If the UFC had asked him to, Darrell Montague just might have paid for a ticket to his own Octagon debut.
In 2012, Montague’s invitation to the UFC flyweight party must have gotten lost in the mail. He was not a member of the inaugural class of flyweights the UFC signed that year, even though he was widely considered to be a top-level talent.
Nineteen months after the first-ever UFC flyweight fight, Montague (13-3) made his Octagon debut at UFC 166. The event was incredible: six knockouts, one submission, a fight of the year candidate and a heavyweight title fight.
Unfortunately for Montague, he was on the receiving end of one of the six knockouts. Former title contender John Dodson viciously put him down in the very first round.
Still, all things considered, Montague says, it was a pretty awesome night.
“I’ve always been a fan of this sport and to be able to be on a card that big was huge,” Montague told ESPN.com. “Diego Sanchez versus Gilbert Melendez has to be one of the top-10 fights ever in the UFC. The whole card top to bottom was just good fights.
“When I look back on it, it will be awesome to be a part of that card.”
Montague’s positive feelings toward a night in which he was unwillingly removed from consciousness aren’t surprising once you learn more about him.
The Southern California-based flyweight started watching the UFC during childhood alongside his father -- a man Montague guesses would be less proud of him today if he were a practicing surgeon instead of a professional fighter.
In middle school, Montague and his best friend would rent VHS tapes of UFC events and fight one another in the backyard. He began training Muay Thai at age 15 and started competing in “smokers” -- unsanctioned amateur fights -- at 17 years old.
He’s spent so many nights watching live UFC events on television, it actually kind of rattled him to do so on the night of his debut.
“It was weird when I was in the locker room watching the UFC,” Montague said. “Then it clicked, ‘Oh f---. I’m about to walk out there. I’m part of this.’”
Montague, 26, clearly isn’t concerned over the outcome of his first UFC fight -- but that doesn’t mean he’s content with losing.
From the moment he started training, Montague says a UFC title has been the goal. He’ll look to start moving in that direction this weekend when he makes his second UFC appearance against Kyoji Horiguchi at a UFC Fight Night event in Cincinnati.
“Pretty much the first day I walked into a gym was because I wanted to fight and be a champion,” Montague said. “The only thing holding me back mentally was I didn’t know if they would ever have my weight class. I was 100 pounds when I started.
“I always thought I might have to fight on just local shows. All of a sudden the sport started to blow up and now the UFC has my natural weight class.”
Ahead of this fight, Montague signed a representation contract with MMA Inc., which opened a door to train at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento. Many members of the gym -- Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez, Chad Mendes -- are affiliated with MMA Inc.
In addition to the two weeks he spent in Sacramento, Montague trained at Nick and Nate Diaz’s facility in Lodi, California and expects to pursue more training opportunities at different gyms as his career progresses.
Interest was high in Montague for his UFC debut in October. He and Dodson helped kick off the pay-per-view portion of the card. For his encore performance, he says he has given one interview. You’re reading the results of it.
That suits him fine, though. He waited his turn to join the UFC's 125-pound roster and he’s not especially anxious to break into its rankings. It will take care of itself.
“It would have been nice to win that fight because it would have put me close to the top of the division,” Montague said. “But I’m pretty much in the same spot as before. I’ll have more fights to prove myself.
“I just want to take my time and I don’t care where I stand. I’ll let [the media] decide that kind of stuff. I’ll do my best and see where the rankings fall.”