Diné UFC Champ Credits Her Ancestors

Special to the Times | Bazhnibah/Ruth Kawano
Nicco Montano, the new Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight champion, rides on a float in her hometown of Lukachukai, Arizona, on last Sunday.

Published December 10, 2017

WINDOW ROCK – A Navajo woman pitted the resilience of her ancestors against the experience of a veteran opponent to take a championship belt home to Diné Bikéyah.

Nicco Montaño, who grew up in Lukachukai, Arizona, gritted out a dominant unanimous decision in Las Vegas at “The Ultimate Fighter 26” finale last Friday, where she became the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first women’s flyweight champion.

Montaño took judges’ scores of 50-45, 49-46, and 49-46 to dominate Roxanne Modafferi, who has experience going back to 2003 and holds a 21-14 record.

Montaño took judges’ scores of 50-45, 49-46, and 49-46 to dominate Roxanne Modafferi, who has experience going back to 2003 and holds a 21-14 record.

“She’s a vet,” Montaño said. “She’s been after an opportunity like this her whole career, for 14 years now, so I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy fight to begin with, because she was ranked number one. But also she definitely, definitely wanted it as badly as I did.”

Montaño held a record of 3-2 beginning in 2015 and went into the octagon – the official cage of the UFC – holding a title from a smaller league, but said she went into the cage with much more than that. She brought resilience from her ancestry as a Diné woman.

Special to the Times | Bazhnibah/Ruth Kawano
Nicco Montano, the new Ultimate Fighting Championship flyweight champion, was greeted by hundreds of hometown fans in Lukachukai, Arizona, who celebrated her title. Here she is shown with the championship belt.

She said that legacy included fighting in the past by Diné women when it became necessary. She said experiences around the Navajo Nation and learning about the history of the Navajos’ fight to survive brought perspective to her fight in the cage.

“You’re not going to war necessarily, you’re not fighting for your life necessarily, and there’s so many people who have done that with lesser skills and lesser tools – and those people are my ancestors, and that’s who makes me believe that I can be just as strong,” she said.

Her resilience served her more than just during the fight itself. Competitors stayed at a house in Las Vegas for the reality TV show. She said she grew up used to discomfort, where minor inconveniences like close-quarter living pale in comparison. Her discomfort, even in training, went beyond what most fighters face.

Many fighters run, but the new champion said running on the reservation bred a grit into her that many might not have and put her up against obstacles most will never know – like getting attacked by feral dogs during a run.

“Running down a dirt road, I got attacked by a herd of dogs,” she said. “I got bit by them. I still had to finish my run. I had to run back, so I had to run back three miles.”

The fighters stay in training throughout their time in the reality TV house and fight exhibition bouts at the end of each episode. Montaño racked up three wins in the time she stayed at the house. She defeated Barb Honchak, Montana De La Rosa, and Lauren Murphy, all on unanimous decisions.

“The fact that I already had beaten Lauren and Barb just grew my confidence,” Montaño said. “After the show I don’t doubt myself. I don’t doubt that I belong where I’m at.”

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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