On Saturday, Felicia Spencer competes in her first pay-per-view main event. It won’t be the first time she’s squared off with a woman considered to be one of the greatest of all-time.
When Spencer fought Cris Cyborg this past summer, the Brazilian star was one fight removed from her first loss in 13 years. The bout carried considerable weight, not only because of the scrutiny Cyborg was facing following a stunning setback against Amanda Nunes, but because it would also provide insight into how far along Spencer was as a featherweight prospect.
Though Spencer lost a unanimous decision, she earned praise for going the distance with the more experienced Cyborg and bounced back from that loss with a first-round TKO of Zarah Fairn in February. That win moved Spencer to the top of the contender rankings and next for her is a shot at Nunes’s championship at UFC 250 at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
Spencer learned a lot from the 15 minutes she spent battling Cyborg and she’s bringing that to the octagon with her as she attempts to be more than just another name in the legendary run that Nunes is currently on.
“I definitely see the resemblance,” Spencer told MMA Fighting, in regards to the hype surrounding the Cyborg and Nunes fights. “[The Cyborg fight] did feel like a title fight and I think even some of the commentators made comments about it being a title fight or a five-round fight, something like that was said during the actual event. Media, even afterwards, were like, ‘losing to the champion’ or mentioned that it was five rounds and I had to remind them it wasn’t a championship fight, it was only three rounds.
“I think that the experience just adds to the repertoire. I’ve been through some of the buildup and now it’s actually a little bit less because of the restrictions with media and stuff. It’s less invasive, less stuff going on. I feel like I was so lucky and happy to be given the opportunity to have such a high placement on the card last summer with Cyborg, having the big stage, and now it’s kind of all happening again but this time in the main event, which was super unexpected at first because we were third down initially and then co-main and now we’re the main. I just kind of take the news and then move on. My number one focus is just beating Amanda and then everything that comes after will come after and I’ll enjoy it then.”
Spencer has had plenty to celebrate already. Aside from booking the Nunes fight, the 29-year-old was married in December. Her husband Todd Coppinger, also a fighter, competed for the first time as a pro in February after dealing with injuries for the past two years. He won by first-round knockout.
Coppinger wasn’t cornered by Spencer as she instead watched from the seats, describing herself as “jittery” and grateful to be in the background on fight night for once. Just five years ago, Spencer made her own pro debut with Invicta FC, rattling off six straight wins to start her career capped off by a submission of Pam Sorenson that won her a vacant featherweight title. Less than two years later, she’s fighting for UFC gold.
The rapid ascent is not lost on Spencer.
“Especially since I turned pro, but even before then, the opportunities just escalate quickly,” Spencer said. “My amateur career started off slow, it was really tough to get fights, then all of a sudden I had a few wins and I got called to Vegas to fight in the Tuff-N-Uff tournament, which was a huge deal and such a big thing back then. And then Invicta.
“Really, every year I look back it’s milestones. People are just saying the same thing, ‘Wow, it’s crazy, you’ve done this and this, it’s a crazy year.’ Yeah, every year I look back and it’s a crazy year so it’s kind of the same as usual. The opportunities are incredible and mind-blowing but I feel like this every year, so we’ll see what happens next year.”
Born in Montreal and raised in Florida, Spencer looks forward to taking the UFC belt on a tour of both Canada and the United States should she defeat Nunes. Spencer is the first Canadian to challenge for a UFC title since Georges St-Pierre returned from retirement and beat middleweight champion Michael Bisping in November 2017.
It’s an opportunity that Spencer was confident she would get after defeating Fairn, though she’s aware that the more established Megan Anderson — who knocked out Norma Dumont Viana the same night as Spencer’s win over Fairn — was in consideration as well. Spencer submitted Anderson in May 2019 and wouldn’t be surprised if they rematch somewhere down the road.
“It was definitely presented after like it could be [Anderson] too, that both were being considered,” Spencer said. “I honestly figured that I would get the first call and if they wanted to make it happen, it would happen. If I didn’t get the first call then so be it. Just the way that they positioned us [with Spencer in the co-main event] on the card also — not that they wanted me to win and not her — but in the situation that happened where we both had great performances, it seemed like I would be the first one. I know Megan and I will probably fight again in the future.”
Spencer is aware she’s still not a household name and that there are fans viewing her as little more than a mandatory challenger for Nunes. When she steps into the octagon at UFC 250, it will be just her 10th pro appearance. Add to that the fact that her fight with Nunes had to be rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic throwing the UFC schedule into disarray and their hasn’t been much time to properly build up their bout.
Regardless of how many are watching and how some may choose to view her contender credentials, Spencer is proud of the hill she’s climbed to get here. And if she has to keep climbing to earn respect, she’s ready to dig in.
“I’ve earned my spot here,” Spencer said. “I understand where people come from especially if they’re not following the sport. I understand the division that I’m in is different and unique. All I stress about is what I can control, which is putting on a great performance and making people want to see me fight. That’s what I always try to do.
“Two out of the three fights I’ve had so far in the UFC have been first-round finishes. The other one was a decision that a lot of people were happy with as far as my performance, other people weren’t, but whatever. All I can do is put my best foot forward and hope the people want to see me again. If not, I’ll keep winning and take my spot.”