Ahead of Saturday’s main event against ‘The Korean Zombie’ (Chan Sung Jung), Brian Ortega told anyone who would listen that he had evolved in his near two year layoff, and so it proved.
At UFC Fight Island 6 in Abu Dhabi, Ortega claimed a dominant unanimous decision win over former featherweight title challenger, showcasing an expanded striking arsenal. ‘T-City’ is a renowned Brazilian Jiu Jitsu stylist, but used a fluid standup game to keep the ever aggressive ‘Korean Zombie’ at bay, scoring a 50-45 shutout on all three scorecards.
Ortega Version 2.0
Entering Saturday’s bout as a betting underdog, there were questions over Ortega’s ability to mix with the featherweight division’s best strikers, after his one-sided loss to then-champion Max Holloway at UFC 231. Many thought that the beating he took on that night may have taken its toll on the California native, but those questions were answered in emphatic fashion.
Speaking on the ESPN post fight show (transcribed by MMA Fighting), Ortega insisted that at 29, he is just getting started.
“It feels great,” Ortega said. “This is a new evolution of what I have to bring to the table. This is barely Phase One 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.”
Weathering The Storm
Ortega’s game plan hinged on weathering the storm in the first round, as ‘The Korean Zombie’ is a known fast starter. The native of South Korea has claimed his last three wins in the first round. ‘T-City’ not only kept his foe at bay, but he even won the first round on all three cards, with his ability to switch stances and mix up his attacks being the difference between the two fighters.
“I was expecting a solid first round,” Ortega said. “If you look at all of his fights, right from the beginning, [Renato] Moicano, [Frankie] Edgar, Dennis Bermudez, all the dangerous times is at the first round. So we figured, alright, let’s chill this first round even if we have to take it off and then we pick up the pace.”
Upping The Pace
After a solid first round, Ortega stepped up the pace in round two, with the natural orthodox settling into a southpaw stance in a move that seemingly caught Jung by surprise. Then, with less than a minute left in the round, ‘T-City’ connected with a spinning elbow attempt. Although it was the upper arm, and not the elbow, that connected, it was still enough to floor the advancing ‘Korean Zombie’.
While ‘The Korean Zombie’ survived to see out the round, he appeared somewhat compromised for the remaining three rounds, as Ortega’s game plan proved sound.
“That’s the only thing that changed,” Ortega said. “I switch a lot back and forth, you’ve seen in all my fights. But right off the bat I started orthodox. I went southpaw and I just found more [comfort] there. I was like, ‘You know what? He can’t hit me from here, he’s having a hard time swinging, he’s missing,’ and I was like I’m just gonna stay here.”
Losing The Locks For Charity
While Ortega showcased his fighting improvements, much of the intrigue surrounded the absence of his trademark long hair. To the surprise of the MMA world, ‘T-City’ arrived at Friday’s weigh-in sporting a freshly shaved head.
At the time, many speculated that Ortega had shaved his hair in order to make the 145 pound limit. However, he later revealed a much more charitable reason for the change – to benefit cancer patients.
“October, there’s like Breast Cancer Awareness and all that and that was kind of sitting on me,” Ortega said. “I visited a lot of children’s hospitals where I saw kids who had cancer and it’s always been something in the back of my mind. I told myself always when I cut my hair I want to donate it to an organization that does help. When I was doing my weight cut I was like, ‘Man, I’m suffering right now.’ I don’t know why, I get sentimental, I started thinking I’m suffering with these poor people, they’re suffering more than I am.
“And I was like, ‘Yo, bring the f***ing clippers right now, I’m doing this.’ They suffer for a long time and they have to deal with it. I suffered for one weight cut and I’m back to normal. So I was like, ‘Give me the f***ing thing.’ They’re all like, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it.’ I was like, ‘Gimme ‘em!’”
While the advances in Ortega’s MMA game are most likely permanent, it should be noted that his new look is not.
“I’m gonna grow it back, it’s gonna come back,” he added.
How do you think Brian Ortega version 2.0 will get on against Alex Volkanovski, when he challenges the Australian champion for the featherweight title?