In 2010, women's mixed martial arts was still considered a novelty. Female fights were persona non-grata in the UFC as President Dana White didn't see the value.
Amanda Nunes was five fights into her career, sporting a 4-1 record. It was a good start that had the potential to be a blossoming career. But then things went sideways for the Brazilian as she went 3-2 from February 2010 to January 2013. Nunes appeared to get a new lease on life when the UFC implemented Women's MMA at the beginning of 2013.
Things started well as she went 2-0 with two stoppages. People thought Nunes could be a possible challenger for then women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. A win against Cat Zingano at UFC 178 in September 2013 would have sealed the deal. After being ahead in the fight with one round to go, Nunes faded badly in the third round and lost by TKO, and the title shot instead went to Zingano.
Nunes knew she had to change something, or the quest to the best would be nothing but talk. She changed up her game and hasn't lost since, winning nine consecutive fights with seven those coming inside the distance.
The nine wins didn't just come against anybody. In those seven fights, Nunes' defeated current women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko (twice), capturing the bantamweight title from Miesha Tate, blasting through Rousey in 48 seconds, Raquel Pennington, former bantamweight titleholder and the woman who ended Rousey's reign of terror, Holly Holm and then ending the 21-fight winning streak of the person MMA pundits felt was the best female fighter on the planet, Cris Cyborg in just 51 seconds to win the women's featherweight title and become the first woman in UFC and only the third fighter in UFC history (Conor McGregor and Daniel Cormier) to hold two belts at the same time.
These dominant performances in the decade of the 2010s have seen Nunes go from an unknown commodity to the best female fighter in the world and quite arguably the greatest female competitor of all time.
And for these accomplishments, Amanda Nunes is the Sporting News women's MMA Athlete of the Decade.
Runner's up: Cris Cyborg and Ronda Rousey.
By the numbers
— Nunes went 13-3
— Nunes won the UFC women's bantamweight title from Miesha Tate at UFC 200 in July 2016. She has made four defenses of the title. Nunes also is the current women's featherweight champion after defeating Cris Cyborg at UFC 232 in December 2018.
What they're saying:
— Nunes on herself being the greatest of all time : “I am the greatest of all-time. I beat the most dominating woman on the planet. I feel like I deserve it now.”
— UFC President Dana White to TMZ Sports : "Yes [Nunes is the greatest female fighter]. She's the best. We said it going into that fight; the one that came out with the 135- and 145-pound belts would be the best ever; the winner of that fight would be the best ever.
"Anybody who wins two belts—the whole champ-champ thing is real. She won two belts. Cyborg, the most feared fighter out there, she went in and made it look easy."
— Miesha Tate on Nunes' striking : "Her simple jab feels like a right hand, and then her right-hand feels like you got hit by a truck. I didn’t even know where I was half of that fight.”
— American Top Team owner (where Nunes trains) Dan Lambert : “There is no conversation to be had of who is the best female fighter of all-time. Now, it is about how high she will set that bar,” he said. “As far as just the greatest fighter of all-time, not even women, she is knocking on that door. Defending both belts would add to that. I don’t see anyone beating Amanda right now.”
The next decade belongs to: Maycee Barber
Going into the next decade, the list of female talent is as deep as it's ever been. But the one who stands out head and shoulders above the rest is Maycee Barber.
Since turning professional in June 2017, Barber is 8-0 with seven of those victories coming by way of stoppage, including her last three in the UFC. The 21-year-old from Colorado has taken the MMA world by storm with her uncanny way of combining her ability inside the octagon to being able to the talking chops, which is sorely lacking not only on the women's side of the sport but also her male counterparts.
How good will she be? Who knows, but she checks all the boxes as the next big thing.