Prior to Saturday night, the last time Brian Ortega was in the Octagon, he was thoroughly battered and outclassed by then featherweight champion in the UFC 231 headliner in December 2018.
Nearly two years later, “T-City” returned to the Octagon with a new look – his trademark locks were shaved off – and a much more refined set of skills. The latter allowed him to capture a clear-cut unanimous decision triumph over Chan Sung Jung in the UFC Fight Night 180 headliner at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, a victory that should earn Ortega a shot a reigning 145-pound king Alexander Volkanovski.
“The Korean Zombie” never got going, as he had no answer for Ortega’s blend of striking, movement and takedowns over the course of their 25-minute bout. According to Ortega, the improvements he displayed against Jung are just the beginning.
“It feels great. This is a new evolution of what I have to bring to the table,” Ortega said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “This is barely Phase 1 though. Me and this team is brand new. This is our first date and it’s going great. We have a full game plan, a full strategy for my entire career and this was a great testament and trust for me to have on them.”
Ortega credited his performance in part to preparation that he has lacked in the past, along with a renewed focus on sticking with the game plan.
“This is the first time I actually stuck to a game plan,” he said. “Usually I abort game plan, but we never really had one to begin with, we’d kinda make a semi-one up, but this is the first time I’ve ever had a true game plan, had MMA coaches, not just this coach that coach. I’ll do what I have to do, in this sport you have to take these chances.”
Ortega also relished the opportunity to prove the doubters wrong. The bandwagon was empty after the loss to Holloway, and his extended absence didn’t allow room for optimism.
“I was counted out. I understand, you leave the game for two years, you get counted out,” he said. “I’m here to remind everyone. It felt great to have this happen again, having your hand raised at this level is important, it’s the number one thing.”
The other noteworthy difference in Ortega was his hair, or lack thereof. The 29-year-old donated his trademark locks to charity, but he doesn’t plan on making the clean-shaven look a permanent thing.
“I’m growing my hair back. My hair is growing back,” Ortega said. “I can’t stay bald, brother.”
“… I do miss my looks with it, I’m not going to lie. My looks, I miss them. But I was cutting weight and I was like, ‘Bro, I feel like s—t and there’s some people that are going through some things right now.’ I’ve visited countless children hospitals and met a lot of kids who are sick with cancer right now. The stories that I saw will always stay with me,” he added. “Walking in rooms playing tough, making them smile, and then walking out and crying your tears out because you know these stories.
“I was suffering during the weight cut and I haven’t had a weight cut in two years. So while I was suffering, I was like, ‘Man, I have to deal with this for a little bit. Some people don’t have that choice. They have to deal with it every day.’ I was talking about it while cutting weight and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know how people lose weight and go through all these therapies.’ Maybe I was in my feelings and I got emotional while cutting weight, but I was like, ‘Go get me the clippers right now. Get me the frickin’ clippers right now.’ And they were like, ‘No, relax, Brian. Relax.’ I had to fight my homies. I was like, ‘Get me the f---ing clippers right now,’ and I just went for it. Just went straight for it. And I was like, ‘We’re going to donate this. That’s it. It’s done.'”
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