consciousness.