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Amanda Nunes: UFC trying to protect Ronda Rousey's psyche ahead of UFC 207


(This story first appeared at USAToday.com.)

LOS ANGELES – Amanda Nunes says she believes UFC chiefs are trying to protect Ronda Rousey’s psyche by making her the singular focus of promotional efforts for UFC 207.

Nunes (13-4 MMA, 6-1 UFC) will make the first defense of her women’s bantamweight title against Rousey (12-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on Dec. 30. Yet despite being in the unfamiliar role of challenger, it is Rousey who has completely dominated the UFC’s publicity machine in the lead-up to the bout.

“I feel like UFC want to make it easy for her, so she doesn’t feel like she’s not the champion anymore,” Nunes told reporters this week. “They want to do this to make her feel strong or something. They try to promote her so she can see that – ‘Ronda, Ronda, Ronda.’

“But she knows she is the challenger, I am the champion. Nobody can change this. Nobody can make Ronda the champion. She is not the champion anymore.

“They want to make things more soft for her.”

Rousey has not fought since being knocked out by Holly Holm in Australia in November 2015 and has mostly avoided answering questions about the defeat.

Regardless, the bulk of UFC billboards dotted across America focus on Rousey and her return, leaving Nunes largely on the outside.

Veteran UFC announcer Joe Rogan even highlighted the strategy and the somewhat odd nature of it during last weekend’s UFC on FOX 22, insisting that snubbing Nunes was disrespectful.

But it is easy to see why the organization wants to ride the comeback fight of one of its chief money-spinners, and the fact that new UFC owner WME-IMG represents Rousey could be another reason why it wants her positioned so strongly as a figurehead.

To be fair, however, it would also have been possible to give Nunes a higher billing than she has received without impinging on the desire to maximize Rousey’s popularity.

Nunes says she believes the UFC has plenty of fiscal reasons to want Rousey to emerge victorious, yet appeared supremely relaxed, and while an underdog with oddsmakers, is certain she can hold onto the title. The bantamweight belt has exchanged hands swiftly – Holm lost it to Miesha Tate, who was in turn badly beaten by Nunes in the main event of UFC 200 in July.

Rousey will be in an unusual spot Friday, regardless of what happens in the fight. She was the first-ever women’s UFC champion and has never had to take the belt from another fighter. Entering the octagon first, as challenger, will be a novel experience.

“The UFC likes Ronda a lot,” Nunes added. “What are you going to do? I don’t care.

“I’m OK with it. The only thing I look for in my career is to stay busy, have the belt, be the champion. Whatever they want to do with Ronda, they do. She promotes well, sells a lot of pay per views, and that helps me, too.”

In reality, the most intriguing aspect of the fight is the part the UFC isn’t talking about – the underlying question of how Rousey has been able to handle the mental strain of seeing her unbeaten record dramatically ended.

“Honestly, I think if you don’t know how to take a loss it will play with your head a little bit,” Nunes said. “I don’t know what is going on with Ronda right now.”

For more on UFC 207, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.



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