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The Ultimate Fighter 26 - Episode 4 Preview

The higher seeds in The Ultimate Fighter: A New World Champion continued to roll on last week's episode, as Montana Stewart finished off Ariel Beck with an impressive first-round D'Arce choke submission.

In tonight’s episode, No. 3 overall seed and longtime UFC bantamweight Lauren Murphy will look to keep that trend alive as she takes on No. 14 seed Nicco Montano, who enters the competition with a 3-2 record in her career.

Murphy joined the show while still occupying a slot on the UFC roster when the opportunity came to drop down to 125 pounds and compete for the first ever women's flyweight championship. During her run with the UFC, Murphy has gone just 1-3, but her record doesn't speak to the level of competition she faced during those four fights.

Murphy faced two former title challengers back-to-back in her first pair of fights as she took on Sara McMann and Liz Carmouche. Both fights were razor close on the scorecards but ultimately ended as heartbreaking losses for Murphy. The former Invicta FC champion powered back with a win against Kelly Faszholz in her most impressive outing to date as she finished the fight by TKO on the ground with a nasty series of punches and elbows before earning a Fight of the Night bonus.

Murphy then fell to Katlyn Chookagian last July before she opted to make the move down to 125 pounds for her opportunity to compete for the women's flyweight title on The Ultimate Fighter.

Lauren Murphy (top) punches Faszholz in their women's bantamweight bout during the <a href='../event/UFC-Silva-vs-Irvin'>UFC Fight Night </a>event at Consol Energy Center on February 21, 2016 in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)With a background in grappling that includes a strong wrestling base, Murphy is undoubtedly one of the biggest favorites to not only win in the opening round of the tournament but also fight her way all the way to the finals. Murphy has a background built for a competition such as this and she has all the experience in the world as a former champion to know what it takes to get to the top. Add to that, Murphy trains with a world-class team in Arizona at the MMA Lab, where she works alongside several UFC fighters including Bryan Barberena and John Moraga.

Of course, Murphy also has high expectations entering this tournament while moving down to the flyweight division after competing at both bantamweight and featherweight during her career. In fact, Murphy was already beginning to look ahead a couple weeks ago and noticing some of the potentially tough matchups that await her in the later rounds.

One particular fight against former Invicta flyweight champion Barb Honchak was particularly interesting to Murphy, considering they may meet in the tournament, but because they also happened to be training under former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez. The only danger in looking too far ahead could be the potential to ignore the opponent standing directly in front of her, as Murphy is preparing to face Montano, who isn't as well known but definitely brings a lot of weapons into this fight.

RELATED: Get to know TUF cast: Montana Stewart | TUF Week 3 Recap | Get to know TUF Cast: Lauren Murphy

Montano got a late start in her mixed martial arts career after starting out in boxing while following her father to the gym but not actually beginning to work in Brazilian jiu-jitsu until she was well into her twenties. Since that time, Montano has fallen in love with all aspects of the fight game while racking up several grappling titles around the southwest, where she trains out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Nicco Montano poses for a portrait during the filming of The Ultimate Fighter:  at the UFC TUF Gym in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC)Montano's passion for fighting eventually translated into competing professionally after going undefeated in five bouts as an amateur. Montano has stayed busy with five fights in less than two years while putting together a 3-2 record. Montano has faced some tough competition through the early part of her career and she holds a decision win over fellow Ultimate Fighter cast mate Shana Dobson.

At home, Montano trains at FIT NHB in New Mexico, the same team responsible for giving former interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit his start in the sport. It's also the gym where current welterweight standout Tim Means calls home while everyone works under veteran coach Tom Vaughn. Montano definitely has all the right pieces around her to make for a successful run in this tournament and she could be a dark horse pick to pull off the upset.

It was back in season 20 when another No. 14 seed was matched up with an early favorite at No. 3 when Randa Markos took on Tecia Torres in the tournament that determined the first ever UFC women's strawweight champion. Torres was a heavy favorite to not only win her first fight but to potentially challenge for the title. Markos had other ideas and ultimately pulled off the upset before eventually making her way to the UFC, where she's still competing today. Perhaps Montano will gain some inspiration from that performance as a fellow No. 14 seed to try and pull off the upset against Murphy.

When it comes down to the matchup this week, it will be Murphy's hardnosed grappling going up against Montano's dogged spirit and ability to turn this into a slugfest.

Murphy has shown great wrestling and submission skills throughout her career, but she's most dangerous when she's on top applying pressure. The last place Montano wants to end up in this fight is stuck on the bottom with Murphy raining down shots from above. Murphy has shown incredible conditioning throughout her career as well so expect the UFC veteran to really push the pace in this fight.

As for Montano, she's no slouch in grappling, so she may not mind getting into those kinds of exchanges with Murphy as long as she's not getting taken down repeatedly. While standing, Montano is a very strong fighter with good kicks and solid punching power. Montano may look to hurt Murphy from the outside and then swoop in for her own takedown to throw off the former Invicta FC champion.

Murphy is undoubtedly the favorite and the higher seeds in the tournament have all gone on to the second round thus far, but Montano may be the contender no one sees coming.

Find out who's going to make it to the next round of The Ultimate Fighter when Murphy faces Montano tonight at 10 pm ET on FS1.

Watch Past Fights

Saturday, December 30
10PM/7PM
ETPT
Las Vegas, Nevada

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