Montserrat Rendon had a feeling something was up when her manager, Jason House, called her in the middle of practice.
“First of all, he makes phone calls,” she explains via interpreter. “So the fact that he was making a video call was special in and of itself. But I tried to get this out of my mind. Am I getting on Contender Series? Did he get a good fight?”
“Welcome to the UFC,” House announced.
“And at that point,” she recalls, “the goose bumps…we were crying, we’re just jumping around. My son Matias is 10 years old; he was there with me. After the call, the team was all ‘Montse! Montse! UFC!’ It was a very special moment.”
As “Monster” sits just inches from the spot where she’ll make that debut Saturday at the UFC APEX, it’s clear that the excitement still hasn’t worn off. Far from it.
“When I got here and I saw the Octagon…it’s very emotional, obviously very exciting,” she says with an ever-present, beaming smile. “Saturday can’t come sooner. I just want it to be as soon as possible.”
Saturday, the Mexican bantamweight will begin her UFC career opposite Tamires Vidal, opening the prelims of UFC Fight Night: Fiziev vs Gamrot. Vidal is coming off an impressive flying knee KO in her own UFC debut, and Rendon understands the challenge in front of her.
“She’s a strong opponent. We’re talking about a Brazilian. They just carry MMA in their blood. But you have to study the opponents. You have to see what was done in their previous fight. You don't want to have her feel comfortable in the fight. You have to do everything to make her uncomfortable. You have to impose your game. We work very hard, and I think everything that we're doing is towards having our hand raised at the end.”
If you’ve ever listened to Dana White discuss how he chooses contract winners on Dana White’s Contender Series, you know that only having five professional fights or being 34 years old might be a strike against you going in. The fact that Rendon is both of those things speaks highly of the possibilities the UFC sees in her, and she doesn’t take that for granted.
“I think having an undefeated record contributes a lot. Also, the work of my manager, Jason House. Ever since I came in, he said, ‘You have so much potential. There's so much to be done here; I think you're going to do great things.’ And also, you think about my jiu-jitsu experience and everything that I've done. I've had four amateur fights and won them all. You look at all those things and they all connect to actually being here.”
It's true. Rendon has never known defeat inside the cage to date, and as a 12-time jiu-jitsu national champion in her native Mexico, her mastery of the discipline has become the cornerstone of her MMA game.
“I know it's been just five fights, but it's an eight-year process. I've worked so hard to actually be here. I understand that there's challenges, that there's more ahead of us. But we've worked so hard to actually be here, and I'm going to do everything to stay here.”
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Like many of us, she watched in awe as her compatriots performed at the highest levels of showmanship at last week’s Noche UFC, and it goes without saying that she would like to find her place in that story.
“The Mexicans that were there at that event, they represented us so well. So many triumphs. They really lived up to it, with the greatest being the champ, Alexa Grasso; such an example for us, we have so much respect and admiration for her. They set the tone for all of us.”
The dream of fighting at home in Mexico City in front of her people and sharing in that proud combat sports tradition is a real one, but whether it’s the UFC APEX or some far off place, the audience she cares most about is always the same one: her son, Matias. Nobody is more excited for Mom to make her UFC debut, and he’s already party-planning.
“He was the one that organized it with all of his friends! He was the one that checked on the time difference--we do have a little bit of a time difference at the start time here from where we live--he called all of his friends. He set it all up and he said, ‘Listen, we're all going to watch it together.’ He always watches the fights. But this time is different.”
Word is getting around that Matias’ mother is in the UFC and people have been hitting him with a barrage of questions.
“He’s anxious. I think it's the first time he's ever gotten nervous about this, but he's a little bit nervous,” she smiles proudly. “It's a fight for him.”