Frankie MontaĆ±o, a Farmington light heavyweight boxer who campaigned in the late 1970s-early ā80s, was one tough human being. A warrior.
Like father, like daughter.
Nicco MontaĆ±o, an MMA fighter who trains in Albuquerque at FIT-NHB, will fight Friday night in Las Vegas, Nev., for the inaugural UFC womenās flyweight (125-pound title).
She earned the title shot by defeating three far more experienced fighters during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter 26.
Though TUF 26 wrapped up filming months ago, it wasnāt until last week that MontaĆ±oās semifinal victory over Barb Honchak was aired on Fox Sports 1. MontaĆ±oās opponent Friday wasnāt revealed until Wednesday, when 12th-seeded Sijara Eubanks (2-2) defeated top-seeded Roxanne Modafferi (21-13) by unanimous decision.
On Thursday, however, Modaferri becameĀ MontaĆ±oās opponent for tonight after Eubanks failed to weigh in. It was announced that Eubanks had to be hospitalized after difficulties cutting weight.
It wouldnāt quite be accurate, MontaĆ±o said, to say she followed her father into combat sports. Frankie MontaĆ±o and Niccoās mother were estranged, and Nicco, who lived with her mom on the Navajo Reservation in eastern Arizona, didnāt 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.
āBut I was like, kind of not wanting it at all,ā she said. āNow, Iād probably say it was kind of destiny.ā
It was not until she enrolled at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., that she found an interest in the martial arts.
āI started doing kickboxing practice, pad work, since that was all familiar,ā she said. āI used to do that with my dad. Then one of the guys talked me into doing jiujitsu.ā
Soon, the competitive juices that flowed in her father during his ring career found their way to Nicco.
āI heard there were (jiujitsu) tournaments around the Four Corners area, and I basically started winning those tournaments or (finishing) high up.ā
At that point, MMA beckoned.
āI needed a different challenge, a more challenging challenge,ā she said.
It was on a King of the Cage card in 2013 that MontaĆ±o, 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.Ā 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, MontaĆ±o faced third-seeded Lauren Murphy, who entered the competition with a 9-3 record.
MontaĆ±o said the TUF format ā the contestants, divided into teams, live together during filming ā helped her shed whatever level of intimidation she might have had.
āAs 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.
āActually living in the house with them, with Lauren, helped me gain my confidence, easy my mind.ā
MontaĆ±o defeated Murphy by unanimous decision. Sixth-seeded Montana Stewart (7-3) suffered the same fate.
Then, in the semifinals, MontaĆ±o squared off with second-seeded Invicta FC veteran Barb Honchak (10-2). Again, MontaĆ±o prevailed by unanimous decision.
Of the opportunity that presents itself Friday ā a UFC title ā she said, āI kind of have to pull myself away from thinking about it, you know, and I just have to stick with thinking itās 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.
āā¦ I donāt think too much about the prize or anything. Itās just another day at the office.ā
MontaĆ±o, 28, does have fond memories of her father, to whom she became closer during her high school years. Frankie MontaĆ±o died in 2006.
Since then, she has talked to people who told her how proud he was of her.
āHe was always telling people, āMy daughter this, my daughter that,'ā she said.
Think about how proud Frankie, the warrior, would be of his daughter right now.
TUF 26 Finale. Fox Sports 1, 6 p.m.