It has been nearly two years since we watched Max Holloway’s greatest performance in an octagon, handing Brian Ortega the first defeat of his professional career.
‘T-City’ was supposed to be the kryptonite to Holloway’s title reign, with his insane ground game expected to test ‘Blessed’ to a point he’d not been pushed to yet. Instead, he got beaten black and blue as Holloway cemented his legacy as one of the greatest featherweights of all-time.
Since then he’s been away from the cage, training to get back to where he feels he belongs. A fight with the Korean Zombie has fallen apart twice already but they are scheduled to finally meet this weekend at UFC Fight Island 6 where they will headline the card.
For Ortega, it’s a chance to beat a top contender in the division and potentially set up a clash with new champion Alexander Volkanovski but also to remind everyone of just how good he really is.
Despite that resounding loss to Holloway, Ortega was undefeated prior to that. He had beaten Diego Brandão, Clay Guida, Renato Moicano, Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar during his UFC run – finishing them all. The performance against Edgar in particular was startling, knocking out the former lightweight champion with a vicious uppercut that was the first time he’d ever been stopped.
Ortega’s ability to synch in a choke from out of nowhere was on show against Cub Swanson, when he hung on to a guillotine in mid-air and adjusted his grip to get the tap while Swanson was still standing.
His striking has improved greatly since his initial debut and he landed well against Holloway but he will need more than just landing well against the Korean Zombie if he wants to win the fight. Chan Sung Jung is coming into this bout with bad blood after several verbal altercations led to Ortega slapping Jung’s friend at a UFC event last year.
Zombie is the better striker and is more than competent on the ground himself, being the first man to ever win a fight in the UFC using a twister submission. He’s a veteran of the cage and hits hard, becoming only the second man – after Ortega – to knock Frankie Edgar out.
This will be a war of attrition at featherweight and Ortega knows he needs the win to not be forgotten about. A second defeat in a row against a top contender after almost two years away will almost certainly send him crashing down the rankings and will leave him with a mountain to climb with the way the division has developed since he’s been away.
The likes of Volkanovski and Holloway are still around but there are also top contenders like Zabit Magomedsharipov, Yair Rodriguez and Calvin Kattar all knocking at the door of contention for a potential fight with the champ.
A win is vital for Ortega if he is continue on his path towards the mountain top, but there’s a zombie in his way who he has to find a way around first.