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UFC’s Dana White not interested in giving Amanda Nunes another pay-per-view main event

Amanda Nunes strikes a pose with her bantamweight belt over her shoulder during media day for UFC 213 on Thursday.
Amanda Nunes strikes a pose with her bantamweight belt over her shoulder during media day for UFC 213 on Thursday.
(Erik Verduzco / Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Trust is a high priority with UFC President Dana White, and by pulling out of UFC 213 claiming illness in defiance of medical clearance, women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes broke it.

White, whose marquee International Fight Week card had already been racked by postponed bouts, learned Friday night that Nunes had fallen ill. Her abdominal cramping and sinus issues had already led her to conclude that she couldn’t fight No. 1-rated contender Valentina Shevchenko the next day.

According to three officials familiar with the situation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to publicly discuss a fighter’s medical condition, Nunes was asked to reconsider her withdrawal Saturday morning.

Even with the doctor’s approval to fight, she didn’t budge.

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So late Saturday night, after White watched 26-year-old Robert Whittaker apply some salve to his wounded card with a compelling unanimous-decision victory for the interim middleweight belt, White revealed the repercussions of Nunes’ decision.

“I won’t do that again,” White said when asked if he’ll ever place Nunes in another pay-per-view main event.

That marks a steep fall for the Brazilian, who has a 14-4 record and won her last two main-event fights with dominant first-round stoppages of former champions Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey.

“A lot of fighters have had times where they don’t feel right. … I don’t know that I’ve ever had a situation like today, where she was physically capable to fight” and didn’t, White said. “It was 90% mental and 10% physical.”

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Nunes’ decision is especially puzzling considering that she opted to skip a guaranteed $150,000 purse instead of risking a loss against a fighter she’d already defeated in March 2016 by unanimous decision in a non-title fight. Even absorbing a defeat would certainly lead to a still-lucrative trilogy bout.

She apologized on social media and vowed to return at 100%, and White said he’s already offered both Nunes and Shevchenko a spot on the UFC 215 card in Edmonton, Canada, on Sept. 9.

“I know exactly why she’s doing this, and everybody knows,” Shevchenko said, strongly implying Nunes didn’t feel comfortable with the matchup following a taxing weight cut that left her visibly drained as she stepped on the scale for the official Friday morning weigh-in.

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“I know my time will come. I will fight for the title and I will have it. It doesn’t matter what happened today. It will happen in the future. I will be the champion against [Nunes] or someone else. I will be in my best shape — again.”

UFC officials took heart in the professional behavior of Shevchenko and unbeaten strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who quickly expressed interest in filling in for Nunes and risking her unblemished record against a foe in Shevchenko who defeated her three times in international Muay Thai competitions.

The Nevada Athletic Commission said there wasn’t enough time to clear Jedrzejczyk, whose medical screening would’ve included a pregnancy test that takes 72 hours to process.

In an ironic twist, the replacement main event was won by Whittaker after he sustained a highly painful injury to his left knee on an early first-round kick by No. 1-rated middleweight contender Yoel Romero.

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The muscular 40-year-old Romero seemed one round from setting up a date with champion Michael Bisping, who is currently injured, after winning the second round, too, but Whittaker found the resolve to stand and land effective punches and knees on Romero to win each of the final three rounds on the judges’ scorecards.

“He looked incredible,” White said of Whittaker. “He has basically one leg. His takedown defense was incredible. Unbelievable work in the clinch.”

Bisping, an Englishman whose scripted effort to play the heel included tearing up a small Cuban flag in front of Romero and throwing a belt at Whittaker’s feet following the fight, hasn’t fought since October.

“If you look at what happened, this is the fight that will absolutely happen,” White said.

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