The first finalist in the quest to crown the new UFC women's flyweight champion is now set following the latest episode of The Ultimate Fighter: A New World Champion.
Team Alvarez fighter and No. 2 seed Barb Honchak faced off with unlikely contender and No. 14 seed Nicco Montano, who has quickly become the most talked about competitor in this tournament following wins over No. 3 seed Lauren Murphy and No. 6 seed Montana Stewart.
Montano didn't seem to be on anybody's radar when this season started, but she's no longer the dark horse considering her performances thus far. In preparation for the fight with Honchak, Montano was supremely confident that she could get the job done again, and her head coach Justin Gaethje seemed to have plenty of faith that she would get the victory.
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As for Honchak, she's been here before, having reigned as the Invicta FC flyweight champion and entering the tournament as such a high seed. Of course, with her resume, expectations have run very high on Honchak, but her two wins thus far have proven that she is no fluke or flash in the pan. Even with three years away from fighting, Honchak hasn't skipped a beat in the tournament, but she knew she had a tough task ahead of her with Montano standing across on the other side of the Octagon.
With training time wrapped up, it was time for Honchak and Montano to battle it out to determine the first finalist who will move on to fight for the inaugural UFC women's flyweight title in December.
BARB HONCHAK VS. NICCO MONTANO
Honchak opens with a stiff inside leg kick before looking for boxing combinations with Montano doing the same. Less than a minute into the opening round, Honchak drops down for her first takedown attempt but Montano defends well, continuously fighting for position while working to escape the cage. Montano fires some hard knees that land to Honchak's midsection before the fighters finally break. Back in the center, Honchak slams another leg kick before swimming inside for the clinch again with a couple hard knees as Montano counters with a big elbow on the break. Honchak continues to look for the clinch but Montano is doing a great job throwing a barrage of knees to the midsection every time they get locked up. Another clinch from Honchak ends up with Montano reversing for a takedown of her own as the fighters drop to the ground. On top, Montano fires away with short punches and elbows as Honchak defends from her half guard position on the mat. Montano nearly gets the mount but Honchak is able to scramble to stay out of that position, still eating a few more shots before the round ends.
Honchak looks for an inside leg kick while Montano fires an overhand right as the second round gets underway. The fighters quickly move back into the clinch, with Montano pressing her weight against Honchak on the fence. Honchak tries to reverse positions but Montano muscles her back to the fence as she continues to throw short knees to the thighs and body. After separating and resetting in the center, Honchak lands a nasty left-right combination that clips Montano hard on the jaw. Honchak uses the opening to look for the body lock and takedown but Montano resists while battling for position against the cage wall. Honchak finally abandons the position and tries to throw a punch on the exit as the fighters begin exchanging strikes again. Honchak is definitely landing the better punches on the feet, including several hard right hands that tag Montano whenever she steps forward in an exchange. Late in the round, with just seconds remaining, Honchak is able to move from the clinch into a big slam takedown, but the horn sounds almost immediately after.
Honchak is still landing with a series of hard right hands as the final round gets underway. Montano throws a head kick that Honchak catches but in her attempt to take advantage of the position she gives up her back. Montano latches on to her back, sinks her hooks in and she starts fishing for the rear naked choke. Honchak tries to turn into the mount but Montano stays on top until they get stuck in a scramble working back up from the ground. Montano holds on to the body lock as the fighters back into the cage but Honchak is able to stay patient until working her way free. Honchak tries for another takedown but Montano resists again as she starts throwing uppercuts and punches from the inside. Honchak finally gives up the position with Montano still throwing shots. Honchak keeps the pressure going with takedown attempts against the cage but Montano hammers away at her with short punches until she's forced to readjust every time she drops down trying to bring the fight to the mat. With about 20 seconds to go, coach Justin Gaethje begins screaming for a takedown and Montano listens as she picks up and dumps Honchak on her back. The final horn sounds after a three-round battle.
Nicco Montano def. Barb Honchak by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)
Montano was overrun by emotion as she celebrated the victory. After entering the tournament as the No. 14 overall seed, she's now one win away from being called UFC champion.
"She's gonna win the belt," Gaethje said about Montano. "She's gonna be the first 125-pound world champ ever."
Gaethje certainly discovered a diamond in the rough with Montano in this tournament and now she's ready to sit back and watch the other semifinal fight to determine who she will be meeting in the live finale to determine the new women's 125-pound champion.
It all comes down to this: next week, No. 1 seed Roxanne Modafferi will look to continue her run towards redemption when she faces No. 12 seed and upset specialist Sijara Eubanks, who has knocked off two higher-ranked fighters thus far and she only needs one more to make her way to the final.
It all goes down next Wednesday night at 10pm ET on FS1 in the last episode of The Ultimate Fighter: A New World Champion.