UFC champ Nicco Montano dishes on health ordeal, public opinion before first title defense

LOS ANGELES – The good news for UFC women’s flyweight champion Nicco Montano is that she’s no longer suffering from tonsillitis.

After having her tonsils removed, Montano (4-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) isn’t spending her days battling complications from the infection: sleepless nights, dry throats, ear infections, and anemia. Now she can focus on her first title defense, which comes Sept. 8 against Valentina Shevchenko (15-3 MMA, 4-2 UFC) in the UFC 228 pay-per-view co-headliner.

Montano is back on her feet after she threw herself into training camp. Although she injured her foot in camp for the bout that won her the inaugural title, she never stopped to let herself heal. Almost from the get-go, she didn’t feel right.

For the next three or four months, Montano was miserable. A doctor mistakenly treated her malady as strep throat. Another doctor recommended she get a tonsillectomy. That was no joke.

“If anyone has ever had a tonsillectomy, you know,” Montano said. “I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t drink water or anything for a while.”

While all of this was happening, Montano also was grappling with public opinion and the very public speculation that she might be avoiding a title shot against No. 1 contender Shevchenko.

“Everyone getting pretty noisy about, ‘Where’s Nicco?’ And blah, blah, blah, and I’m over here on my death bed,” Montano said.

Montano couldn’t scream when her boyfriend came in the room to tell her reporter Ariel Helwani had sent out a tweet that said the UFC was losing patience with her inability to fight. But she doesn’t regret writing a fiery response that made headlines.

“I think for people who can read between the lines, and grasp what they were trying to get at, I stood up for myself,” Montano said. “I still don’t understand why people would not, like they’re too afraid to speak out against somebody who’s trash-talking them just in fear of losing supporters or fans.

“To me, this is what I’ve always been doing. There’s nothing different about my mindset and progression with my MMA career now that I’m in the UFC. I’m still going to stand up for myself when I think it’s appropriate.”

For those who’ve already counted her out, Montano laughs. She’s been through quite a lot to get to the point where she’s at. Even earlier in her career, she was the underdog before finding huge success.

Going into her fight with Shevchenko, Montano will still have to deal with her foot, which she said is now arthritic from training. But she’ll suck it up and keep moving forward, just like she’s done before.

“I’m just going to have to get used to the pain,” Montano said. “But there’s not one fighter that goes into the octagon with 100 percent health.”

For more on UFC 228, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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