Octagon Oracles: Istela Nunes

SINGAPORE - MAY 26: Istela Nunes shows off her Muay Thai against Angela Lee at ONE Championship: Dynasty of Heroes at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on May 26, 2017 in Singapore (Photo by Dux Carvajal/ONE Championship/Getty Images)

Grade: B-

Originally signed by the UFC back in 2019 and scheduled to make her promotional debut against Angela Hill (a fight I still hope happens at some point), Nunes unfortunately failed a USADA test and was suspended for two years.

After pulling out of a bout with Jinh Yu Frey last July, she’ll finally step into the Octagon opposite fellow Brazilian Ariane Carnelossi on Saturday night.

Nunes started out in Muay Thai, and her striking background is clearly the basis for her MMA game. She collected five wins on the Brazilian regional scene before moving to ONE Championship and took a split-decision victory over Mei Yamaguchi that earned her a shot at the ONE 115-pound title. Following a second-round submission loss to champion Angela Lee in that title bid, she most recently won a unanimous decision over Gina Iniong in July of 2018 before signing with the UFC.

Preferring to keep her opponents at distance with straight punches and a variety of kicks, her Muay Thai background really shines through in her use of knees in the clinch. If given the time to work at distance, she’s able to get a feel for her opponents on the feet and overwhelm them as the fight goes on.

The biggest obstacle for her in the UFC will the stronger grapplers at the top of the strawweight division. Yamaguchi was able to take her down and control her during their bout despite Nunes’ apparent size advantage, and her kick-heavy style often leaves her open to takedown attempts.

It’s difficult to assess any fighter following a three-year layoff (even more so after a suspension) but I’m choosing to be optimistic on how Nunes will return to action. At twenty-nine years old and training out of the same camp as Jessica Andrade, I think Nunes will have utilized the time off to further develop her overall MMA skillset.

Carnelossi’s aggressive striking style will be a good first test for her in the UFC and should make for an exciting bout, but if Nunes can get past her there’s a lot of entertaining matchups available in the division.

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