The UFC’s tournament to crown a flyweight champion lost one of its finalists on Friday when Sijara Eubanks became the latest weight-cutting casualty, with her kidney shutting down trying to get down to 125 pounds.
But few knew that the tournament nearly lost both of its finalists.
Previously unknown Nicco Montano, who started the tournament as the No. 14 seed, and then beat two of the best-known fighters, established UFC fighter Lauren Murphy and former Invicta flyweight champion Barb Honchak, admitted a broken foot nearly took her out of the finals.
“The second day after I came home from the show, I broke my foot,” said Montano in an interview on FS 1 backstage shortly after winning the championship.
Montano will go down in history as UFC’s first women’s flyweight champion after her decision win over Roxanne Modafferi.
She had aggravated the injury in recent days. A combination of some therapy and telling herself that the mentality that when you’re a fighter, you have to fight hurt, got her into the cage for the title fight.
“Yesterday, my heel was coming off the ground,” she said. “I thought I wasn’t going to be able to fight.”
“You’ve got to have heart and discipline if you’re a fighter. You’re going to get hurt. It’s (the foot) broken.”
Modafferi, the replacement for Eubanks, came in as the sentimental favorite. She had garnered a degree of popularity, based more on her personality than her fighting, in season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter four years ago. She was a somewhat undersized bantamweight with a lot of grappling experience, but not strong as a striker. After losing in the finale to Raquel Pennington via decision, the UFC didn’t keep her around and she’s fought for Invicta ever since.
Montano came into the finals with a 4-2 record, not including her three decision wins during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter show. She still hadn’t fully come to grips with being champion while being interviewed backstage.
“It’s still kind of unbelievable,” she said. “I still haven’t looked at the belt. I’ve been just holding onto it.”