In the most unexpected of Ultimate Fighter finales, who would pull out the win?
It was a main event no one was expecting. Throughout The Ultimate Fighter 26, the smart money was on one of the top two seeds, if not both, to make it through to the end. Roxanne Modafferi, a long-time veteran of the sport who had appeared on TUF 18 as a bantamweight, was seeded first. Barb Honchak, a former Invicta FC flyweight champ, was second. Both women, in fact, had honed their skills in Shannon Knapp’s promotion. Either would have been an easy pick to make the final, where the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight title was on the line.
Yet neither did. Instead, little-known Nicco Montano eliminated Barb Honchak in the semi-finals. It was a unanimous decision upset, and the upsets weren’t over. Sijara Eubanks, perhaps even less familiar than Montano to MMA fans, upset Modafferi next. That set up a Eubanks vs. Montano finale.
Only, it wasn’t to be. Eubanks, who struggled with her weight cuts while on the show (but ultimately made weight three times), went to hospital early Thursday, prior to the TUF 26 Finale weigh-ins. It was a disastrous effort at making weight, with the fighter suffering kidney failure. Sijara was out, Roxanne, the girl she defeated in a hotly contested semi-final bout, was in.
Who would make come out on top in this historic title fight Friday?
Modafferi took the center early, while Montano opened with a leg kick. Nicco was showing that she had definitely improved since the show. Roxy kept her cool, landing an inside leg kick. Roxanne pressed the attack, pushing forward; they’d clinch, with Modafferi looking for a trip. Instead, she’d drive Montano into the fence, but they wouldn’t stay there long. Montano went high with a kick, that Modafferi blocked. Nicco Montano, however, caught a kick around the halfway mark of the round that allowed her to get her opponent to the ground. Modafferi stayed active off her back, looking to latch on to an arm. She would eventually make it back up. Roxxane would then secure a takedown via a trip, and go right to side control. The round, however, would come to an end.
In the second, Modafferi pressed the action early and connected with a right hand that stunned Monatno. She then pressed forward with a barrage of strikes, but Montano seemed to recover. They’d clinch along the fence, and Montano would lash out with an elbow. Modafferi’s angles were giving Montano trouble, but Roxanne had expended a lot of energy early in the round, which allowed Montano to battle back. Modafferi would land another big right hand, and Montano was showing some damage. She answered back with a left of her own, then added a pair of hard leg kicks. Montano seemed to be timing her opponent; a takedown in the final minute would have been big for Modafferi, but Montano locked in a triangle. Modafferi survived, but how would the judges see that?
The third round saw Modafferi go high, then press forward with a combo. Montano would take the fight to the fence, but couldn’t finish the takedown. Another head kick attempt by Roxanne was blocked. Montano was finding success with her hands as well, and the round turned into a very back and forth affair. A hard body kick looked to hurt Montano. The round ended with the pair trading to the bell, which pretty much summed up the action to that point.
Roxy started round four with a yell, and looked ready to go. Montano, however, appeared to clip her early. She recovered, and the pair continued to exchange. It was Montano’s clean striking against Modafferi’s awkward movement and angles. A right from Roxanne landed, but Montano charged forward with a combination in response. She then tied Modafferi up against the cage. Modafferi would look for a throw but wound up on bottom. She popped back up, and went back to work. Montano scored with a kick to the body; Roxy answered with a right. Both women were bloodied and landing. Roxanne initiated a clinch and tried to wrestle Montano to the ground. She drove her opponent into the cage, but could not complete the takedown. Back in the middle a number of right hands by Modafferi hurt Montano; Nicco took her down in response. Montano would work from side control, landing some ground and pound; Modafferi would make it back to the feet.
The fifth and final round saw Roxanne Modafferi open with a kick to the body. Montano, however, scored a big takedown early. She did not, mind you, want to stay on the ground with Modafferi, who looked to score a takedown of her own only to have it reversed by Montano. Roxanne would escape, and fight off a subsequent takedown attempt. Modafferi then connected with a number of hard punches, set up by a body kick. She had Montano in retreat, but after a clinch was taken down. Modafferi grabbed an arm and held on tight in the final minute, threatening to finish but Montano broke free! That was huge, as it appeared Montano had crept ahead on the scorecards. It would go to the judges, who saw it in favor of Nicco Montano. A great fight for the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight championship.
Nicco Montano is your first UFC women’s 125lb champ!
Nicco Montano def. Roxanne Modafferi by unanimous decision (50-45, 49-46, 49-46)