BIG LIT­TLE GUYS

Hol­loway-Ortega main event shap­ing up to be ‘great­est feather­weight fight of all-time’

Ottawa Sun - - SPORTS - DAVE POLLARD dpol­[email protected]­media.com @pol­lardOHL

Max Hol­loway stepped onto the scale and put to rest any doubt that he wouldn’t be de­fend­ing his belt against Brian Ortega in the main event of UFC 231.

While there was some con­cern Hol­loway, the UFC feather­weight ti­tle-holder, would have dif­fi­culty mak­ing 145 pounds again af­ter be­ing pulled from his pre­vi­ous fight due to what some be­lieve was weight-cut­ting is­sues, he came in a whole half-pound un­der the cham­pi­onship limit dur­ing the of­fi­cial weigh-ins Fri­day morn­ing. Ortega tipped the scales at 144.75 pounds.

Bot­tom line is, this highly an­tic­i­pated fight is a go. And no­body is hap­pier about that than UFC pres­i­dent Dana White, who al­ready counts Hol­loway-Ortega as his No. 3 fight in the Toronto MMA era, just be­hind the Jon Jones-Alexan­der Gustafs­son epic (UFC 165 in 2013) and the Ge­orges St. Pierre-Jake Shields scrap in front of 55,000 at the Rogers Cen­tre in 2011.

“If I had to name my top five cards of all time here I would call this the No. 3,” White said. "Jones-Gustafs­son you have to call No. 1, it was the great­est light-heavy­weight fight ever. No 2 would have to be GSP in the sta­dium, our first-ever sta­dium show. And then I’d have this No. 3. This fight hasn’t even hap­pened yet and I’m call­ing it No. 3.

“If this fight goes the way I think it’s gonna go, this could end up bump­ing the No. 2 or No. 1 slots.”

High praise in­deed, given the num­ber of great fights Toronto has hosted. Any­one re­call the Cub Swan­son-Doo Ho Choi feather­weight barn­burner just two years ago? Or the Jones-Ly­oto Machida tilt at UFC 140, a fight that ended with Machida asleep on his feet? Or even Hol­loway’s clin­i­cal dis­man­tling of An­thony Pet­tis for the in­terim ti­tle two years ago? None made White’s top three.

But it’s easy to see why White thinks this fight is go­ing to be one for the ages.

“You’ve got a guy (Hol­loway) who’s on an un­beaten streak for five years, he hasn’t lost,” White said. "Then you’ve got this up and com­ing kid (Ortega), 15-0 (ac­tu­ally 14-0 with one no con­test) and un­de­feated, which is al­most im­pos­si­ble to do, es­pe­cially with the peo­ple that he’s fought.

“You have the two very best in the world, fight­ing in the prime of their ca­reer ... this is what fight­ing is all about right here.”

Hol­loway (19-3) is, sim­ply put, a fighter. He be­lieves he was put on this planet to fight. And fight­ing is all he wants to do.

Rid­ing a 12-fight win streak that dates back to 2013 (his most re­cent loss was to Conor McGre­gor), his con­fi­dence is sky high even though he hasn’t been in the oc­tagon for a year.

“This is go­ing to be the great­est feather­weight fight of all time,” Hol­loway said. “This is the most com­pelling. What else are you guys talk­ing about? No­body’s talk­ing about any other feather­weight fight but this fight. It’s gonna be the great­est fight of all time. Make sure you tune in.”

There’s a chance it will be Hol­loway’s last fight as a feather­weight, no mat­ter the out­come.

At 5-foot-11, he’s tall for the weight class. Cut­ting down to 145 pounds isn’t easy for him and might be be­hind the mys­tery ail­ment that forced him out of his pre­vi­ously sched­uled fight with Ortega in July. There’s a chance the boss — White — might not al­low the 27-year-old Hawai­ian to fight at 145 again.

“With the stuff he went through with the weight-cut­ting thing, I didn’t want him to fight again at 145, I wanted him to go to 155” White said. "It was a big con­cern. I told him I wasn’t gonna let him do it. He went to a mil­lion doc­tors to prove me wrong that he could do it. He got his clear­ance and he got his fight.

“He didn’t want to go to 155. You know why? He wants to beat Ortega. What more could you ask for? That’s a real fighter. That’s a guy that peo­ple get be­hind, that’s why we’re sold out here and peo­ple love him in Toronto.”

In Ortega, Hol­loway is fac­ing a guy who grew up on the hard­scrab­ble streets of San Pe­dro, Calif., and started train­ing in martial arts at age 5. In six UFC fights, Ortega has never needed to go the dis­tance. The guy just fin­ishes fights.

He’s also a dis­ci­ple of the leg­endary Gra­cie fam­ily and trains at their fa­cil­ity in Tor­rance, Calif.

“The way we look at things, we break them down with fun­da­men­tals that were in­stilled in me since I was a kid,” Ortega said of his Brazil­ian jiu-jitsu train­ing. “You have this me­thod­i­cal way of think­ing that al­lows me to break peo­ple down. I still use it with the strik­ing. We mix it up well.”

In the co-main, Joanna Je­drze­jczyk will square off with Valentina Shevchenko for the women’s fly­weight belt.

UFC 231 also marks the re­turn of Ice­land’s Gun­nar Nel­son, who hasn’t fought since los­ing to San­ti­ago Ponzinib­bio in July 2017. Nel­son (16-3-1) takes on Brazil­ian Alex (Cow­boy) Oliveira (20-5-1, 2 NC).

Also on the main card, ris­ing Cana­dian feather­weight Ha­keem Da­wodu (8-1-1) will fight Kyle Bochniak and Jimi Manuwa will meet Thi­ago San­tos in a light-heavy­weight bout.

In to­tal, six Cana­di­ans are on the UFC 231 card. Hav­ing that many Cana­di­ans fight­ing at home is part of the plan, ac­cord­ing to White.

“The Cana­dian mar­ket is ed­u­cated on mixed martial arts,” he said. "They know how good this main and co-main event is. When you’re in Canada, Cana­di­ans want to fight in front of their home­town or fans and Cana­dian fans want to see Cana­di­ans win. It’s by de­sign.

“We’re sold out on Satur­day and the co-main event and the main event does not in­volve a Cana­dian.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

UFC feather­weight cham­pion Max Hol­loway (left) and Brian Ortega square off ahead of tonight’s big fight.

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