Rivalries: Brian Ortega

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Brian Ortega once again finds himself at the threshold, albeit with a different champion blocking his path to the pantheon of immortals.

The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt will challenge Alexander Volkanovski for the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight title in the UFC 266 main event on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The two men coached opposite one another on the recently completed 29th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series, setting the stage for their blockbuster showdown. Ortega, 30, has compiled a stellar 7-1 record since he linked arms with the UFC 2014, with six of his seven wins resulting in finishes.

As Ortega prepares to square off with Volkanovski—he of the current 19-fight winning streak—for all the marbles at 145 pounds, a look at some of the rivalries that have helped shape his career:

Keoni Koch

Ortega laid claim to the Resurrection Fighting Alliance featherweight crown with a split decision over “The Evil Genius” in the RFA 12 headliner on Jan. 24, 2014 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. All three cageside judges scored it 49-46: Michael Bell and Ron McCarthy for Ortega, “Judo” Gene LeBell for Koch. It was a back-and-forth affair in which neither man seemed willing to give ground. Ortega was at his best in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. He cinched a triangle choke in Round 4, tightened his squeeze and cranked on Koch’s exposed arm, nearly forcing the tap. The Iowan managed to extricate himself from the maneuver but failed to turn the tide in a meaningful way in Round 5. There, Ortega completed two takedowns, piled up control time and kept his frustrated counterpart pinned to the canvas. “T-City” signed with the Ultimate Fighting Championship soon after and made his Octagon debut six months later.

Frankie Edgar

The former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion established himself as the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s clear No. 1 contender at 145 pounds when he put away the indomitable Edgar with punches in the first round of their UFC 222 co-main event on March 3, 2018 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Ortega brought it to a spectacular close 4:44 into Round 1. Edgar pressed the issue, unleashed body-head combinations and forced the undefeated Rener Gracie disciple onto his back foot. During a close-quarters exchange, Ortega turned the tide in an instant with a devastating standing elbow. Edgar staggered and retreated but found no refuge. Ortega floored him with a crushing right uppercut, trailed him to the canvas and closed the deal with a pair of hammerfists. It was the first stoppage loss of Edgar’s remarkable career.

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Max Holloway

“T-City” did everything in his power to loosen Holloway’s grip on the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s featherweight throne, but he was woefully unsuccessful in doing so. The Hawaiian retained his undisputed 145-pound title in resounding fashion, as he forced a doctor stoppage on Ortega after the fourth round of their UFC 231 headliner on Dec. 8, 2018 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The cageside physician took one look at the Californian’s grotesquely swollen left eye and declared him unfit to continue. No one in their right mind could have argued with his decision. Ortega put up considerable resistance and obliged the champion with a war of attrition, only to be met with four-, five- and six-punch combinations in response. Holloway struck with surgical precision. He connected with 166 of the 304 total strikes and 156 of the 294 significant strikes he attempted. Ortega was credited with two takedowns but could do nothing of note with either of them.

Chan Sung Jung

Ortega returned from a prolonged absence with a vengeance and took a unanimous decision from “The Korean Zombie” in the UFC Fight Night 180 headliner on Oct. 17, 2020 at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Not a single judge awarded Jung a single round, as 50-45 scores were cast across the board. Now once again the No. 1 contender for the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight belt, Ortega did not look like a man who had been idle for 679 days. The Californian picked apart Jung with a sharp and effective standup attack, and he made few mistakes while doing so. Ortega outlanded the Fight Ready star by substantial margins in all five rounds, incorporated a few takedowns to keep the World Extreme Cagefighting holdover guessing and delivered the signature moment of the fight—a devastating spinning elbow in the second round that resulted in a knockdown and almost led to a finish. Advertisement
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