UFC women’s flyweight champion Nicco Montano is the first Native champion in league history. With that comes a lot of pride and a lot of stereotypes from people who should know better – she’s native, let’s put her in a tepee!
“So much of what I represent metaphorically and physically is about being the underdog and coming out on top,” said Montano to Scott Harris for B/R. “It’s having those obstacles to overcome with everyone thinking ‘she’s going to lose.’ Then changing everybody’s minds and changing beliefs. A lot of indigenous peoples have seen that and felt it firsthand.”
“When I got the championship belt, the next day I came home, and there was just this mega parade. And there were people hugging me and crying in my ear, and I’m like ‘You were my teacher! You know me!’ There were so many people from so many different reservations. There were people who came all the way from Canada. And they were, like, jumping on me. When you’re indigenous you call somebody your brother or sister, like ‘Hey, brother’ or ‘Hey, sister.’ Now I had so many brothers and so many sisters.”
She delivered her victory speech in Navajo.
“I think that made them think ‘We can do this,’” said Montano. “There are traditional people who still live traditionally, live off the land, live in harmony with the land, who don’t have a job, who still barter and live off of handshakes and word of mouth. The Navajo language might be gone in 20 years. Soon it will be gone. … So when I did that, it really motivated them.”
Her efforts are a fight against old, widely-held stereotypes.
“They think we live in buckskin and teepees,” said Montano. “It’s 2018 and there are still people who ask that question.”
“[UFC marketers] literally wanted me to put on a costume. They literally wanted to see me coming out with war paint on my face. They think ‘Native’ and they think these things. I don’t want to be the token Native. I don’t want to be blasted on posters with a headdress on and with buckskin and a loin cloth.”
“When I got the belt, I wanted to be shining a light on my native culture. Like, this is truly my motivation and truly where my mind is. When I fight, it’s so I can have a voice for them.”
Montano fights Valentina Shevchenko in the co-main event of UFC 228 on Saturday.