Ex-UFC champ Nicco Montano contemplated dietician career over MMA during time off

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The past 20 months have been a self-described “whirlwind” for former UFC women’s flyweight champion Nicco Montano.

After winning the division’s inaugural title in December 2018, Montano was stripped after being hospitalized prior to UFC 228. Shortly thereafter, Montano was suspended six months by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency for testing positive for ostarine.

On Saturday night, Montano (4-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) will finally return to the cage to take on Juliana Pena (8-3 MMA, 4-1) at UFC on ESPN+ 13 from Golden1 Center.

“There (were) a lot of people asking, ‘Why aren’t you back in? You’re running?’ And I just can’t say that I have a USADA suspension yet, so I just keep it quiet and listen to all of (these) crazy assumptions,” Montano told MMA Junkie on Thursday at media day. “Luckily, I’m a person who’s pretty strong mentally. It was all right, but everyone else around me was like, ‘You poor thing. You’re going through this. You’re going through that.’

“Way in the back of my mind I knew I was going to have this opportunity again eventually. I just had to be patient. But it was tough – not as tough as I think most people thought it was.”

During her time away from competition, Montano reflected on her career path. She even considered whether she wanted to continue fighting or should pursue another avenue.

“I had some time to have not any fight in sight. So that was not even in the question – fighting any time soon,” Montano said. “So, I just had to sit with my thoughts and go over and contemplate – think of what I need to do, think of what I wanted to do. If I still wanted to fight, if I wanted to do something else.

“I had the opportunity to go and do something else and pursue another dream, but fighting is kind of where my passion lies. It’s not all I know, but it’s something I hold dear. My dad was a fighter. I won the belt. So, who says I can’t do it again?”

The “other dream,” Montano referred to? She considered going back to school to become a dietician. A member of the Navajo tribe, Montano explained how the issues of health and diet have really hit home through the struggles of her culture.

“Being a dietician, there’s just a lot that is involved with food in my culture,” Montano said. “Everybody is diabetic or pre-diabetic. Being Navajo, we have our traditional foods, which are not that traditional per se, because we didn’t have flour or fry-bread back in the day with our ancestors. But now we’re doing it all the time.

“I just have to educate my people to keep us around longer. We’re fairly a new tribe in comparison to Hopis and Zunis and other natives around the area. Navajos are pretty new. To keep us around longer, we have to figure out our longevity, our health, and we need to get that under control. So I thought that I could do that and help out my community with that.”

As for her own weight issues, Montano feels she has gotten things under control – especially now that she’s fighting at bantamweight.

“No crazy major changes,” Montano said of her diet. “(I) just stuck to a lot of complex carbs instead of starches, a lot of fiber. But that’s kind of the tricky thing. For us indigenous people, we stop working out. I’ve done some research, and we start to eat processed foods when our bodies were so, just like 100 years ago, used to running down gazelles or running down antelope. We just have to stay on it as indigenous people. It’s easy for us to get to where it’s in an unhealthy state.”

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