It's a rare treat to witness a performance by the greatest in a sport's history.
It is especially rare in the case of Amanda Nunes. The GOAT of women's MMA will be making her first appearance of 2023 when she headlines UFC 289 on Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia (main card on ESPN+ PPV at 10 p.m. ET, prelims at 8 p.m. and early prelims at 6:30, both on ESPN/ESPN+). Nunes hasn't fought since July, her only bout of 2022. She competed twice in 2021 and also only once in 2020.
So it will be just her fifth fight in 2½ years when Nunes (22-5), the UFC's only current two-division champion, puts her bantamweight title on the line against Irene Aldana (14-6). Aldana will be looking to add to the championship luster of Mexican MMA, which already this year has seen the crowning of two UFC titleholders in men's flyweight Brandon Moreno and women's 125-pounder Alexa Grasso.
To bring another belt south of the border, Aldana must overcome a rejuvenated Nunes. The 34-year-old Brazilian, who trains in South Florida, regained her 135-pound belt last summer in a rematch with Julianna Peña, who had dethroned her in December 2021, ending a 12-fight winning streak. Deposed champions don't tend to fare well in immediate rematches with their conquerors, but Nunes seized full command right from the start to show Peña -- and the MMA world -- who belongs at the top of the marquee.
There's also star power in Saturday's co-main event at Rogers Arena, which features the most accomplished submission artist the UFC has ever seen. Charles Oliveira, who has a record 16 submissions inside the Octagon, will be competing for the first time since losing the lightweight championship to Islam Makhachev in October. That defeat ended an 11-fight winning streak. Oliveira (33-9, 1 NC) will take on Beneil Dariush (22-4-1), a winner of eight in a row who has tapped out only once in his career -- seven years ago.
Beyond the women's title bout and the high-stakes clash of top-10 lightweights, there is little name recognition on the UFC 289 card but some significant personal stakes -- especially for a pair of fighters looking to bounce back. Flyweight David Dvorak, who has lost two in a row after running off a 16-fight winning streak, faces onetime top-10 fighter, Matt Schnell. Also, middleweight Nassourdine Imavov, who had won nine of his previous 10 before a short-notice loss in January to Sean Strickland, will look to get back on track against Strickland's close friend and training partner Chris Curtis.
Typically during a fight week, we would put all of these matchups in a hat, shake it up and spill out a ranking. But let's not kid ourselves. Saturday's main event is not simply the No. 1 attraction at UFC 289; it emits the far-reaching radiance of a top 10 all by itself.
Nunes is a champion among champions, boasting the longest combined title reign (creeping up on 4,000 days) of any titlist in UFC history, man or woman. Of the UFC's five champ-champs, she was the first to defend titles in both divisions while holding the two belts. Nunes has the most UFC title defenses (10) of any woman and owns nine victories over former or current UFC champs -- Miesha Tate, Ronda Rousey, Valentina Shevchenko (twice), Holly Holm, Germaine de Randamie (twice), Cris Cyborg and Peña.
So that's what we'll rank: the greatest fights in the storied career of the greatest fighter.
1. Amanda Nunes vs. Cris Cyborg
UFC 232, Dec. 29, 2018
The consensus coming in among pundits and fans was that Nunes, the bantamweight champ, had maybe bit off more than she could chew by challenging Cyborg for the featherweight belt. Cyborg had long been the gold standard of the women's game. In going unbeaten through 21 fights over a decade since dropping her 2005 pro debut, the Brazilian buzzsaw had bullied fighters her own size -- so what would she do to the undersized Nunes? Not a thing, as it turned out. Nunes immediately showed off faster hand speed, knocking down Cyborg four times on the way to a 51-second knockout. Goodbye to the old GOAT, and meet the new GOAT.
2. Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey
UFC 207, Dec. 30, 2016
Rousey had taken more than a year off following her shocking upset at the hands (and left foot) of Holly Holm, and during that time, the bantamweight title had changed hands twice -- from Holm to Miesha Tate, then from Tate to Nunes. Now "Rowdy Ronda" was returning -- although only for the fight itself, as she declined to make any prefight promotional appearances. Still, the UFC built the entire hype fest around Rousey, mainly ignoring its reigning champion. Nunes was frustrated by that, and she took it out on Rousey, hurting her with the first punch of the fight and proceeding to land shot after shot -- she couldn't miss -- before the referee jumped in to mercifully end the beatdown after just 48 seconds.
3. Amanda Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko I
UFC 196, Mar. 5, 2016
This was the first of two fights between Nunes and Shevchenko, both Nunes victories. While the 2017 rematch ended in a split decision that's still being debated, this one was a clear Nunes win -- although it was her first UFC victory that did not end in a finish.
Neither woman was a UFC champion at the time, but this performance boosted Nunes into a title shot. Following their second meeting a year and a half later, Shevchenko moved to flyweight, where she soon began a title reign of nearly 4½ years.
4. Amanda Nunes vs. Miesha Tate
UFC 200, Jul. 9, 2016
After nearly a decade as a pro, Nunes finally became a UFC champion -- the first woman from Brazil to do so. She hurt Tate with punches early, bloodying her face before Round 1 was halfway over. Then Nunes took the fight to the canvas and locked in a rear-naked choke. And new.
5. Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Peña 2 (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
UFC 277, July 30, 2022
The final spot in our ranking was between this fight and Nunes' 2019 bout with Holly Holm, which ended with a stunning head-kick KO. But the rematch with Peña cannot be ignored because it showed that Nunes was not diminished by her upset loss seven months earlier. Who knows how much longer we will have "The Lioness" around? Her big moments -- such as this reentry into the rarefied land of the UFC champ-champ -- are to be cherished.