The Rundown: The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale

The Rundown: The Ultimate Fighter 26 Finale

Nicco Montano, UFC Women’s Flyweight Champion

From the No. 14 seed to the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight champion – it’s quite a run for Nicco Montano.

After navigating the most dangerous road possible in her half of the bracket on Season 26 of The Ultimate Fighter – beating three of the top six seeds – the proud Navajo woman dealt with a Fight Week change in opponents and still managed to come out on top, besting Roxanne Modafferi to claim UFC gold.

It was a close, scrappy battle where both women had their moments, but Montano managed to find small advantages within those tight frames to come away with a unanimous decision win.

There was a ton of pre-fight criticism about crowning a new champion through TUF and mid-fight comments about how these competitors would fare against someone like Valentina Shevchenko, the former bantamweight title challenger who is expected to drop to flyweight in 2018. They’re both valid comments and criticisms, but neither should take away from the gutsy effort turned in by both women on Friday and the entertaining Cinderella story Montano crafted throughout the season, culminating in her championship win.

Don’t Rush The┬áSuga Show

Sean O’Malley collected an impressive win this summer on the Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders series and landed a spot in the co-main event of Friday’s TUF 26 Finale in Las Vegas. Heading into his fight, the UFC fans the hard sell on the unbeaten 23-year-old and after a quick start, the MMA Lab product showed a ton of resiliency by gutting out the third round to claim a unanimous decision victory.

Now the UFC needs to be smart and pump the breaks on “The Suga Show” and let the bantamweight neophyte get a little more seasoning before throwing him into the deep end of the 135-pound weight division.

O’Malley has lots of potential and is already fun to watch, but he’s still green and needs time to plug some of the holes in his game. It’s perfectly acceptable if the UFC wants to keep showcasing him, giving him television exposure every time out, however it would be a mistake to rush him up the ladder too quickly.

Odds, Ends & Observations

Lauren Murphy and Barb Honchak delivered the best fight of the night, combining for a fun, back-and-forth 15-minuite affair that ended with Murphy picking up a split decision win over the former Invicta FC flyweight champ. It’s a massive victory for Murphy who was upset in the opening round of the competition by finalist Nicco Montano and has dropped several close fights in the UFC, but this time, she came out on the happy side of the split and should be an early contender once the division gets going in earnest in 2018.

Gerald Meerschaert got back into the win column and pushed his record to 3-1 in the UFC by folding up Eric Spicely with a thudding body kick midway through the second round. The midwest veteran hand success on the feet early and went back to it out of the chute in the second and working from the southpaw stance, he crashed home the kick across the midsection that stopped Spicely cold.

Welsh bantamweight Brett Johns maintained his unbeaten record and earned the biggest win of his career in impressive fashion Friday, tapping former Bellator champ Joe Soto with a calf slicer in just 30 seconds. The 25-year-old has now won three straight in the UFC and is someone to keep an eye on in the 135-pound ranks in 2018.

Canadian Ryan Janes pulled off one of the craziest comebacks wins in recent memory on Friday night against Andrew Sanchez. The ZUMA product got rocked and looked dead to rights in the first, but he managed to survive and even started having success to end the round. By then, Sanchez was spent and in the third, Janes put him away to cap the ridiculous reversal of fortune.

Gillian Robertson, Shana Dobson and Rachel Ostovich all looked very good in collecting stoppage wins in their first official appearances in the Octagon. Of the group, Ostovich is the most seasoned, while Dobson (to me) has the most upside.

For all the criticism of having a title decided via The Ultimate Fighter, the piece a lot of people seem to be missing is that Season 26 provides the flyweight division with solid depth right out of the gate. Between the cast members that stick around, the fighters outside the organization who will matriculate to the UFC and the rostered fighters who will transition to 125, the division should be more than 20 fighters deep from the jump, which is a great starting point.

Additionally, Shannon Knapp and her crew at Invicta FC should be really proud tonight (and always) because they gave a lot of these women a platform before they got a chance to compete in the Octagon. They have done a tremendous job from the start and will continue to graduate quality talent to the UFC in the years to come.

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