Nunes grew up in a small town outside of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil. She started training in karate at age four and pursued training in boxing at the age of sixteen. Under the strict tutelage of Brazilian jiu-jitsu Black Belt Ryan Franco of Redding, California, she began to hone her grappling skills. Nunes attributes much of her success in competitive martial arts to the teachings of Franco. She first competed in Brazilian jiu-jitsu after being invited to a dojo by her sister, who also trained in the sport.
Nunes lived in New Jersey and trained at AMA Fight Club before moving to Miami to train at MMA Masters. She is currently training at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. She has competed in the 135- and 145-pound weight divisions and has stated that she intends to fight at 135 pounds for the foreseeable future.
Nunes made her mixed martial arts debut on March 8, 2008, at Prime MMA Championship 2. She faced Ana Maria and was defeated by armbar submission in the first round.
Nunes won five straight fights, all by a form of knockout, and made her Strikeforce debut on January 7, 2011, at Strikeforce Challengers: Woodley vs. Saffiedine in Nashville, Tennessee. She defeated Canadian Julia Budd by knockout in just 14 seconds.
Nunes was scheduled to fight Julie Kedzie at Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Werdum on June 18, 2011, in Dallas, Texas. The bout, however, was cancelled after Nunes sustained a foot injury.
Nunes fought Alexis Davis on September 10, 2011, on the Strikeforce Grand Prix Semifinals card. She lost the fight via TKO late in the second round. In the first round, Nunes started strong with heavy strikes, but quickly faded. By the second round, Nunes was exhausted from the start of the round. While attempting a takedown she was instantly reversed where Davis was able to obtain full mount to finish Nunes with strikes.
Nunes signed to face Cat Zingano at Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Healy on September 29, 2012, but the event was cancelled when Gilbert Melendez, who was set to defend his title against Pat Healy, sustained a knee injury in training that forced his withdrawal from the card.
Nunes was scheduled to face Milana Dudieva at Invicta FC 2: Baszler vs. McMann on July 28, 2012. However, Dudieva withdrew from the fight due to illness on July 9 and Nunes was then set to face Leslie Smith instead. Smith also withdrew due to an injury and Nunes ultimately faced Raquel Pa'aluhi. Nunes won the fight via technical submission due to a rear-naked choke in the first round.
On January 5, 2013, Nunes returned to Invicta Fighting Championships to face Sarah D'Alelio at Invicta FC 4: Esparza vs. Hyatt. Nunes lost the fight via unanimous decision.
Nunes was scheduled to face Kaitlin Young at Invicta FC 5 on April 5, 2013. However, she sustained an arm injury and was forced to withdraw from the fight.
Nunes made her Octagon debut against Sheila Gaff at UFC 163 on August 3, 2013, in Brazil. She won the fight via TKO in the first round.
Nunes made her second UFC appearance when she faced Germaine de Randamie at UFC Fight Night 31 on November 6, 2013. She won the fight via TKO in the first round.
For her third fight with the promotion, Nunes was named the injury replacement for Shayna Baszler against Sarah Kaufman at The Ultimate Fighter Nations Finale. However, Nunes later pulled out of the bout with a dislocated thumb.
Nunes faced Cat Zingano on September 27, 2014, at UFC 178. After nearly finishing Zingano with punches in the first round, she lost the next round before being finished via TKO in the third round.
Nunes faced Shayna Baszler on March 21, 2015, at UFC Fight Night 62. She won the fight via TKO in the first round.
Nunes faced Sara McMann on August 8, 2015, at UFC Fight Night 73. She won the fight via a rear-naked choke submission in the first round, after knocking her opponent down with a three punch combination.
Nunes was expected Valentina Shevchenko on their rematch on July 8, 2017 at UFC 213, but on the day of the fight Nunes fell ill and pulled out of the fight. The doctors cleared Nunes to fight, but she didn't feel up to it, so the fight was called off. Joanna Jędrzejczyk offered to replace Nunes, but the Nevada State Athletic Commission could not clear her on such a short notice. The fight was rescheduled on March 5, 2016, at UFC 196. She won the fight by unanimous decision.
After amassing a three-fight win streak, Nunes earned her first title shot in the UFC. She faced Miesha Tate for the UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship on July 9, 2016, at UFC 200. Nunes stunned Tate early on via knee and punches and then won the fight by submission (rear-naked choke) in the first round. Her victory made her the first openly gay champion in UFC history.
On December 30, 2016, Nunes made her first title defense against returning MMA superstar Ronda Rousey in the main event at UFC 207. Nunes won the fight via TKO due to punches just 48 seconds into the first round.
For her second title defense, Nunes was scheduled to face Valentina Shevchenko in a rematch at UFC 213 on July 8, 2017. The pair originally fought at UFC 196 with Nunes winning by unanimous decision. However, Nunes was hospitalized the morning of the fight with chronic sinusitis and the fight was cancelled. Joanna Jędrzejczyk offered to replace Nunes, but the Nevada State Athletic Commission could not clear her on such a short notice. Nunes instead fought Shevchenko at UFC 215 on September 9 in Edmonton, Alberta. Nunes won the closely contested fight by split decision.
Nunes is openly gay. She has been in a relationship with fellow UFC fighter Nina Ansaroff, who competes in the strawweight division, for the past four years, and credits the relationship for her UFC successes.Ultimate Fighting Championship
UFC Women's Bantamweight Championship (one time; current)
Two successful title defenses
Performance of the Night (three times) vs. Sara McMann, vs. Miesha Tate, vs. Ronda Rousey
2015 August Submission of the Month vs. Sara McMann
2016 Equality Visibility Award