‘TUF 26’ Recap: Episode 4

By TJ De Santis Sep 20, 2017
Episode 4 of “The Ultimate Fighter 26” saw Eddie Alvarez’s team look to even the score when its No. 3 seed, Lauren Murphy, met the Justin Gaethje-led No. 14 seed Nicco Montano.

Confidence was high that Murphy would get the job done, so much so that the former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder admitted she was having issues staying focused in the house. In fact, she finds herself asking the Team Alvarez coaching staff to drill techniques she may utilize when she faces teammate Barb Honchak -- something she sees as inevitable.

UFC President Dana White walked us through a video package highlighting Murphy’s rise through the Alaskan MMA scene, her capturing the Invicta bantamweight championship and her bouts inside the Ultimate Fighting Championship. With a wealth of experience and accolades already under her belt, it comes as no surprise that Murphy is expected to do big things in the UFC women’s flyweight division. Seemingly over her head on paper, the 28-year-old Montano has designs on becoming the first fighter to spring an upset in the first round. Training out of the FIT NHB camp in her native New Mexico, she lacks Murphy’s experience with only five pro fights on her resume.

Murphy’s most important fight took place outside the cage. After losing her father to a plane crash when she was 11 years old, she turned to drugs and alcohol. “A lot of people I used to get high with are dead,” Murphy said. “I used a lot of needles. I overdosed.” She looked for answers while she was in a hospital bed: “God, if you get me out of here, I will never use or drink again.”

Now on the right path, Murphy operates out of the MMA Lab in Glendale, Arizona. She credits her 16-year-old son, Max, for her turn to MMA. She started taking adult martial arts classes while he was in children’s classes. MMA became her new addiction.

As the fight drew closer, Gaethje remained confident that had the ability to walk away with another victory for his team.

“Nico’s not supposed to win this fight,” he said. “She’s a big underdog, but she can work. Lauren is expecting an easy fight. Eddie is expecting an easy fight. The deeper this fight goes, the less confidence Lauren is going to feel. We have to take this fight deep.”

Montano set the pace her coach requested in the first round. Standing southpaw, she unleashed a kicking offense that seemed to catch Murphy by surprise. The UFC veteran reacted more than she initiated and immediately found herself out of her element. Murphy attempted to slow down the fight in the clinch but failed to secure position. The Gaethje-led corner applauded Montano’s initiative, while Murphy’s camp did not seem too concerned about dropping the first round. Alvarez encouraged her to look for takedowns off of Montano’s kicks.

Round 2 started with Murphy landing a nice combination off of a front kick. She then grabbed the clinch and looked to secure a takedown against the fence. Though Montano conceded the takedown, she continued to strike the side of Murphy’s head with hard elbows. She then returned to her feet and refused to let Murphy get anything going. Montano was methodical in her attack, and while Murphy was never in danger of being stopped, she failed to control the fight’s ebb and flow. After five minutes, referee Herb Dean informed those in attendance that Montano had been awarded a unanimous decision.

“I did what I had to do to get the win,” Montano said. “Whatever it takes is our team motto, and I think I demonstrated that pretty well tonight.”

The once-confident Murphy was beside herself.

“I’m tired of losing,” she said, tears in her eyes. “I was already coming off of a loss coming into the show. I thought maybe dropping to 25 was going to be the answer to all my problems, but clearly, it’s not.”

Next week on Season 26 of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Team Gaethje’s fifth-seeded Maia Kahaunaele-Stevenson takes on No. 12 seed Sijara Eubanks from Team Alvarez.

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