UFC 228 Cheat Sheet: Nicco Montaño vs. Valentina Shevchenko

Nicco Montaño is a huge underdog in her first flyweight title defense Saturday against the formidable Valentina Shevchenko. ESPN Illustration

The UFC visits American Airlines Center in Dallas on Saturday, and it's bringing along two title fights.

Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley will put his title on the line against a budding superstar, Darren Till. And Nicco Montaño, the UFC's first female flyweight champion, will face one of the most dominant women in combat sports today, No. 1 contender Valentina Shevchenko.

ESPN's Cheat Sheets are here to tell you everything you need to know going into UFC 228.

Nicco Montaño (4-2) vs. Valentina Shevchenko (15-3), flyweight championship

Odds: Shevchenko -1400; Montaño +725

Nicco Montaño's mother has always had her back, even if it wasn't always in the way she expected.

Once, when Montaño was still in high school in Apache County, Arizona, another student challenged her to a fight the following day. This was before Montaño started training in martial arts, and she didn't know what to expect. The day of the fight, she told her mom what was going on -- halfway thinking she'd end up being told to stay home.

"I said, 'Mom, I think I'm going to get into a fight today,'" Montaño recalls. "She said, 'OK, sit down.' I thought I was going to get in trouble, but she started braiding my hair. She went and grabbed a shirt that could be torn up and a pair of old jeans. She said, 'Keep your hands up.'

"I said, 'Mom, you're supposed to tell me to stay home!'"

Looking back, perhaps Montaño shouldn't have been surprised by her mother's reaction. Her mother, after all, has a saying that applied to the situation back then and certainly applies to what Montaño faces now, in a fight against Valentina Shevchenko.

"My mom has this saying, 'The Creator only gives the hardest tasks to the people who can work off them and turn them into something they can benefit from.' I choose to believe that. I choose to believe I was chosen to be here -- that this is where I'm supposed to be."

Montaño, 29, is an unconventional UFC champion, to say the least. In May 2017, Montaño attended a tryout for "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series with absolutely nothing to lose. She had enrolled for college classes prior to the tryout and was strongly considering hanging up her gloves altogether.

That season of TUF, however, was also unconventional, in that it introduced to the UFC a new 125-pound female weight class. The show's winner wouldn't just win a UFC contract, she'd also become the promotion's first flyweight champion. Montaño made the cast, strung together four wins and took a belt home.

But that reality show has now led her to Shevchenko, a lifelong martial artist with an extensive kickboxing career. Some may look at Montaño's situation and think she was set up to immediately fail, but Montaño believes differently. Her mother's saying has never applied more.

"It's all based on what you want to take it as," Montaño said. "I've been the underdog in all my fights in the UFC. We were on the show and we talked about this with the coaches. Anybody who won the tournament knew they were going to be jumping into a fight with Valentina.

"She's not untouchable. She bleeds just like everyone else. I choose to believe in what I've shown the world so far."

Tale of the tape

• Second ever UFC women's flyweight championship fight (Nicco Montaño defeated Roxanne Modafferi for inaugural title)

• Montaño: Outstruck Roxanne Modafferi, 186-132 in significant strikes in only UFC fight (December 2017)

• Montaño: +900 underdog (would be largest upset in UFC title fight in modern UFC history; longest odds by reigning champion in UFC title fight)

• Montaño: Seventh UFC fighter whose first two UFC bouts were both title fights (Frank Shamrock, Maurice Smith, Jose Aldo, Dominick Cruz, Ronda Rousey, Carla Esparza)

• Montaño has never been finished in MMA career (both losses by decision)

• Shevchenko: 4-2 in UFC career (both losses by decision vs current women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes)

• Shevchenko: outstruck Priscilla Cachoeira 230-3 in her last fight in total strikes (95-2 in significant strikes); it was her UFC flyweight debut

• Shevchenko: Second career UFC title fight (lost vs. Amanda Nunes at UFC 215 for women's bantamweight belt)

• Shevchenko: Former kickboxing and Muay Thai world champion

• Shevchenko: 11 takedowns in four UFC wins (taken down twice); one takedown in two UFC losses (taken down four times)

• Shevchenko: No. 2 women's bantamweight fighter in the world according to ESPN (ESPN does not do women's flyweight rankings)

Fight Breakdown

It's difficult to break down this matchup and not sound as if you're disrespecting what Montaño has accomplished or the skills she does possess. Her grit and heart played well in the context of a reality show in which she had to make weight and fight multiple times in a short time frame. She deserves credit for that.

But this is a mismatch, plain and simple.

Shevchenko is a pure assassin. Every movement on the feet is crisp, efficient, calculated -- with purpose. Montaño does a decent job at feinting takedown attempts to set up her strikes, but there are also times she appears to just lean on volume. Throw to throw, and welcome an exchange. That type of strategy will get one slept against the counter-striking Shevchenko.

Montaño's greatest hope is probably a submission, early in the fight. Even that seems near impossible, but at least you can kind of envision it. It is real hard to picture a knockout for Montaño. She doesn't have a ton of power, and her strikes are the ones you see coming. There's not much trap setting. She hit Roxanne Modafferi 186 times in their title fight and never really had her in trouble.

If Montaño and Shevchenko were to fight a 25-minute standup contest, it's not crazy to suggest Montaño would struggle to land maybe 20 strikes. Shevchenko's defense is that polished. She'll have no problem backing Montaño up with powerful counters, which will allow her to dictate the range. And dictating that range will also help her fend off any takedown attempts before they even start.

Since the UFC announced the addition of a 125-pound female weight class, most observers have pegged Shevchenko as an inevitable champion. If Montaño pulls this off, it will be right up there with the biggest upsets in company history.

Prediction: Shevchenko via TKO, second round.