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Coach: Irene Aldana can ‘surprise’ Amanda Nunes like teammate Alexa Grasso upset Valentina Shevchenko


Irene Aldana challenges Amanda Nunes for the UFC bantamweight championship in the main event of UFC 289 in Vancouver, Canada, on June 10, and Diego Lopes, her jiu-jitsu coach at Lobo Gym in Mexico, expects another shocking upset.

Lopes, a UFC featherweight who also trained and cornered Alexa Grasso for her stunning rear-naked choke win over dominant flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko in March, feels that Aldana’s sharp hands could be too much for Nunes.

“Amanda is a tough fight for anyone in the division,” Lopes said on a recent episode of MMA Fighting’s Trocação Franca podcast. “We know she’s the best in the division, but I think our team is used to fighting that, like Alexa did with Valentina. Everybody saw Valentina as unbeatable, and we went there and did our job to win the fight.”

Nunes, who defeated Shevchenko twice via decision back when “Bullet” was fighting at 135 pounds, has won 13 of her past 14 UFC bouts dating back to 2015 and recently avenged her sole defeat to Julianna Peña. “The Lioness” was expected to face Peña for a third time on June 10, but Aldana stepped in as a replacement.

The Mexican talent stopped Yana Santos and Macy Chiasson by knockout in her most recent octagon appearances, adding to a list of UFC finishes that also includes a first-round knockout of top-ranked bantamweight Ketlen Vieira.

“I think we can surprise Amanda like that,” Lopes said of Aldana’s chances. “To go in there and show something Amanda hasn’t faced yet, which is the level of boxing Irene has, to surprise her and bring the second [UFC] belt to the team and the fourth to Mexico.”

Lopes said the UFC has yet to define what’s next for Grasso at flyweight. An immediate rematch with Shevchenko seems like a logical step, but the team is also “keeping an eye at” surging contenders Manon Fiorot and Erin Blanchfield.

“It really depends on what the UFC has in mind for Alexa,” Lopes said. “We’ll be ready to fight any opponent the UFC gives us.”

Mexico has also two representatives featured in championship fights at UFC 290 on July 8 — interim titleholder Yair Rodriguez unifying the 145-pound gold with Alexander Volkanovski, and Brandon Moreno defending the 125-pound throne against his nemesis Alexandre Pantoja in the co-main event.

“I’ll be watching them, especially Yair’s fight with Volkanovski, because I like to watch every fighter in my division and see at what level they are,” said Lopes, who impressed in his UFC debut earlier this month in a hard-fought decision loss to 17-0 talent Movsar Evloev. “It’s a hard fight, and it might be surprising. Yair could win, but Volkanovski could dominate the fight. I think it’s going to be very dynamic, and will go down to the small details.

“[Moreno vs. Pantoja] will be very interesting because Pantoja already beat Brandon twice, once on [The Ultimate Fighter] and then in the UFC, so let’s see what they bring to the table now. I had the opportunity to train with Brandon a few times and see his evolution. It’s going to be a very tough fight and we stay on the fence — having trained with Brandon and having a friendship with him, I hope he gets to defends the belt and keep it in Mexico because the country is working really hard for years to get to this point.”

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