UFC 289 takeaways: Nunes leaves like a GOAT, and likely takes a division away with her

What were the biggest moments from the first UFC pay-per-view in Canada in nearly four years? Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi, Jeff Wagenheim and Andres Waters offer up their final thoughts after an 11-fight card in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday night.

Wagenheim: Nunes is the gold standard

Amanda Nunes went out like a GOAT.

The greatest fighter in the history of women’s MMA put on one of the most dominant performances of her career on Saturday night then peeled off her gloves and set them down beside her two UFC championship belts — the symbolic gesture of a fighter retiring.

Nunes beat up Irene Aldana for practically every moment of the main event of UFC 289 on Saturday night in Vancouver, British Columbia, successfully defending her bantamweight title and making a loud and clear statement that, at age 34, she still had what it takes to command two weight classes. But immediately after the final horn, it became clear that this would be it.

Nunes first scanned the crowd for her wife, UFC strawweight Nina Nunes, and their young daughter. She called them into the Octagon to share her moment, which turned tearful as Amanda Nunes knelt beside her bantamweight and featherweight belts and the gloves she laid between them.

“Tonight is the perfect night to retire,” Nunes said, “and to live happy forever.”

There had been whispers in the lead-up to this event that Nunes might be on her way out. She has been easing herself away from the game for the past few years. The Aldana fight was just her fifth in 2½ years, and Nunes last defended her 145-pound title in March 2021.

Though her 135-pound reign was interrupted by a submission loss to Julianna Peña a year and a half ago, Nunes regained the belt — her belt — seven months later by dominating the rematch. So that defeat was a speed bump during a run during which she won 14 of 15 dating back to 2015 and became the only woman to reign as a UFC champ-champ, simultaneously holding titles for the bantamweight and featherweight divisions.

But Nunes will be remembered as even more than that. She seized her GOAT status not by waiting for the previous generation of elite women to leave the scene but by destroying them. In 2016, she knocked out the onetime crème de la crème of UFC women, Ronda Rousey, and did so in just 48 seconds. Two years later, Nunes stepped up to featherweight to challenge the “baddest woman on the planet,” Cris Cyborg, and needed just 51 seconds to knock her out. Talk about a one-two punch.

Nunes’ final act didn’t play out quite so quickly, but it was as dominant as could be. She landed 142 significant strikes to 41 for Aldana. It was the 16th UFC win for Nunes, the most of any woman. And it was her 11th title fight win, tying Nunes with Anderson Silva for the fourth most behind Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre and Demetrious Johnson. All of them are in the GOAT discussion.

But there’s no discussion about who is the women’s GOAT. Amanda Nunes is the gold standard, and she walks away at the top of her game.

Okamoto: R.I.P. to the women’s featherweight division

It was a cursed and nonexistent division from the moment the UFC created it. And now it’s (probably) gone. Fare-thee-well to the UFC’s 145-pound female weight class.

The weight class debuted in 2017 for one reason and one reason only: Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino. The UFC wanted Justino to face Ronda Rousey at 135 pounds, but Justino struggled to make even a 140-pound catchweight limit. After Rousey lost in 2015 and 2016, opening a 145-pound weight class was the UFC’s only route to keep promoting Justino.

Ironically, Justino then turned down offers to be in the inaugural featherweight title fight, as she needed additional time to make the weight safely. That resulted in the UFC booking its first title fight in the new division between two … bantamweights. Holly Holm and Germaine de Randamie fought at a higher weight, and de Randamie won in a lackluster contest.

The story keeps getting better from there. After de Randamie won, she then refused to fight Justino, which, remember now, was the only reason the UFC created the weight class to begin with. De Randamie said she wouldn’t fight Justino because of her history with performance-enhancing drugs. The UFC then stripped de Randamie of the belt without her making a single title defense and booked Justino to a vacant title bout against Tonya Evinger.

Cyborg defended the belt twice before losing to Amanda Nunes in 2018. In all, there have only been seven featherweight title fights in more than six years — and half of those have featured fighters who are natural bantamweights. The division has existed in name only.

Practically speaking, it was never a fully rostered division.

It served its purpose by offering Justino, one of the best female fighters of all time, a chance to hold the UFC spotlight. It also afforded Nunes her “double champ” status, which is well-deserved and a fun addition to her GOAT résumé.

Still, it was a bit of a farce. And now it’s gone — if it was ever even really here to begin with.

Raimondi: Oliveira reminds why he’s an all-time great

There was a debate earlier this week about Jim Miller and whether or not he should be in the UFC Hall of Fame. It’s a difficult choice because Miller has the most wins and fights in UFC history.

It’s funny, because just a few years ago, any debate about Charles Oliveira going into the UFC Hall of Fame would be dead on arrival. Back in 2010, he was getting submitted by the likes of Miller. In 2016, Oliveira was a middling fighter who was having trouble making weight — in two different weight classes. In 2019, he was inexplicably fighting journeyman Nik Lentz for a third time.

No one was talking about Oliveira back then, just four years ago. He wasn’t even in the co-main event against Lentz on a UFC Fight Night card from Rochester, New York. But something happened. “Do Bronx” just kept winning and winning — and finishing his opponents, in arguably the UFC’s best division.

Now, you look at Oliveira’s résumé and it reads more like one of the greatest of all time, as compared to that of the gatekeeper he was just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Oliveira is the first UFC fighter to finish 20 opponents, extending his record. He is one behind the legendary Mirko Cro Cop on that finishing list if you combine the UFC, WEC, Strikeforce and Pride. Oliveira is 12-1 since 2018, with the only loss coming to Islam Makhachev, one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Oliveira called for a rematch against the UFC lightweight champion in his postfight interview Saturday night, after finishing Beneil Dariush via first-round TKO in the co-main event. And he should get it, even though he probably won’t.

The UFC has a BMF title fight setup for UFC 291 on July 27 in Salt Lake City. Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje, two of the most exciting fighters in the sport, will fight for that symbolic title and likely the next title shot against Makhachev in October. But don’t discount Oliveira. If the winner of that fight can’t go three months later, Oliveira will be there.

Brazil’s king of the favelas has been in the UFC for 13 years. He debuted when he was just 20 years old. Oliveira, 33, has gone through many iterations over the years. He was deemed a quitter, a weight liability, an afterthought.

In 2023? He’s one of the greatest of all time.

Waters: The North remembers

With the UFC in Vancouver, it was only right to let a few members of the UFC roster return to their home country and put on a show. They did not disappoint, as all five Canadian fighters on the card earned a win. In front of a raucous crowd that had waited nearly four years for the promotion to come back to Vancouver, the UFC put Kyle Nelson, Aiemann Zahabi, Jasmine Jasudavicius, Marc-Andre Barriault and Mike Malott on the big stage. Zahabi floored his opponent in the first round to earn a knockout victory. Meanwhile, Malott was able to lock in a submission win via a slick guillotine. For Nelson, Jasudavicius and Barriault, they just simply dominated their way to unanimous decision victories.

The UFC’s last fight card in Vancouver was a UFC Fight Night headlined by Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone and Justin Gaethje in September 2019, with Canadians going 2-3 on that card. Canada actually hosted three cards that year, including UFC 240, during which Max Holloway and Cris Cyborg defended their belts in front of an electric crowd in Edmonton, Alberta.

Methinks Dana White and Hunter Campbell should consider taking their business north of the border a bit more often. Don’t you agree?

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