'Warrior Spirit' follows fighter's journey to cut weight

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Sep. 20—Nicco Montano made history when she became the first female Native American champion in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Montano is the focus of the documentary, "Warrior Spirit," which makes its debut at the Albuquerque Film + Music Experience at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24.

At the helm of the documentary is former Albuquerque resident Landon Dyksterhouse.

"We started filming the project in 2018," Dyksterhouse said. "It's been a long, amazing journey getting to tell her story. She's struggled with UFC for so long. It's a bombshell story. We've had the film ready to go for a year and then COVID hit and sidelined the film festival circuit."

The documentary follows Montano as she underwent extreme weight cutting in the UFC Performance Institute.

Dyksterhouse said the film also puts a spotlight on UFC stars who train out of Albuquerque, including UFC veteran Tim Means and also MMA gym owners from FIT-NHB Tom Vaughn and Arlene Sanchez Vaughn along with other big names like UFC president Dana White and ESPN journalist Ariel Helwani.

Dyksterhouse said "Warrior Spirit" documents the injustices of the UFC and how the multibillion dollar company exploits their fighters for millions of dollars.

The film is presented by Warrior CBD and the executive producers are Jason Bowles and Nancy Murphy-Bowles.

When starting the project, Dyksterhouse didn't know about Montano's weight cutting plan with the UFC Performance Institute.

"These are the experts who collect all the data on the athletes and figure out ways for them to cut weight," he said. "Nicco is working with their director of nutrition. Along the way she's in pain and it's not working. But they are advertising that the process is safe for the fighters."

Dysterhouse believes the film will make changes to the UFC to make it a safe environment for UFC fighters.

"I'm hoping that a conversation will be started around how the athletes are treated," he says. "Eventually we hope the safety protocols will be changed. The fighters don't have a union and they don't have representation. The latest news is that there are former UFC fighters and investors trying to start a rivalry league. They are going to include fighter representation, health insurance and a 50/50 cut for fighters."

In August, Montano, the former women's flyweight champion, was released by the UFC following her weight miss for her bantamweight bout at UFC on ESPN 28. Montano (4-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC) came in seven pounds over the 136-pound limit for her fight against Wu Yanan and the fight was canceled.

Montano, 32, won the inaugural UFC women's 125-pound title in late 2017 after advancing to the final of Season 26 of "The Ultimate Fighter."