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Amanda Nunes establishes herself as UFC's greatest — is Jon Jones next?

Amanda Nunes establishes herself as UFC's greatest — is Jon Jones next?
Amanda Nunes, left, lands a punch to Cris Cyborg during the first round of their featherweight title fight at UFC 232 on Dec. 29. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

For so long, women’s mixed martial arts consisted of attention to two women: Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg.

Amanda Nunes now has knocked out each of them in less than one minute.

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“I’m very happy. This is the moment I waited for my whole life: making history,” Nunes said after stopping Cyborg on Saturday at the Forum in the co-main event of UFC 232. Nunes, the women’s bantamweight champion, won the featherweight belt to become the first woman in UFC history to possess two titles at once.

For so long, Jon Jones had been missing. Considered by many the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport, Jones had been stripped of his light-heavyweight title three times as self-inflicted travails and failed drug tests threatened to permanently derail his career.

Jones made a victorious return to the octagon Saturday in his first fight in more than 17 months, defeating Alexander Gustafsson by third-round technical knockout to regain the title.

Jones showed his skill set remains sharp and he may take up the pound-for-pound mantle yet again.

“We are only getting better,” Jones said.

Nunes (17-4), relying on ferocious power punches, knocked down Cyborg (20-2) twice before finishing her with a hard overhand right to the left ear to end the fight in 51 seconds.

Two years earlier in Las Vegas, Nunes ended Rousey’s UFC career with a knockout in 48 seconds.

“The things that reminded me tonight were to be calm and composed,” Nunes said. “Everything lining up to this fight was exactly how it was like Ronda Rousey’s fight — calm, composed, fast, strong. Do everything right.”

Nunes, after urging the UFC to stage a clash of champions against her Brazilian countrywoman Cyborg, moved up in weight, trained fiercely with men like hard-punching lightweight Dustin Poirier at her gym in Florida, and obeyed her coach’s commands to confront the power of Cyborg.

The latter was the most daunting, considering Cyborg hadn’t lost since her MMA debut in 2005 and knocked out 17 of 20 foes.

“You know you’re going to get hit … it’s MMA. I knew she wouldn’t be able to knock me out. I was so ready. She’s strong, she’s powerful. I respect Cris a lot,” Nunes said. “But I knew it was going to be my night.

“I saw she got rocked a little bit” on the first clean punch “and thought, ‘Imagine the next one.’ My coach told me, ‘Get her to get crazy, to come forward and then throw your overhand.’ I was fast and smart.”

Nunes also has two victories over flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko and another over former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate during her eight-fight winning streak, a run of dominance that eclipses Rousey’s former brilliance.

She wouldn’t commit to a trilogy fight with Shevchenko, although Shevchenko wants one.

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“She [fought] me two times … tonight is not about Valentina,” Nunes said.

Cyborg wants another chance too.

“Once she punched me, I kept going. Maybe that’s my mistake,” Cyborg said. “I’m not the type who will quit. I’m going to keep going.”

With one fight remaining on her UFC contract, Cyborg also could explore a boxing career. “This is my dream to have a boxing fight,” she said. “I’ll continue training hard. This put fire in my heart.

“I lost my first fight, after that day, I trained harder, harder, harder. I never said I’d be invincible. Today was not my day. I lost. I had my heart broke, but I’m not going to cry. Everyone has a bad day.”

Jones knows that. His second victory over rival Daniel Cormier last year in Anaheim was changed to a no-contest after he tested positive for the steroid Turinabol. Jones said he’ll seek to overturn that ruling in California, after the state’s athletic commission ruled he ingested it accidentally and licensed him for Saturday’s fight despite trace amounts showing up in a Dec. 9 test, which forced the entire card to be moved from Las Vegas.

Jon Jones, right, lands an elbow to Alexander Gustafsson's head during their light heavyweight match at UFC 232.
Jon Jones, right, lands an elbow to Alexander Gustafsson's head during their light heavyweight match at UFC 232. (Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Jones expressed willingness for a third fight with Cormier, who captured the light-heavyweight and heavyweight titles in his absence. Jones said he doesn’t view Cormier as a true two-division champion and would want the fight at light-heavyweight.

“He works so hard to discredit me and de-legitimize that I’ve beat him twice. The thing I want to de-legitimize as a retaliation is his claim of being light-heavyweight champion,” Jones said. “He never was … he never beat me. The only way he can shut me up is to beat my ass.”

Despite the loss of millions in sponsorship and purse money during his suspensions, Jones said the time away from the octagon “absolutely” made him a wiser, fresher fighter at 31 than he would’ve been.

“The layoff has preserved my body, and I’ve got a lot more in me,” Jones said. “That’s going to be scary for a lot of people.

“I learned a lot … no opponent can hit me as hard as life hit me … the result of that is a greater appreciation for what this sport — what this belt — means to me and I think that makes me a more dangerous athlete. To be the best ever is not meant to be easy.”

He flashed the old imaginative fighting approaches in beating Gustafsson, whipping hurtful leg kicks, knees to the gut and the extended third-round takedown that allowed him to pummel the three-time title challenger with punches to gain the finish.

“Jon knew exactly what to do to stop my flow, movement … and then he got on top of me,” Gustafsson said. “He just shut me down and I couldn’t move at all. He did exactly what he was supposed to do. I fought his game.”

Jones will be subject to random drug testing by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Assn. for the next six months, and said he’s hopeful his next bout will finally be free of all performance-enhancing residue.

“I’m excited to be tested by the most legit drug-testing agencies in the world,” Jones said. “If I’m lying, then I pray the Lord take every ounce of talent out of my body. I believe I’ve been vindicated and proven innocent.”

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