Amanda Nunes’ decision to pull out of the UFC 213 main event the day of the show was understandably greeted with great frustration from many fans. This year’s International Fight Week was plagued by fights falling through, this following notable cancellations each of the previous two years. To have the main event cancelled at the last minute was a stunning disappointment, and it was predictable that the news would be received very negatively. The form that negativity took was much more surprising.
The UFC 213 main event cancellation quickly turned into an indictment of Nunes herself. UFC President Dana White pointed the finger directly at Nunes, arguing that she was physically capable of fighting and that the issue was 90 percent mental and only 10 percent physical. This opened up the floodgates and in quick order Nunes was to many the villain most responsible for the failings of UFC 213. She was ostensibly forced to release a statement defending herself and outlining her struggles with sinusitis amidst a flood of criticism.
It’s baffling that Nunes isn’t being given the benefit of the doubt. She prepared for months leading up to this one night, which many fighters describe as the reward after long weeks of grueling preparation. She also gave up a six-figure paycheck she put in all that time to earn. She knew she was disappointing all her fans on short notice. What did she stand to gain from this withdrawal? Basically nothing. She will have to go through another training camp just to get back to the same point. She will still have to take on the same opponent. The only thing she gains is the opportunity to fight at closer to what she feels is her best, a bizarre prize if she’s physically fine in the first place.
It is true that sometimes fighters won’t be able to cope with the stress that comes with a big fight. While it still feels inappropriate to rip and ridicule combat athletes who find themselves in that headspace, there’s no history to suggest Nunes is one of them in the first place. She has fought professionally for over nine years, most of her adult life, and this has never happened before. The tremendous psychological pressure of stepping into a cage to fight another human being weeds out those who cannot take it well before they make it to the top of the sport.
The circumstances in general lend themselves to the conclusion that Nunes was in the hospital because she was physically not feeling well, as opposed to covering up that she just didn’t feel like fighting. Nunes was scheduled to face an opponent she had already taken on and won a decision against, not some fearsome unknown foe. Additionally, it was Nunes’ last fight against Ronda Rousey in which her career stakes were far and away the highest. Moreover, it stands to reason that if this were crippling anxiety rather than a temporary malady, she wouldn’t be lobbying to reschedule the same fight in short order. This whole line of reasoning makes so little sense.
The case against Nunes has largely been defined by the remarks made by White and the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Some have backed up that case while others have criticized White for throwing Nunes under the bus. In reality, White is playing a specific role to advance the UFC’s interests. It’s bad for business and for fans when fighters pull out of fights on short notice. Thus, White and the UFC have a vested interest in deterring fighters from doing so.
In past years, that pressure came financially, as fighters couldn’t afford to miss a paycheck. Now, top fighters make more money, and more of them can thus afford to pull out of bouts when they aren’t fully healthy. In response, the UFC employs the psychological weapon of essentially trying to shame fighters into not pulling out. The treatment of Nunes serves as a lesson for other fighters in her position. It’s a strategy, and it should be recognized as one.
There is a valid concern about too many fighters pulling out of fights at the last moment and it hurting confidence in announced cards. However, that isn’t remotely the present situation. Late pullouts are quite rare, except for failed weight cuts. If anything, fighters are much more apt to go through with fights when they really shouldn’t, given their physical injuries. All the time, information about serious injuries is leaked after fights take place. The pressure for fighters to go through with fights is strong already, and the shaming of Nunes was completely unnecessary to address the potential problem.
UFC 213 was rough for fans, but it was a terrible weekend for Nunes, as well. Rather than making a big paycheck to defend her title in a pay-per-view main event, she ended up in the hospital and became an object of derision. Yes, we all would have liked to have seen her fight. Even if it weren’t so much more logical to conclude that she just didn’t physically feel up to fighting, taking her word for it sure feels like the morally right thing to do.