Nicco Montano’s unlikely journey from reality show underdog to UFC flyweight champion was even more unlikely than most realized.
Montano captured the inaugural 125-pound title with a unanimous decision victory over Roxanne Modafferi at “The Ultimate Fighter 26” finale in Las Vegas on Friday night. Montano was hardly a favorite entering “TUF 26,” as evidenced by the No. 14 seed she received. Still, she made it through the bracket by besting Lauren Murphy, Montana Stewart, Barb Honchak and Modafferi to make UFC history.
“It’s still kind of unbelievable,” Montano said on Fox Sports 1. “I haven’t really looked at the belt yet. I’ve been holding on to it. I’m so grateful, I’m so happy to be here.”
What made Montano’s triumph even more unbelievable was that she was able to best Modafferi at less than 100 percent. At one point, the FIT-NHB representative didn’t think she would make it to fight night.
“The second day after I came home from the show, I broke my foot. So I was thinking I probably wasn’t going to be able to fight two days ago,” Montano explained. “Bobby from the [UFC Performance Institute] had to come over because my heel was coming off of the ground about two centimeters, and I wasn’t going to be able to fight. He worked on it. I stuck through it through camp and I stuck through it tonight.
“You gotta have the heart; you gotta have the discipline. You’re a fighter, you’re gonna get hurt, so you just have to put that aside even though it’s broken.”
At just 4-2, Montano doesn’t have the most accomplished resume of the current UFC champions. That means she will have no shortage of challengers aiming for her belt in the coming months.
“It’s a difficult position for her to be in as the champion,” UFC President Dana White admitted in a post-fight media scrum. “Everyone’s gunning for her. She’s gonna have to work hard. The thing is about her, she’s 4-2….she was the least favored to win the show and she’s the champ now. She obviously has something special.”
Montano herself will admit she’s far from a finished product. Against Modafferi, for example, the 28-year-old was able to take advantage of every opportunity she saw. She expects that to improve with time.
“In the fight I feel like I saw some openings I was trying to go for it, but my body was like, ‘Nope.’ And I’m like, ‘OK.’ There’s definitely a lot of things I’m going learn and achieve and accomplish holding this belt, so I can thank MMA the sport and UFC for that.”