Women’s flyweight champion Nicco Montano will finally put the UFC’s newest belt on the line Saturday night when she faces challenger Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 228 in Dallas.
It’s difficult to make a convincing case for her to still have the belt when the fight ends.
Shevchenko is currently a minus-2000 favorite over the champion at Westgate sports book.
“I can say for certain (Montano is) the biggest underdog of any defending champion in a UFC title fight,” Westgate sports book director John Murray said. “The only one comparable might be Matt Serra in the rematch against Georges St. Pierre, but it definitely wasn’t as big a number.”
Montano has faced criticism for failing to defend the belt since capturing the title by winning Season 26 of “The Ultimate Fighter” in December. Montano is adamant her hiatus was far more about her health than fear of losing the belt.
“After I got off the show, I had to deal with a number of health issues,” she said on a conference call. “After my fight with (Roxanne Modafferi), I was in a boot dealing with a chronic bacterial infection and that’s when Valentina chose to call me out. So everybody thought that I was just hanging out at home when I was literally like having a viral infection throughout my entire body, hindering me from spending more than two days a week at practice.”
Montano is fighting for far more than a gold belt.
The 29-year-old native of Navajo Nation is proud of what she has accomplished in terms of raising awareness for her people.
“I think I’ve been able to shine light onto where I’m from and kind of all our trials going on,” she said. “You know, we’re a third-world country within this country and we don’t get recognized as such and we see a lot of people are kind of naïve when it comes to our cultures and traditions and I think that’s what’s most important in giving me strength and the confidence that I have.”
Montano attended the graduation ceremony for her old high school on the reservation and made it a point not to talk to the students about her accomplishments, but of how she was raised in the same place and under the same conditions as them.
“I just want them to know whatever they want to do, they can do it,” she said. “It’s totally possible, not just thinking that they are limited because they live on the (reservation), because they don’t have running water, because they don’t have electricity, because they don’t have a vehicle to get to places.
“It’s not about labels. It’s about heart and will and sacrifices and I’ve made them all.”
The bout is part of a pay-per-view card headlined by a welterweight title bout between Darren Till and champion Tyron Woodley.
Light heavyweights to clash in Vegas
Ilir Latifi will meet Corey Anderson in a matchup of light heavyweight contenders on the UFC 232 card Dec. 29 at T-Mobile Arena.
The bout was confirmed for the event by UFC officials over the weekend.
UFC 232 will be feature a women’s superfight between featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino and bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes.
Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz will fight at The Forum in Inglewood, California, on Nov. 24.
For those wondering, that’s 2018 and not a flashback headline from 2006.
The arch-rivals and former UFC light heavyweight champions agreed earlier this year to a bout on a Golden Boy Promotions mixed martial arts card and now the date has been set.
Liddell knocked out Ortiz in each of their first two meetings, first and 2004 and then in 2006. The 48-year-old dropped five of his next six fights and retired in 2010.
Ortiz, 43, has competed sporadically as he has battled injuries over the last few years. He had lost four of his previous six fights before scoring a win over Chael Sonnen in January 2017.
Saturday: UFC 228 (FS1/PPV), Dallas
Sept. 15: UFC Fight Night 136 (Fight Pass), Moscow
Sept. 21: Bellator 205 (Paramount), Boise, Idaho
Sept. 22: UFC Fight Night 137 (FS1), Sao Paulo, Brazil
Sept. 29: Bellator 206 (Paramount), San Jose, Calif.
Oct. 6: UFC 229 (FS1/PPV), T-Mobile Arena