Brian Ortega is prepared to scrap it out at the very top of the featherweight division after “showing the world” what he could do at UFC Fight Night in Abu Dhabi to tee up a title shot at champion Alexander Volkanovski.
The No 2-ranked contender, who last time out suffered his first professional defeat, marked his return to the octagon after almost two years away with a dominant display against Jung Chan-sung in the headline bout at Flash Forum on Sunday.
Ortega dropped his long-time rival, the No 4-ranked challenger, in the second round with a spinning elbow before cruising to a unanimous-decision win. All three judges gave him the victory 50-45.
Ortega, who moved to 7-1 in the UFC (15-1 overall in MMA), is now set to take on belt-holder Volkanovski next, a fight UFC president Dana White confirmed will take place. However, Ortega is also determined to avenge his solitary loss, to then-champion Max Holloway in December 2018.
“I said this in the beginning, in the very, very beginning when the fight was first set up: ‘We will meet again'," Ortega said at the post-fight press conference. “He’s going to stay at the top. He’s not just a guy that’s going to drop right off the bat and just spiral down his career.
“I’m not a guy that’s going to just fall off like that. Clearly, tonight, I showed the world that’s not me. So he’s going to stay on top; I’m going to be on the top; Volkanovski’s going to be on the top. And believe me, we’re going to have some rounds with all of us. We’re going to keep you guys entertained.”
Having had to withdraw from their scheduled clash in December, Ortega was superior throughout against Jung, known more popularly as “The Korean Zombie”. The Mexican-American was expected to take the fight to the ground, but displayed a superb stand-up game to overwhelm his opponent.
It was payoff, Ortega said, for a significant refocus during his time away from the UFC: he has changed the majority of his team as he overcame a first defeat and battled a series of injuries.
“It felt great to come back and trust my team with everything we’ve been working hard to do and come out here and show the world,” said Ortega, who shaved off his hair for charity before Friday’s weigh-in. “I knew I could do that once I actually stuck to a game plan and not get emotional like I used to.
“I’ve been working with these guys for a while now. While everyone has been watching the UFC and everything, and I kind of disappeared from the face of the earth, I was in the frickin’ dungeon down there just grinding away, looking at these fights and going, ‘Don’t worry. I’m going to have my time'. And I just kept with that mentality.”
Ortega's performance was praised on social media by Volkanovski, the Australian who initially defeated Holloway to capture the belt and then defended his crown in their rematch at the inaugural Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in July. The latest UFC Fight Night represented the penultimate event in the promotion's second residency in the capital, which concludes next Sunday with UFC 254.
On Volkanovski (22-1 MMA, 9-0 UFC), Ortega said: “I watched both of his fights with Max. Obviously, after that, I had to watch that. Very methodical, very technical the way he approached everything.
“I would just have to restudy everything, not only the two Max fights, but his entire career and brush up on more of this fights. And go in there and do what I do: just give it my best.
“He’s a great champion. Obviously he won the belt, defended it. That’s one thing I can never take from him or say anything bad because he did it. I haven’t done that. He’s a cool dude. Have nothing bad to say about the guy. Let’s not start beef.
“I just want to get off this island. I just want to go home right now, see my family and maybe in a week’s time have [my team] go talk to Dana and work something out.”
Saying that, Ortega is confident he would provide Holloway an altogether different test should they meet again. The first encounter, which headlined UFC 231 at the tail end of 2018, was a largely one-sided contest, with Holloway prevailing between the fourth and fifth rounds via a TKO retirement.
“It would just look different,” Ortega said of a potential rematch. “I’m not here to promote anything and say this and that. I just know I’m a better fighter than I was when I fought him and it would go a lot different.”