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TUF 26 Finale card: Roxanne Modaferri vs Nicco Montano full fight preview

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight title challengers Roxanne Modaferri and Nicco Montano will duel TONIGHT (Fri., Dec. 1, 2017) at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 26 Finale inside Park Theater in Paradise, Nevada.

Modaferri is a pioneer in women’s mixed martial arts (MMA) who has been fighting since the early 2000s, but her recent career has been a wild ride. This was her second appearance on TUF, and the 35-year-old showed vast improvement, entering as the No. 1 seed. She ultimately lost in the semifinals, but weigh-in troubles for the woman who defeated her created this opportunity (more on that here). Win or lose, Montano will stand out as one of the best spoilers in recent TUF history. From her No. 14 seed, Montano took out a UFC veteran and former Invicta FC champion during her rise to this match up.

Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each woman:

Roxanne Modafferi
Record: 21-13
Key Wins: Sarah D’Alelio (Invicta FC 23), Deanna Bennett (Invicta FC 16), Tara LaRosa (Invicta FC 8)
Key Losses: Jennifer Maia (Invicta FC 19), Vanessa Porto (Invicta FC 12), Barb Honchak (BEP 5)
Keys to Victory: Despite being deep into her career, Modaferri has made some dramatic improvements in the last few years. Her strength is definitely still on the mat, but Modaferri’s fluidity and power on her feet has become far more respectable.

She stopped two of her opponents on TUF with strikes.

Modaferri should have two major goals in this bout. First and foremost, she has to stay off her back. Modaferri is a quality grappler with the ability to catch arms from guard, but that’s a difficult task opposite a more athletic opponent. If Modafferi spends too much time hunting for submissions from her back, she’s more likely to end up on the wrong side of a decision loss.

Instead, I’d like to see Modaferri keep up a high-volume of strikes on the feet, particularly if she can aim some kicks at her foe’s mid-section. Montano showed great conditioning on TUF, but this is a title fight, and those extra pair of rounds could be the time Modaferri needs to capitalize on her experience edge.

If Montano is slightly winded during those final 10 minutes, all the better.

VS.

Nicco Montano
Record: 3-2
Key Wins: Barb Honchak (TUF 26), Lauren Murphy (TUF 26), Jamie Milanowski (KOTC)
Key Losses: Julia Avila (HD MMA 7)
Keys to Victory: Montano is a well-rounded athlete with a solid gas tank. Despite the fact that she has just five professional fights on her record, two of them were title fights, and both saw championship rounds.

In this bout, Montano’s goal should be to score takedowns and control top position. She’s fairly skilled everywhere, but that’s the most proven path opposite Modaferri, especially since the veteran’s stand up has improved.

Montano wants to make this a physical bout. Rather than let Modaferri kick from range — an area Montano certainly can compete with “The Happy Warrior” — it might be easier to jam her into the fence and dirty boxer. From there, takedown opportunities will be more easily available as well.

Bottom Line: It’s for the inaugural Flyweight title, even if we are all just waiting for Valentina Shevchenko to drop down and clean house.

Modaferri’s story is one of redemption. The Internet was particularly mean following her UFC loss to Raquel Pennington — the same “Rocky” who’s currently a top-ranked Bantamweight contender — and most thought that was the end of her UFC career. Instead, Modaferri recovered and improved, moving on to being ranked as the top seed in this tournament. Most of the early pioneers of women’s MMA fell off the athletic cliff right as their sport became popular, so it’s great to see Modaferri finding success.

It doesn’t matter that she wasn’t supposed to be in this main event — she still has a chance to capture the strap. A win would obviously be the story tale ending, but Modaferri has a lot to be proud of even in defeat.

I’ll be honest and say that TUF has more than run its course in my mind, but cases like Nicco Montano are the silver lining. The combination of sudden matches, quick fights and full-time training allows inexperienced-but-talented fighters to shine and grow quickly ... and Montano is the latest example. With a victory, Montano completes her underdog story by dethroning the tournament’s favorite, adding another veteran win to her record. Alternatively, Montano is still young in her career and should remain a top contender in the coming years.

TONIGHT at the TUF 26 Finale, Roxanne Modaferri and Nicco Montano will compete for the title. Which athlete will leave strapped with gold?