Despite losing in the semifinals, Roxanne Modafferi received an unexpected shot at the UFC women’s flyweight title when Sijara Eubanks, the woman who defeated her, failed to make weight for The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale in Las Vegas, Nevada. Opposite Modafferi was #14-seeded Nicco Montano, whose pro record heading into this contest was just 3-2. Despite the low ranking on the show, Montano advanced to the final, and in a grueling fight with Modafferi, the 28-year-old Californian became the UFC’s first ever women’s flyweight champion. The scorecards suggested it was a lopsided affair, which will definitely raise some eyebrows considering how the fight played out, but it was a well-deserved decision for Montano over the fan-favorite and women’s MMA pioneer.
Montano and Modafferi fought at a fast pace in the opening stanza, trading strikes but not really connecting on anything too damaging. A head kick halfway through the round partially landed for Montano, and then she took Roxy down. Modafferi searched for an armbar from her back, but Montano passed Modafferi’s guard and landed some ground-and-pound. Montano got up from Modafferi’s guard and they returned to their feet, but Modafferi turned the tables and took Montano down straight into side control. Modafferi nearly had her foe in the crucifix position, then Montano finished the round with a couple of elbows from the bottom.
A right hand by Modafferi stung Montano, and Modafferi chased Montano down and looked to tee off with punches. Montano tied her up and landed an elbow on the exit. Nicco cracked Roxy with a left hand, as Modafferi was the one moving forward the majority of the time. Montano clipped Modafferi with a solid left hand across Modafferi’s face, as the fight progressed past the midway point of round 2. The crowd chanted “Nicco! Nicco!” as their fighter had an extended period of success on the feet. A takedown from Modafferi led to immediate danger, as Montano threw up a triangle, and even though she didn’t get that submission, Montano elbowed her foe numerous times.
Montano had her early third-round takedown stuffed, and she came up short on a couple of ensuing right hooks. While Modafferi had most of the forward movement in the previous two frames, Montano was working effectively both going forwards and off the backfoot. Modafferi’s nose was bloodied and her combinations became increasingly predictable, but she did get in some quality shots of her own. They ended the round with some back-and-forth trading against the fence.
The volume striking of Montano really started to take its toll on Modafferi, who was training for a three-rounder on this card before the last-minute change. Montano was countering Modafferi’s right hand frequently and buckling Roxy with leg kicks. A combination had Modafferi noticeably bothered as she retreated towards the fence. Modafferi’s head-and-arm throw backfired, and Montano momentarily wound up on top. A slow 1-2 by Modafferi saw her land the first punch but not the other, and Montano was snapping Roxanne’s head back with some of her strikes. Modafferi went for a takedown and it was denied. Modafferi found enough of a second wind to crack Montano with several good punches, then a knee, and Montano got herself a much-needed takedown. After some ground-and-pound, Montano got out of Modafferi’s guard just before the horn sounded to end round four.
In the final round, Montano hit a reactive takedown on Modafferi, then passed to mount, only for Modafferi to escape to her feet. Montano took Modafferi down again and into side control, then to full mount, but she lost dominant position when she tried spinning to the back. Modafferi clipped Montano with a knee on the way up, then initiated a clinch. A hard body kick by Modafferi looked to have Montano in trouble, and Modafferi sensed it. Modafferi went for a takedown but Montano hit the whizzer and once again found herself in top position with over a minute to go. Modafferi went for the armbar with 30 seconds to go but Montano popped out of it, and Roxanne knew that was a golden opportunity missed. They swung for the fences to close out this closely-contested championship bout.
Montano’s path to the title included wins over Lauren Murphy, Montana Stewart, Barb Honchak, and now Modafferi.