FAN FAVOURITES WILL FI­NALLY MEET IN OC­TAGON

UFC boss says Toronto could be champ’s last tilt at 145 pounds, writes Neil Davidson.

Windsor Star - - SPORTS -

What­ever the out­come TORONTO of Satur­day’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.

NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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