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Jon Jones and Amanda Nunes headline UFC 239 with all-time greatness on the line

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Jon Jones and Amanda Nunes, both shown in January, are co-headliners for Saturday’s UFC 239 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Amanda Nunes smiled as she took a seat next to Jon Jones to promote Saturday’s UFC 239 at T-Mobile Arena.

The last time Nunes and Jones headlined a card was UFC 232 in December at the Forum in Inglewood. Jones defeated Alexander Gustafsson to win the vacant UFC light-heavyweight championship, while Nunes pummeled Cris Cyborg within a minute to win the UFC women’s featherweight championship.

“I like to fight on the same card as Jones,” Nunes said as she looked over at Jones. “He gives me luck. It’s always a great night for me.”

Nunes hopes that luck will continue Saturday when she defends her bantamweight championship against Holly Holm while Jones defends his light-heavyweight title against Thiago Santos. Nunes, in defeating Cyborg, became the first woman in UFC history to be a two-division champion as well as the first to hold two belts simultaneously.

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As she took a seat at T-Mobile Arena beside her two belts resting on an adjacent table, she smiled when someone in the crowd yelled, “champ-champ!”

“In my life I always wanted to be the best,” said Nunes, who grew up in a small town outside of Salvador, Bahia, in Brazil. “I wanted to get the belt and then I wanted to get two belts and be ‘champ-champ.’ There was always one dream that followed another. My legacy means a lot to me. All the work, all the blood, all the sweat and all the tears was for this. I left my country and my family early and came here with nothing, no money, and I made it.”

Jones and Nunes, who are both 31, aren’t just headlining another UFC card. They are trying to further cement their legacies y as, arguably, the greatest male and female fighters in UFC history. Jones was well on his way to achieving that title before an arrest and multiple failed drug tests caused the UFC to strip him of his title three times in nearly three years. His career has returned to relative normalcy, with Saturday’s fight being his third in just seven months.

“It feels very familiar to be here, fighting so often,” Jones said. “You just get this comfort where you feel you’re in your zone. I feel the way I did when I was super young, fighting back to back to back. The only difference is I’m a little more mature and sure of myself and my team. I’m in a really good place right now.”

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Nunes has compiled an impressive resume since defeating Miesha Tate in the first round at UFC 200 to win the women’s bantamweight championship. She destroyed Ronda Rousey in 48 seconds and sent her into retirement in her first title defense, then scored back-to-back victories against Valentina Shevchenko and Raquel Pennington before steamrolling Cyborg in 51 seconds.

“I’m the greatest of all time,” Nunes said. “I beat the most dominant women on the planet. I deserve that. I proved I’m the best with everything I’ve done. People like to watch me. I go in there to fight. I don’t run. I knock people out. I submit them. The fans like that and they respect me because of that, and when they tell me I’m the best, I get happy.”

Nunes is such a perfectionist that even when she watches replays of her dominating victories over Rousey, Cyborg and Tate, she tries to find things she could improve on.

“When I watch it again, I think I should have done something else, I should have taken her down sooner,” Nunes said. “But then, I have to remember it’s too much. I already beat her. It was supposed to happen the way that it happened.”

When Jones thinks about his past, he realizes he can’t change what happened to derail his career but realizes he has plenty of time left to control his legacy. He said he would like to successfully defend his light-heavyweight title 20 times before moving up to become heavyweight champion.

“My coach Greg Jackson always tells me, ‘Jon, being the greatest of all time and the most dominant champion is cool and all, but you have to set records that will never be broken. Look at yourself as that guy because you are that guy, but you have to earn it. You have to live up to it, and it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there.’ That’s why I always set high goals for myself that has nothing to do with breaking anyone else’s record, but setting my own records.”

While Nunes would like a rematch with Cyborg if she is able to defeat Holm, Jones is hesitant to sign off on a third fight with current heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, even if a win would allow him to become just the fifth fighter to simultaneously hold championships in two weight divisions.

“I’d like to be champ-champ, but I also know that I have time to do it,” Jones said. “I’m 31 years old, and I’m still one of the youngest guys in the division. I feel like there’s no need to rush that.”

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Jones laughs when asked to describe his story. He views it as a best-selling book or an award-winning film with an unfinished ending that he hopes to write over the next decade.

“It’s a really good story that has drama but also has a happy ending; at least that’s what I’m hoping for,” Jones said. “It starts with me being the golden boy of the UFC and a lot of good things happening, and then going through some really crappy times and losing a lot of respect around the world, and then having the opportunity to build myself back up. I’m still in the middle of it. There’s still a lot of chapters that need to be written, but it’s movie-worthy. My job now is to make sure the ending is as good as possible.”


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