FAN FAVOURITES WILL FINALLY MEET IN OCTAGON
UFC boss says Toronto could be champ’s last tilt at 145 pounds, writes Neil Davidson.
TORONTO Whatever the outcome of today’s UFC 231 main event between featherweight champion Max (Blessed) Holloway and challenger Brian (T-City) Ortega, UFC president Dana White says it could be Holloway’s last outing at 145 pounds.
White said the weight cut is too severe for the Hawaiian fighter, who has battled a variety of health issues this year.
“I didn’t want him to fight at 145 (pounds) again, I wanted him to fight at 155 (lightweight),” White said. “There’s a lot of risk — to him, to us, to everybody.”
But Holloway (19-3-0) wanted to face Ortega (14-0-0 with one no contest).
“I wanted him to move up to 155. I believe after this fight — win, lose or draw — he will,” White said. “And I will be pushing him hard.”
Holloway made weight Friday at 144.5 pounds. Ortega was 144.75. The champion weighed 161 pounds on Monday.
The two 145-pounders were originally slated to meet at UFC 226 in July, but Holloway was forced to withdraw at the last minute due to what was thought to be “concussion-like symptoms.”
Doctors have been unable to determine what the problem was.
“I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a concussion,” White said. “It had to be associated with weight cut.”
An ankle injury forced Holloway (19-3-0) out of a March bout against former lightweight champion Frankie (The Answer) Edgar at UFC 222. Ortega filled in for Holloway, winning by a spectacular first-round TKO.
Holloway also missed out on a short-notice fight with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223 in April, pulling out during his weight cut.
At 27, Holloway is already a veteran of 18 UFC fights and has won his last 12 bouts since an August 2013 loss to Conor McGregor. A slick volume striker, he’s landed an average of 6.2 significant strikes per minute over his UFC career, according to FightMetric. He’s coming off back-to-back wins over featherweight Jose Aldo, leaving the former champion dazed, bloodied and battered.
But Ortega, the No. 1 contender, is an accomplished black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu who doesn’t need to get his opponent on the ground. Cub Swanson learned that the hard way last December when he allowed Ortega to grab his neck in a standing clinch. Ortega then jumped guard, launching his feet up to attach himself to Swanson like a pretzel in a guillotine choke, before using a foot to push off the fence and tighten his vise-like grip around Swanson’s neck to force the tap.
While seven of his 14 wins are by submission, Ortega, 27, is no one-trick pony. He handed Edgar the first stoppage loss of his career with a wicked uppercut that actually lifted him off his feet.
There’s plenty of respect between the two, who spent time together promoting the card.
These days Holloway is back to being a happy-go-lucky Hawaiian who loves Toronto; he won the interim belt here by beating former lightweight titleholder Anthony (Showtime) Pettis two years ago at UFC 206.
Holloway acknowledges what he’s gone through this year has taken a toll, referencing former Raptors star DeMar DeRozan’s discussion about depression.
But Holloway says his journey has been worth it. He learned not to take things for granted and to keep friends and family close.
Ortega is a laid-back Californian who survived growing up in the rough Harbor Region of Los Angeles. Martial arts helped keep him on the right path. Today he runs a foundation that’s already granted 16 kids jiu-jitsu scholarships.
Two talented fighters. Two likable men. One title.
The UFC says the card is a sellout. The bookies essentially have the main event as a pick ’em.
“Toronto has really taken to Max but they love Ortega, too,” White said.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk (15-2-0) and Valentina (Bullet) Shevchenko (153-0) meet for the vacant women’s flyweight title in the co-main event at Scotiabank Arena.
UFC president Dana White, centre, watches as UFC featherweight champ Max Holloway, left, and challenger Brian Ortega face off in Toronto on Wednesday ahead of UFC 231.