Editor's note: This story was published ahead of UFC 213 in July 2017.
More than six months after knocking out Ronda Rousey to retain the women's bantamweight title, Amanda Nunes is still trying to prove herself. Every time she enters the Octagon, it is another opportunity to prove why she is the champion -- that she didn't get lucky against Rousey or against Miesha Tate. Nunes is here to stay.
Now if only she could get some respect.
"I still feel like I have to keep winning," Nunes (14-4) said in a phone interview. "I have to keep showing that I'm the best to get that respect. I feel like a lot of people know me because I beat Ronda Rousey. It's slow progress."
If Holly Holm's head kick knocked Rousey off her pedestal, Nunes' dispatching of Rousey in just 48 seconds at UFC 207 in December put an end to any doubt that the women's bantamweight division had moved on. The reign of "The Lioness" had officially begun, and it's been undisputed since.
But there are unanswered questions hanging over Nunes as she prepares to defend her belt again, this time against Valentina Shevchenko (14-2) in the main event of UFC 213 on Saturday: How long will she reign? And is she really able to carry the division as long as she holds the title?
Nunes is the only person not named Ronda Rousey to successfully defend the bantamweight belt. Nunes is a fearsome striker who has already beaten her next opponent once -- Shevchenko and Nunes met in a main-card matchup at UFC 196 in March 2016, when Nunes came away with a decision victory. She hasn't been taken past the first round since, submitting Tate and knocking out Rousey in the opening rounds of each of her subsequent bouts. But she isn't worried about the rematch with Shevchenko.
"I'm better than her everywhere," Nunes said. "I will finish her in this fight."
UFC 213 is the third card Nunes has headlined, but the first when her name -- not her opponent's name -- is in the lights. Tate was the star at UFC 200 (and Nunes the challenger), and then it was Rousey's return that dominated the headlines leading up to UFC 207. Even the opportunity to headline UFC 213 was made possible only when UFC president Dana White canceled the men's bantamweight title fight between Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw because of Garbrandt's back injury.
Nunes is dogged by things that are largely outside her control. She grew up in Brazil and began learning English only a few years ago. Sometimes she speaks in choppy sentences and takes a moment to search for the word she needs. It's ultimately limiting in a sport that often leans on the personalities of its stars.
"I still want to try to talk to people and communicate," Nunes said. "It's just hard sometimes. I say things directly and to the point because I don't know anything else."
Then there is the relationship between Nunes' appearance and her marketability. Fighters such as Rousey and Paige VanZant -- both of whom are blonde, white and (supposedly) more traditionally feminine -- are easily marketable in a society that values beauty ... even inside the Octagon. Rousey has appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and has starred in movies such as "Entourage." VanZant, who has yet to fight for the strawweight title, has been on "Dancing with the Stars" and other reality TV shows. Michelle Waterson, a woman of color, expresses her femininity in a similar way, perhaps best captured by her nickname "The Karate Hottie." All three women are also American.
Nunes has not starred on the big screen or graced the cover of a major magazine cover. On top of the language and cultural barriers, she's an LGBTQ person of color who is not feminine in the same way as Rousey, VanZant or Waterson.
"I'm not beautiful, and I've accepted that," Nunes said. "I really have to prove it to get that recognition."
Nunes does not mince words, largely because she does not care how people view her. She wants to be respected and feared -- inside of the Octagon, not out of it.
She doesn't fight because she has to. She wants to. She enjoys fighting. Everything else is just noise.
"If you want to promote me, promote me," she said. "I'm going to do what I want, get my money and go home."