Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Flyweight contenders Roxanne Modafferi and Nicco Montano clashed with a title on the line last night (Dec. 1, 2017) at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 26 Finale in Paradise Theater in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Modafferi entered the cage last night with a great story of redemption behind her. The two-time TUF veteran rebounded from a rough start to her UFC career years ago to improve considerably, leading to her top spot in the tournament seeding. She came up short in the semi-finals, but weight cut issues for Sijara Eubanks created this opportunity for “The Happy Warrior.”
Meanwhile, Montano’s run on TUF was excellent, upsetting two of the highest-ranked athletes en route to this bout. Despite her underdog role on the show, Montano was the favorite here, hoping to cap of her TUF run with a world title and victory over the season’s favorite.
The fighters opened the bout with a high-activity exchanges. Montano had a bit of a speed advantage that allowed her to slip in some nice counter shots, but Modafferi’s aggression still saw her land decent strikes as well. Both women hacked at the other with inside low kicks at an impressive rate.
With a couple minutes remaining, Montano caught a kick and secured the takedown. From her back, Modafferi immediately begin angling off in search of the armbar, but Montano kept her arms tight and landed small shots. Modafferi reversed positions with a clinch takedown of her own, finishing the round on top.
Neither woman held a clear advantage after the first five minutes.
Modafferi opened the second with a big right hand that briefly stunned her opponent, and “The Happy Warrior” swarmed in an attempt to build from the strike. Montano recovered well, getting her back off the fence and returning to a kick and counter heavy game.
Montano found her range in the second half of the round, and Modafferi’s fatigue made it easier for her. The left hand counter was landing repeatedly, as did quite a few of the younger fighter’s left kicks. Modafferi was landing with some straight shots of her own and tried to steal the round with a late takedown, but she found herself trapped in a triangle.
Instead of capturing the round, Modafferi spent the final 30 seconds eating elbows.
The striking continued in a similar fashion into the third. Montano was the cleaner striker and matches her foe’s volume, but Modafferi kept herself in the fight with enthusiasm and aggression. Montano decided in the middle of the round that she would be pushed around no longer, taking the center of the cage and chasing Modafferi around. Ultimately, that allowed more of Modafferi’s straight shots to land, but the inside low kicks of Montano were doing big damage as well.
The fight was still very much up for grabs heading into the championship rounds.
Montano came out in the fourth with some heat behind her shots, and her timing was on point. Following up the inside low kick with punches, Montano landed solid strikes and forced Modafferi to really force her takedown attempts. They didn’t land, costing Modafferi energy and allowing Montano to land small shots. Just as Montano seemed to be taking over, a cross from Modafferi stunned her foe.
Unfortunately for “The Happy Warrior,” Montano countered her foe’s aggression with a takedown and stopped any reversal of momentum.
After a brief exchange, Montano ducked into a nice takedown and finished the double leg. Montano advanced into the mount briefly, but Modaferri instead scrambled back to her feet. Modafferi attacked and landed big shots, but she attempted to force a takedown that saw her give up top position. In the final 30 seconds, Modafferi rolled into an armbar and came extremely close to finishing the submission.
Ultimately, it was a really close fight. Montano landed more volume and top control, but Modafferi came closer to finishing with her power punches and armbar attempt. The judges, however, unanimously awarded it to Montano with scores that seemed a bit more separate than deserved.
Realistically, Montano won this bout on the strength of her athleticism, which resulted in far more fluid kickboxing and better wrestling. Last night, Montano used that fluid striking to land damaging kicks and further build upon that advantage. Then, when Modafferi began to take ugly shot, Montano would maintain her balance and land in top position, which pushed the scorecards further in her favor.
Not bad for an athlete with five professional fights prior to this one. I’ll be honest and say I don’t like Montano’s chances against some of the non-TUF Flyweights, but she’s proven herself as a spoiler and is young enough to improve plenty.
Modafferi should be proud. Regardless of the decision, she absolutely went after it for the complete 25 minutes. Her improvement since her previous season of TUF was massive and the most impressive part of the whole thing. Seriously, who would have expected Modafferi’s right hand to be the most effective weapon of the fight?
Sadly, this was probably Modafferi’s only chance to capture UFC gold. On the bright side, she reportedly was paid well for the attempt, and it’s always good to see a long-time MMA pioneer find success.
Last night, Nicco Montano was able to edge out her opponent and win the title. Who should be Montano’s first title defense?
For complete TUF 26 Finale: “Modaferri vs. Montano” results and play-by-play, click HERE!