Istela Nunes is a fast learner. She made her MMA debut less than two years ago, but is already an undefeated veteran of seven fights and will challenge for the ONE Championship atomweight title in Singapore on Friday.
The 24-year-old brings a 5-0-0-1 record into her ONE: Dynasty of Heroes match-up against Angela Lee. Their fight will be the main event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium and Nunes says she has no qualms about going up against the hometown hero.
“I’ll be in her home, so I’m the underdog, but I like being pressured, I work well like that. When I fought for a (kickboxing) belt in Aracaju and the crowd was all against me, they even changed my walkout song. I was going to walkout out to Slipknot, but they changed it to Barbie Girl and everyone had pink balloons, to me that was good pressure, I worked even better.”
Before transitioning to MMA she established herself as one of the top Muay Thai fighters on the Brazilian scene, winning two amateur titles in Thailand. Nunes says she simply ran out of opponents and was in need of a new challenge.
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“I was in Sao Paulo and was tired of fighting Muay Thai because I didn’t have any more opponents in Brazil. So I had to travel abroad and sometimes I didn’t have the support to travel. That’s when I got an offer to go to Curitiba to train MMA.”
Being Brazilian, you would expect Nunes to come from a strong grappling background. But her base is striking and the undefeated atomweight plans to pose Lee plenty of problems in the stand-up department.
“My biggest strength is obviously on my feet. By the time she gets to the ground, she will have gone through a lot on her feet.”
Nunes went the distance with multiple-time MMA champion Mei Yamaguchi on her ONE Championship debut. The Brazilian prevailed courtesy of a split decision, but says there were extenuating circumstances behind what she believes was a below par performance.
“My fight with Mei was kind of last minute. I signed the contract and they called me to fight Mei. I fought without training. I only did conditioning work, so I fought with my heart.”
Nunes has a full training camp behind her going into ONE: Dynasty of Heroes and expects to put on a much better performance second time around.
“This fight will be the fight of my life and I will do my best, people think I will be like in the last one, but I will come back a thousand times better.”
The win that secured Nunes a ONE Championship contract came courtesy of a barrage of head kicks. The fight finish went viral and it’s possible that this footage inspired matchmaker Matt Hume to add the Brazilian to the promotion’s atomweight roster.
In 2014, Nunes won the WMO under 54-kilogram title as an amateur. In the tournament final, she faced local favorite Jade Marrisa Sirisompan and thinks this experience will serve here well as she prepares to go up against Lee in Singapore.
“In 2014, I beat a girl who was well known. She was the master’s daughter. Her father owns the organization, so she was like invincible, and I got there and beat her with a knockout in the first round, about 48 seconds. After that experience of beating the owner’s daughter, fighting Angela Lee in Singapore is no big deal.”
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Nunes certainly poses a threat to a champion who is more renowned for her grappling prowess than her striking. The Brazilian has earned a reputation as being a head-kick knockout specialist and the fans at the Singapore Indoor Stadium will have their hearts in their mouths for as long as the fight stays standing.
Of course Nunes knows she is up against a seasoned grappler who has been training BJJ for well over a decade. It’s a battle between two diametrically opposite skillsets, a clash of styles, and the Brazilian believes that whatever happens on May 26, it’s going to be a fun fight.
“I have never been afraid of any opponent, and I also don’t underestimate any opponents. She is a great opponent and so am I, so it will be a great fight.”
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