Nicco Montano makes history as the 1st female Native American UFC champion
Women's flyweight division champ fought with a broken foot
For the first time in Ultimate Fighting Championship history, a female Native American fighter has reached the pinnacle of Mixed Martial Arts.
On Dec. 1, Nicco Montano defeated Roxanne Modafferi by unanimous decision to pick up UFC's inaugural women's flyweight division title. Her victory comes with a six-figure contract with the UFC.
"I've finally come to a point in my career where I can be proud of the decision I made to become a fighter," said Montano, 28.
Montano was a contestant on UFC's TV show, The Ultimate Fighter, and surprised the Indigenous community when she walked out to her championship fight to Keith Secola's classic song NDN Kars.
What's impressive about the win is that she was able to knock off a heavily-favoured Modafferi, and did it with a broken foot that she suffered in training camp.
"I've worked very, very hard; day in and day out I've been in that gym," said Montano.
"I went through this whole camp with a broken foot. I could have just said, 'I'm the one with the title shot, I can decide when I want to fight,' but that just shows how much work I've put into it."
After having the belt wrapped around her waist by UFC president Dana White, Montano thanked her family in the Navajo language, Dine Bizaad.
Montano is Navajo, Chickasaw and Hispanic, and grew up on the Navajo Reservation.
She is the daughter of a boxer and grew up bagging groceries at her family's trading post store. It was at the trading post where she was able to pick up her language, as many of the customers only spoke Navajo.
She also went to school on the reservation where she took courses that offered the Navajo language, history and culture. She said it's that sense of identity that was instilled in her during her youth, that has kept her close to her community.
Montano has been in MMA for five years and prior to fighting, she was a lifeguard and a yoga teacher.
"I live in the gym, basically. I'm a coach at the gym that I train at," said Montano.
"I teach kids classes because I really enjoy seeing the light on their faces after they learn a technique and after they gain some confidence from MMA. It's a lot of joy."
Championship also a win for her nation
Immediately after her win, the Navajo Nation planned a celebration and a community potluck for the newly crowned champion.
"Everybody wanted to come together and put together a parade for me," she said.
"On Sunday, Dec. 3, the Navajo Nation president Russell Begaye dubbed it Nicco Montano Day. It's crazy, but very nice."
She said she never expected her win to be that big of a deal to her community.
"I didn't really think it meant that much, but apparently it does," she said.
"I'm excited about that. I'm happy to see that they can see that I've pushed through all of the stuff and places they're at."
As someone who grew up on the rez, Montano said understands the hardships that people face, and hopes that her win inspires more Indigenous folks to shoot for their dreams.
"They're all familiar with what I grew up with, for that I appreciate their support," she said.
"I hope they can see that they can achieve something like this, too."