New Zealand’s Michelle Montague is set to make her second appearance on the PFL Challenger Series this February, in a women’s featherweight match-up with Shaquita Woods.
For Montague (2-0), who had a highly successful amateur run before turning pro last year, a strong performance offers the chance to crack the women’s 145lb roster. The PFL is launching the weight class this year in place of lightweight, with star Kayla Harrison jumping to the Super-Fight division.
Woods herself is turning pro in the fight, a move that has been a long time coming. As Montague recalled in a recent interview with Cageside Press, Woods was actually the alternate on her Challenger Series card last year. At lightweight.
“I’m expecting her to be wicked strong and use her length,” Montague predicted of her opponent. “But I’m training how I will fight for myself anyway, whether I fight her or an alternate.”
The possibility of an alternate could be a concern. Woods was supposed to compete on an A1 Combat card last year, only to miss weight — resulting in her scheduled opponent dropping out of the fight. But ultimately, Montague sees Woods as being professional enough to do what it takes to make weight.
“I remember she was pretty lean making 155 as the alternate last time,” recalled Montague, “but she sort of strikes me as someone who is, without knowing her, seeing her that time, she has a very professional aura about her. She will do whatever it takes to make the weight. And this is a huge opportunity for all of us, so I know she won’t take that lightly in terms of making the weight.”
“Does part of my brain think it’s a tough cut? Yeah sure. For half the girls it’s probably a tough cut. But she’s a professional mindset girl, and I’m sure she will make the weight.”
Last year, the Challenger Series afford one winner in each weight class a spot in the PFL’s regular season. While the format is generally expected to be the same this year for the men, Montague isn’t sure if there will be one spot up for grabs, or more, when it comes to the newly launched women’s featherweight division.
“I’m not 100% certain if they’re just giving out one spot or not. I think it’ll depend on the numbers that they have in the 145 [division] at this stage,” she suggested. “The boys divisions are probably quite full, but for us, I’m not sure if that’s the case or not.”
When it comes to worrying about winning a regular season spot or making a statement, however, “you have to just focus on like one thing at a time, and that is like the first minute of a fight, and let it play out from there,” Montague said. “I enjoy finishes a lot, I do hunt them out and I love a good takedown, so I feel like there’s stuff that I can do to show that I can be dominant in there— but there’s two people in the cage at a time and they’re both thinking the same thing.”
“It’s important to make a big impression on the judges and that celebrity panel, but that’s not my focus,” she added. “My focus is obviously to win and dominate the fight. If someone in another fight with the other girls does a better job of that, then all I can do is be happy with what I’ve done, and if they choose someone else for the season, then hey that’s it.”
Michelle Montague is something of a maven of combat sports, having competed at a high level in several disciplines including jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and amateur MMA. Her amateur run saw her win gold at the IMMAF Oceania Open Championship in 2020, earning Female Fighter of the Year honors as well.
Montague believes that amateur experience has been “so vital” to her development. “I had wanted to hit the amateur worlds up actually a couple times, but I ended up breaking both my legs a year apart, one at a time. That took a couple years out of my routine and training, rehabbing and all that,” she stated. “When I was finally able to do the Oceanias, the European champs, the world champs and all that year, and trying it out at lightweight and featherweight, it was massive.”
“They have such a setup at these events [IMMAF], that you feel like a professional, because the people running it have done this for years and they are the best at it in the amateur world. You get such an insight into what it would be like walking out for a pro fight.”
Watch our full interview with PFL Challenger Series featherweight Michelle Montague above. She faces Shaquita Woods on February 3, 2023 in Orlando, FL.