Darrell Montague will enter his UFC debut on a four-fight winning streak. | Photo: Jeff Sherwood/Sherdog.com
World-ranked flyweight Darrell Montague has had the desire to compete in the Ultimate Fighting Championship for as long as he can remember.
Montague’s wait will soon be over, as he prepares to challenge “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 14 winner and former 125-pound title challenger John Dodson at UFC 166 on Oct. 19 at the Toyota Center in Houston. Waiting for the UFC to call was difficult for the man they call “The Mongoose.”
“I just tried to stay positive about it,” said the 25-year-old Montague, who will enter his UFC debut on the strength of a four-fight winning streak. “I didn’t see it as a negative at all. When the UFC first started up the flyweight division, I was coming off a big loss [to Ian McCall in August 2011] and I knew that it’d be a chance for me to get better. Now that I have the opportunity, I just have to make it count.”
Montague represents the first generation of fighters who have been training in MMA since their teenage years. He turned professional with a second-round, spinning back fist knockout of Dillon Croushorn in June 2008, recording finishes in his first three fights before being knocked out by UFC veteran Robbie Peralta in the third round of their February 2009 encounter.
“I’ve been training since I was 14 or 15,” said Montague. “I wrestled in high school and [World Extreme Cagefighting veteran] Manny Tapia was one of my high school wrestling coaches. I decided to join a gym and was fighting a few months after that.”
Following the Peralta loss, Montague recorded six straight wins, four of them finishes, from April 2009 to February 2011. The streak was capped by a five-round unanimous decision victory over Ulysses Gomez that brought with it the Tachi Palace Fights 125-pound championship. However, he surrendered the title to the world-ranked McCall in a third-round submission loss in his next fight. Montague, a product of Millennia MMA in California, believes taking on fighters like Gomez and McCall only made him better.
“I’ve fought some of the best guys in the world at the highest levels of competition,” said Montague, who sports 10 finishes among his 13 professional wins. “That experience goes a long way. I feel like I’m well-rounded and can adapt to any situation in a fight.”
“It was like a dream come true,” Montague said. “I’ve been following the sport for so long, and he was one of my idols. He’s a former Shooto champ, and everybody knows about his [afro] hairstyle. It was one of the fights that I’ve wanted for a long time, and to be able to have it in Japan is even cooler.”
Yamaguchi’s standup prowess is well-documented, but the 5-foot-6 Montague more than held his own on the feet against the Japanese veteran. His coach, former King of the Cage champion Romie Aram, thinks striking skills are among Montague’s greatest strengths.
“Darrell’s a hard-working kid,” Aram said. “He’s in the gym every day and puts in the time. Stylistically, he’s a southpaw and has very good hands for an MMA fighter. He’s spent a lot of time sparring with boxers and has good height for a flyweight.”
As for what Montague needs to further improve, Aram points to one ingredient: experience in the Octagon.
“I think if you look at the flyweight division, the only thing he lacks is just fighting in the UFC cage,” Aram said. “As far as where he needs to make improvements, I feel like he’s a well-rounded fighter, and that UFC experience thing is going to change with him signing with the UFC.”
Montague has a serious test ahead of him. Dodson failed in his bid to unseat flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson in January, dropping a unanimous decision to “Mighty Mouse” at UFC on Fox 6. The Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts product had his moments in the first two rounds, but Johnson gradually wore him down over the course of the five-round battle.
“To put me in with him shows the UFC respects my game,” Montague said. “They either want me to get my butt whooped or test how good I really am. Hopefully, it’s the second choice and it’s just a matter where they respect my game. If they think it’s the first choice, they have another thing coming. Obviously, he’s a great fighter. He gave the champ all he could handle, but I see some holes in his game that I’m going to try and take advantage of.”
Aram admits he was bothered by the fact that Montague had to wait so long to hear from the UFC. However, now that “The Mongoose” has signed on for his Octagon debut, the focus is on preparing for Dodson.
“It was a little irritating for Darrell to be in the top 10 and everybody else around him was in the UFC and he wasn’t,” Aram said, “but I know [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby well and he has his hands full with fighters all around the world. Darrell finally got the call, and now it’s all about being positive and moving forward.
“In my eyes, [Dodson] is one of the most dangerous 125ers,” he added. “Nobody has put pressure on Johnson like that. He’s a dangerous guy from a good camp. It’s not who I’d pick for a first fight, but in the UFC, anyone you see is a tough fight. We’re excited, and I think Darrell can mix it up with anybody in that weight class in the world.”