It’s been a painfully long road for Nicco Montano since winning the inaugural UFC women’s flyweight title in 2017.
Following her win over Roxanne Modafferi to become champion, Montano was forced to sit out the first half of 2018 due to a lingering foot injury that plagued her during filming of “The Ultimate Fighter” as well as her preparation for the title fight. Once she recovered, Montano was scheduled to defend her title against Valentina Shevchenko last September but a rigorous weight cut landed her in the hospital, which led to the fight being cancelled and her 125-pound championship stripped away.
To compound her misery, Montano was then notified of a failed drug test from USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) for ostarine, a banned substance at all times under the UFC’s anti-doping policy.
“When I heard that I had tested positive for ostarine I was like I have no idea how that would be possible,” Montano told MMAFighting. “All I take is Garden of Life supplements, Onnit supplements and they’re all NSF approved. I was just kind of dumbfounded because I knew I was doing everything right.
“So when it happened, I had no idea what happened and people were asking questions and I really didn’t know what happened.”
Montano was ultimately lumped in with several other UFC fighters who also tested positive for ostarine around the same time with USADA handing down minimal suspensions “after conducting a thorough investigation and finding no evidence of intentional use.”
According to the former UFC champion, USADA was unable to verify any of her supplements that were contaminated with ostarine but she revealed the amount found in her initial test was 63 picograms per milliliter.
USADA didn’t verify the exact amounts found in each athlete’s sample but the initial statement where Montano was handed a six-month suspension seemed to back up exactly what she claimed.
“The trace amounts of ostarine found in each of the athlete’s samples was made possible by sensitive laboratory detection capabilities,” USADA said in the statement. “However, as detection windows increase and the potential time between ingestion and detection lengthens, it has become more difficult for athletes to identify a contaminated product that may be the source of their positive test.”
Montano admits she still has concerns about how the ostarine got into her body but she was happy that both the UFC and USADA worked with her to come to a resolution that seemed fair for everybody involved.
“We came down to dissecting what could have happened and possible sharing of shaker bottles may have been it,” Montano revealed. “There’s so many things that could have happened because the amount was so tiny, the picograms were so minute, but it was definitely frustrating because I was doing everything was right. All of the supplements I was taking were NSF approved and tested.
“I just had to wait it out to see what the UFC was going to do because it felt like one thing after another. I felt like I was never going to be in this position again to get a fight going again. I stayed patient and was cooperative and everything worked out.”
Montano has maintained her innocence throughout the entire process, which is why it was still a tough pill to swallow to serve a six-month suspension for the failed drug test but considering she could have been staring down a two-year sanction for a first time offense, this was obviously the better option.
“We had the minimum suspension, which was six months. Understanding that I had to do that, I had to bite the bullet but it’s the protocol so I understand,” Montano said. “I knew I was doing everything right so just coming up with ideas like sharing the shaker bottles probably was the reason even though we’re washing out the shaker bottles.
“It’s still kind of weird so we don’t know where it came from. Crossing my fingers it doesn’t happen again.”
While Montano spends very little time on social media, she says the reaction to her suspension was actually rather surprising when she expected a much harsher response.
More than anything, the 30-year old New Mexico based fighter was just ready to put the entire debacle behind her so she could finally resume her career.
“I was ready to go after I was cleared to start working out again from my last camp and my kidneys,” Montano said. “After that they said I was cleared to start working out again and I was ready to go into another camp and start it all over again. It was stress relieving when I posted everything out in social media and said this happened, my suspension was up on May 17 and I got all the positive energy from everybody saying ‘we’re glad you’re back’ and I honestly thought it would be ‘she’s a cheater’.
“I’m happy I had the support I do and everybody is learning and growing with USADA that these things do happen. If it happens, it was obviously such a small amount then obviously, I’m not trying to cheat. I’m not trying get one over on USADA.”
Right now, Montano is counting down the days until she can fight again with a scheduled bout against Sara McMann set for the upcoming UFC Fight Night card in Sacramento on July 13.
After a tumultuous 18 months following her title fight victory, Montano is happy to finally have a date and opponent on the calendar so she can finally just focus on fighting again.
“When you get a name, you get a date, you get a place, then it’s set and you have something to look forward to,” Montano said. “You have that face in your mind and you’re grinding everyday to be ready when you’re in front of that person. You’ve got to be ready to go.”