Heading into fight week, Montserrat Conejo wasn’t aware that her bout Saturday vs Amanda Lemos at UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs. Moises would be the 500th women’s MMA bout in UFC history. When we told her this, she was elated, but for reasons that extend beyond the significant company milestone.
“Five is a good thing. I’m the fifth born in my family, and I’m the fifth fight of the night. This number is badass…it was already good for me, and now that you mention that, it’s even better.”
Just add it to the growing pile of reasons Conejo has to be happy these days. She won her short-notice UFC debut and in just her second promotional tilt, she has an opportunity to crack the Top 15 if she can repeat that success July 17.
“My first fight with the UFC, it was my experience having won wrestling with full control, and it was gratifying because it’s something I love so much and that I have practiced for such a long time. And the moment I’m able to develop it in a fight and having won in this manner is something super ‘wow.’ I love everything!”
She giggles as she says this, glancing around the UFC APEX, obviously thrilled to return to the scene of that debut win.
It wasn’t all giggles that night back in March, despite dominating Cheyanne Buys in a scarf hold headlock for the majority of the 15-minute outing. Words were exchanged after the final bell. Tempers flared. Conejo, for her part, had taken umbrage with some pre-fight comments from Buys that she perceived as dismissive of her wrestle-heavy style.
“Having beaten a person that spoke badly of my martial arts skills, this for me was to shut her mouth because not only was it disrespectful to me, but also to all of the martial arts. I can’t start talking bad about any of the martial arts; not about boxing, not about Muay Thai, because each person has their own style and each one has their own strength. So, I believe that when she spoke badly, she singlehandedly tasted a spoonful of her own soup.
“So, for me, it’s gratifying have won that way, and in the end, she did not accept her defeat and started talking bad again. She can stay with that, and I will continue to advance. Don’t pin that on me.”
It would be the most peculiar of hot takes to dismiss a fighter who now has amassed a 10-1 professional record, regardless of the style. But to dismiss seven-time Mexican National wrestling champion might be playing with fire. As UFC play-by-play announcer Brendan Fitzgerald observed that evening: “You know you’re good at something if the other side knows it’s coming and can’t stop it.”
“Yes, my style is wrestling,” Conejo says proudly. “The day that it doesn’t work well, I will try other things. But as long as it keeps working, I believe in it one hundred percent and I will continue wrestling.”
There’s precedent for this strategy. Conejo looks no further than one of her favorite fighters: former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
“I believe a lot in my wrestling because Khabib has influenced me to continue my wrestling and to believe in my wrestling, because it is what has worked and will continue to work until the day that it stops working.”
The former Invicta FC star is influenced by two current UFC stars in regards to representing her native Mexico: Irene Aldana and UFC lightweight champion Brandon Moreno.
“Irene and Brandon represent plenty and have motivated me so much. Especially Brandon, I saw him fight live. I was filled with pride, I got goosebumps and I cried. I saw myself in the future and said if he can do it, I can do it, too. I returned with more enthusiasm to train. I had already trained with a lot of motivation, so that was a plus and another motivation.”
Extra motivation will come in handy against the streaking Lemos. The Brazilian is undefeated since moving from bantamweight down to strawweight and has seemed to come on stronger with each successive bout.
“With Amanda Lemos, I need to look out for her strikes and not be in the danger zone, not let her close the distance. Just like she has her strengths, I have my strengths.
“She is an opponent that is durable and strong, and I’m prepared to face the best, most durable [Amanda Lemos]. I like difficult challenges. I will continue with the same, with what’s mine, with my wrestling. Everything is unpredictable, no? Anything can happen. Don’t miss the fight this Saturday!”