You can browse MMA focused websites and find dozens upon dozens of articles labeling that site’s pick for their next “big thing”. Everyone has their inside track on regional talents and they take a chance on pegging an individual as a competitor to keep an eye out for as they believe that person will emerge as a prominent figure in the fight scene. You will find hits and misses as a once promising prospect may find a career elsewhere or find their success fizzling, and you may find some articles that really hit on a fighter who went from unknown warrior to well-known superstar. Our site is no different in that aspect and today, we have two fighters we think fight fans should focus their attention upon.
And they come from the same gym.
Durango Martial Arts Academy has a great program that is producing very talented fighters. One of RFA 18’s featured fighters, Steve Hanna (4-1) is the gym’s Fight Team Captain and works alongside fellow coaches Chris Jones and Matt Young to build a successful martial arts program. Jones is a Jiu Jitsu Black Belt under Amal Easton making him the most ranked grappler training within the gym’s walls. Young is a Brown Belt under Jones, and with Hanna complete the instructors for all the training that goes down at Durango MA.
“Chris is a very gifted martial artist. He’s a great coach, and a durable, intelligent fighter. Matt Young is probably the most studious martial artist I know. He takes a lot of personal time to work one on one with all our fighters. I would describe them as wise, old “sharks” of our dojo.” – Steve Hanna
One of the most notable names housed under the Durango MA roof is WMMA standout Nicco Montano (3-0). The amateur 135-pound Montano is quickly becoming a marquee name in the regional circuit and gaining a reputation for being one of the most talented women competing in the area. Her smothering grappling talents has led her to three first round stoppages (all before the three minute mark) that include one TKO finish and two armbar submissions.
“I was in wrestling and grew up with the boys so it was a lot safer to fight and grapple than to strike. So I’ve always been use to that (grappling). And when I started BJJ it just felt easier and more fun, GI especially, something new.” – Nicco Montano
Montano’s last outing my have been her best performance to date; making the trip to Albuquerque for King of the Cage “Future Legends 23”, Montano would fight at a catchweight of 140-pounds against Leann Acosta. As soon as Montano closed the gap enough to grab a body lock, she methodically worked to the takedown where she quickly exploded into the dominant mount position. It was all fundamental from that point as she locked in a fight ending armbar that caused swelling to Acosta’s possibly broken arm immediately.
Montano’s success isn’t exclusive to MMA as she has competed and found success at several grappling tournaments including one in particular that paired her with a world-class Jiu Jitsu Ace.
“I’ve competed in about seven tournaments. My favorite moment would probably be rolling against Tammy Griego in my first absolute. I remember thinking I was doing pretty alright, considering I was rolling with my first Black Belt. I lost on points and felt so disappointed until the other girls told me about her accomplishments. After that I was pretty much in awe by her presence.” – Nicco Montano
Followers of the combat scene in New Mexico will recognize Griego as one of our own, a Black Belt at the Gracie Barra New Mexico dojo where she earned the label of the first female Black Belt from that respective chapter of the Gracie Barra lineage. For Montano, it was her highest profile match and offered her an opportunity to feel what it was like to compete at the highest level.
Despite the loss to Griego, the standout Durango MA fighter has translated her talents between competitive grappling and MMA very well. While her comfort remains in the grappling aspect of the fight game, she is proficient to the point that her strikes lead her safely into takedowns where she can start implementing her dominant ground talents. Since her first fight in June of 2013, Montano has made her presence felt amongst the ranks of WMMA and with a win on Friday night she will be as poised as ever to make a major splash.
Maybe the same splash teammate Steve Hanna can make just a few fights after Montano’s bout with Allison Price.
The 170-pound Welterweight from Durango Martial Arts has an opportunity of a lifetime at RFA 18. Matched up with Chidi Njokuani (brother of UFC veteran Anthony Njokuani), Hanna can upset one of the promotions most notably name fighters and propel himself up the proverbial ladder to the big show. It is well-known that the Resurrection Fighting Alliance promotion is one of the most active “feeders” to the UFC as much of the promotion’s top talent makes it to the UFC after a couple featured bouts.
As mentioned previously, Hanna is the Durango MA Fight Team Captain which definitely make his main card fight of great intrigue for the Durango area.
“Durango Martial Arts Academy is a great, friendly, family oriented gym with a super tough fight team. I teach Jiu Jitsu, kickboxing, and MMA there. I am also the fight team captain, so I am very involved with our fighter’s training camps, along with Matt Young and Chris Jones. The normal training at DMAA is fun and informative. The fight training is a lot tougher, but we also train smart to really get the most out of our training. It’s a great place to train for hobbyists and competitors alike, and I really enjoy being a part of it.” – Steve Hanna
Hanna is a methodical fighter whose poise and composure allow him to put forth his skill set and outwork opponents. After losing his professional debut Hanna has racked up four consecutive victories all coming via submission. Hanna has shown the ability to win defensively in two of those outings as he utilized his opponent’s aggression to lock up two triangle choke finishes. In his most recent outing, Hanna headlined King of the Cage “Driven” earning the first round stoppage over Kani Correa.
Hanna will be part of a stylistic clash with Njokuani as “Chidi Bang Bang” is a striker much like his brother; Njokuani utilizes his range to dictate the pace of the stand-up until he finds the opening for a finish. Currently 10-4, Njokuani has finished eight of ten of his victories via strikes. With name value and his brother’s rapport with the big show, it is only a matter of time for Njokuani to make it to the next level but Hanna has the opportunity to steal that thunder.
The Durango Duo make the trip from Colorado with unique opportunities. For Hanna he can place his name on the list of RFA fighters ready to make the jump from the regional level to the big show and Montano has the chance to become one of the Southwest’s premier prospects in the WMMA ranks.
The fights themselves take place Saturday night at the Albuquerque Convention Center. Tickets can be purchased by visiting HoldMyTicket.com. Only $35 General Admission and three VIP tables remain for the event. VIP tables run $750 and seat six; comes with food and a waitress for drinks. VIP tables are available by calling 505-507-0309.