The UFC has something of a challenge on their hands with their newly minted flyweight division. Having devoted months of marketing buildup and reality show drama to the crowning of the promotion’s first 125 lb champion, the difficulty remains to make all that count for something more than 13 weeks of ratings.
The show already encountered a bit of a speed bump, when co-finalist Sijara Eubanks was pulled from her title bout with Nicco Montano to end the tournament – and replaced by semi-finalist Roxanne Modafferi. But, Modafferi put up a valiant effort in defeat, leaving relative MMA neophyte Montano as the first queen of her weight class. The next trick will be finding her a first title defense.
There are no shortage of fighters willing to throw their name into the hat. Valentina Shevchenko is moving down from bantamweight, Paige VanZant is moving up from strawweight; Lauren Murphy picked up a big win at the TUF 26 Finale, and made her call for the belt. However, Montano has other ideas in mind. Ones that would continue to capitalize off any lasting shine from the Ultimate Fighter, and keep her fighting similarly experienced competition (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“I laugh it off,” Montano said on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour, when asked about talk that she may be scared to fight Valentina Shevchenko or Paige VanZant. “Some people don’t have the best attitude or sportsmanship, especially when it comes to fighting. But I feel like – like I’m not scared, I’m absolutely not scared. But, I definitely think that they should be able to show what they can do at ‘25 before getting a chance to fight for a title.
“‘Sarge’ (Sijara Eubanks), even though she didn’t make weight, we can’t forget she made the weight three times in a six-week period (during the Ultimate Fighter 26 tournament). So she can make the weight. It was just a hard process right after the show, everyone went home, went back to their regular diet so their body wasn’t used to it after that six-week period and then it was kind of hard to bounce back given the amount of time that we had.
“I’m definitely not scared, because it’s the name of the game. You want to fight the best, so that you can prove to everybody else that you are the best. But, right now the best is not Shevchenko at ‘25. She hasn’t fought at that weight. It’s not Paige VanZant, she hasn’t fought at that weight either. So I think it’s pretty silly and I’m a person who wants fair fights and so I just don’t think they are deserving of it right now.”
That may be a tough sell to fans, who have already seen Shevchenko in competitive bouts with the current bantamweight champion. However, it may also be the best option for the UFC, if they want TUF 26 to lay some actual groundwork for the division.
Montano beating Shevchenko would do wonders to establish her credibility as a legit top talent in MMA right this moment, but a crushing loss could leave the whole season feeling like little more than an afterthought going forward. Eubanks vs. Montano could provide an extra bit of closure from the show, and give both women a little more chance to find their footing in the UFC.
In the meantime, Montano still needs to recover from injuries sustained in her bout against Modafferi. And until that happens, any talk of first title defenses is just talk, and nothing more.