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Montano’s Ultimate Fighter work earns her a title shot

Frankie Montaño, a Farmington light heavyweight boxer who campaigned in the late 1970s-early ’80s, was one tough human being. A warrior.

Like father, like daughter.

Nicco Montaño, an MMA fighter who trains in Albuquerque at FIT-NHB, will fight Friday night in Las Vegas, Nev., for the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight (125-pound title).

She earned the title shot by defeating three far more experienced fighters during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter 26.

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Though TUF 26 wrapped up filming months ago, it wasn’t until last week that Montaño’s semifinal victory over Barb Honchak was aired on Fox Sports 1. Montaño’s opponent Friday wasn’t revealed until Wednesday, when 12th-seeded Sijara Eubanks (2-2) defeated top-seeded Roxanne Modafferi (21-13) by unanimous decision.

On Thursday, however, Modaferri became Montaño’s opponent for tonight after Eubanks failed to weigh in. It was announced that Eubanks had to be hospitalized after difficulties cutting weight.

It wouldn’t quite be accurate, Montaño said, to say she followed her father into combat sports. Frankie Montaño and Nicco’s mother were estranged, and Nicco, who lived with her mom on the Navajo Reservation in eastern Arizona, didn’t see her dad often during her childhood.

When she did visit, her father would take her to the gym and encourage her to get involved.

“But I was like, kind of not wanting it at all,” she said. “Now, I’d probably say it was kind of destiny.”

It was not until she enrolled at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., that she found an interest in the martial arts.

“I started doing kickboxing practice, pad work, since that was all familiar,” she said. “I used to do that with my dad. Then one of the guys talked me into doing jiujitsu.”

Soon, the competitive juices that flowed in her father during his ring career found their way to Nicco.

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“I heard there were (jiujitsu) tournaments around the Four Corners area, and I basically started winning those tournaments or (finishing) high up.”

At that point, MMA beckoned.

“I needed a different challenge, a more challenging challenge,” she said.

It was on a King of the Cage card in 2013 that Montaño, fighting as an amateur, caught the eye of the FIT-NHB folks: Tom Vaughn, Arlene Sanchez Vaughn and Jon Judy, who stage KOC cards in New Mexico and adjoining states.  After going 5-0 as an amateur, she turned pro in November 2015.

She had a 3-2 pro record when she answered a casting call and auditioned for TUF 26. She made the cut, but was seeded 14th among 16 fighters when the competition began.

One by one, the higher-seeded fighters fell.

First, Montaño faced third-seeded Lauren Murphy, who entered the competition with a 9-3 record.

Montaño said the TUF format — the contestants, divided into teams, live together during filming — helped her shed whatever level of intimidation she might have had.

“As soon as I kind of got familiar with the girls and stopped, like, romanticizing how big-time they were, I put myself on an equal playing field. And all the stress was gone.

“Actually living in the house with them, with Lauren, helped me gain my confidence, easy my mind.”

Montaño defeated Murphy by unanimous decision. Sixth-seeded Montana Stewart (7-3) suffered the same fate.

Then, in the semifinals, Montaño squared off with second-seeded Invicta FC veteran Barb Honchak (10-2). Again, Montaño prevailed by unanimous decision.

Of the opportunity that presents itself Friday — a UFC title — she said, “I kind of have to pull myself away from thinking about it, you know, and I just have to stick with thinking it’s just another fight like you did on the show, just like you do every day. As soon as I start to put UFC titles in (the picture), all these thoughts start to flood in about what people expect.

“… I don’t think too much about the prize or anything. It’s just another day at the office.”

Montaño, 28, does have fond memories of her father, to whom she became closer during her high school years. Frankie Montaño died in 2006.

Since then, she has talked to people who told her how proud he was of her.

“He was always telling people, ‘My daughter this, my daughter that,'” she said.

Think about how proud Frankie, the warrior, would be of his daughter right now.

Friday

TUF 26 Finale. Fox Sports 1, 6 p.m.


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