Nearly two months to the day, Nunes is back in the main event of UFC 215 Saturday in Edmonton, Canada, as news broke Thursday night that flyweight title contender Ray Borg has withdrawn from his planned headline fight against champion Demetrious Johnson.
Johnson (26-2-1) was bidding to break former middleweight champion Anderson Silva’s record for consecutive successful title defenses, and beating No. 3-rated Borg (11-2) would’ve been Johnson’s record-setting 11th straight defense.
Instead, Borg fell ill and, according to a report by mmafighting.com, was pulled from the card on the orders of UFC doctors. He and Johnson could potentially meet Oct. 7 at UFC 216, a card currently headlined by an interim lightweight title fight between Orange County’s Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
UFC officials did not immediately confirm Borg’s withdrawal by press time.
Borg’s illness simultaneously redeems and thwarts UFC President Dana White, who was met by resistance from Johnson over White’s interest in assigning the champion a more stringent test for the record against former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw — the former Cal State Fullerton wrestler now awaiting a Nov. 4 title shot at bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt.
Earlier Thursday, Johnson expressed excitement that “the moment is here,” to pass Silva. “Now, I’ve just got to do my thing. No other champion has been here. I just have to execute.”
Instead, Borg’s misfortune revives women’s bantamweight champion Nunes (14-4), who will meet top-rated contender Valentina Shevchenko (14-2) after their July 8 meeting was scrapped and rescheduled.
Then, Nunes said she followed her coach’s suggestion and her own hunch that the sinus illness she suffered with on the morning of her UFC 213 main event in Las Vegas was too severe to fight with, leaving the UFC to offer refunds.
White followed through on his promise to punish Nunes by placing her rematch with Shevchenko under the planned title defense of Johnson, who last fought in Kansas City in a UFC on Fox headliner.
Nunes has sought this week to clean up her mess with White by repeatedly explaining her withdrawal and vowing for a quick return to the dominant form that gained her first-round, pay-per-view main-event victories over Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey last year after she defeated Shevchenko by decision in March 2016.
“I wasn’t feeling good in the morning and my coach told me not to fight. I knew it’d be rescheduled, and here we are now,” Nunes said. “I worked too hard in my career to put my belt on the line when I’m not feeling good. Why do I have to step in the cage?”
Anyway, Nunes said before Borg’s illness, she felt Johnson deserved the main event as a showcase for his skills, which have him ranked as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on UFC.com.
“What [White] said didn’t bother me at all. My money is going to be the same,” Nunes said. “The most important thing I can do is beat this girl [Shevchenko] in front of me — first fight of the night, or last — and I know in my next show, I’m going to be in the main event.”
What it came down to in July, Nunes said, was upholding her responsibility as part of “the big team” that is the UFC, an obligation to perform only when feeling her best to sustain the momentum that women’s fighting has gained from the Rousey era through hers, as Nunes confronts likely her most difficult fight yet.
“Everybody has things to say, and I’m not going to be mad at [White] for giving his opinion,” Nunes said. “He’s my boss. I’m not going to fight with the person who’s feeding me. I respect him as a boss. I’m going to prove to him that I’m the best and move forward with my career.
“I’ll take on whatever challenge life gives me, and Valentina will be that next challenge.”