LAS VEGAS (AP) — The UFC women’s bantamweight title hasn’t stayed anywhere for long ever since long-reigning champion Ronda Rousey lost it.
The belt had changed hands three times in just over seven months when Amanda Nunes got hold of it last year, but the ferocious Brazilian doesn’t intend to let it go.
Nunes makes her second title defense Saturday against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 213. The bout is the main event of International Fight Week, the UFC’s annual mixed martial arts showcase in its hometown.
While she hasn’t reached Rousey’s level of fame, Nunes is headlining her third major pay-per-view show in a year, and she seems pleased with the resulting bulges in her paychecks. Nunes is moving up the list of the UFC’s most recognizable fighters, and she wants to justify the promotion’s trust in her to deliver a memorable bout — just as she did in December, when she brutally stopped Rousey in her first title defense.
Shevchenko (14-2) is a daunting matchup with her formidable striking game and a tenacity that she showed in the fighters’ first meeting in March 2016. Nunes won by decision, but Shevchenko was much stronger in the third round — and their rematch is a five-rounder.
“If that bout was one minute more, maybe the result would be different,” Shevchenko said. “This time, I will have more time.”
Right before Nunes and Shevchenko step into the cage, the UFC will award an interim middleweight title to the winner of Yoel Romero’s meeting with Robert Whittaker.
The showdown will establish a new star in the 185-pound division, which has been in flux for a year since Michael Bisping’s shocking victory over Luke Rockhold. Bisping is currently nursing a knee injury, but he also chose to fight Dan Henderson and to pursue a bout with Georges St. Pierre while Romero, Rockhold and Whittaker waited for the next title shot in a division stacked with elite talent.
With Bisping sidelined, Romero (12-1) — a 40-year-old Cuban with an eight-bout winning streak and an eye-popping physique even by MMA standards — will get his first UFC title shot against Whittaker (19-4), a New Zealand-born Australian who has won seven straight bouts.
“I am part of the new generation of mixed martial arts where you must mix everything up,” said Romero, who lives in Miami. “It’s not wrestling, it’s not striking and it’s not grappling. It’s mixed martial arts. Here, you must dance around like wolves. You have to dance, and you have to do it well.”
Whittaker is 13 years younger than Romero, but he doesn’t consider that to be an inherent advantage or disadvantage. Romero wrestled for Cuba in two Olympics before defecting in 2007, and he started his MMA career in 2009 — the same year that Whittaker first stepped into a cage.
“I give him the respect he deserves,” Whittaker said. “He’s been at the top of the food chain for a long time, and I’m excited for what’s going to happen.”
The pay-per-view portion of the card also includes former heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum’s third bout with Alistair Overeem, along with a meeting between crowd-pleasing lightweights Jim Miller and Anthony Pettis, the former champ. Before the pay-per-view fights, heavyweight Travis Browne closes the cable television portion of the telecast against Oleksiy Oliynik.