Post-Fight Thoughts: Frankie Edgar -vs- Brian Ortega
To many fans, this fight was the true main event of UFC 222 — to be followed by Cris Cyborg dispensing a perfunctory beatdown to a hapless bantamweight. Edgar was supposed to be fighting Max Holloway, for the 145-pound title, but the champion fell injured. Citing a desire to remain active, and having been on the shelf for over a year already, Edgar opted to fight surging featherweight prospect Brian Ortega instead.
As far as replacement fights go, this is about as good as it gets. Ortega was riding an undefeated streak which included the recent submission of veteran featherweight Cub Swanson, and Edgar was the next logical test. This would serve as a good test for both men at opposite stages in their respective careers. Does the old veteran still have it in him, or will the young devour the old? My own position was that Edgar likely has a couple more good years left in him, and he would be able to outwork Ortega in his typical fashion. Ortega seemed to take a lot of damage in his fights, even if he won all of them — that made me lean towards the former lightweight champion.
My assumptions ended up being dead wrong; utterly and completely wrong. I am hardly surprised that Ortega looked even more improved and refined than even in his last fight, as he is young and still progressing. But the quality of the improvements made to his striking were well above and beyond anything I expected. Edgar started the fight off strong, outlanding Ortega and applying good pressure. A few minutes in, however, and Ortega had adapted and figured out Edgar's timing and approach and began to counter him. It only got worse from there.
Prior to the ending sequence, Ortega began to really turn up the heat on Edgar, landing body shots, counter hooks and even a head-kick. Edgar seemed unsettled, and the shots he was taking were clearly hurting him. Sensing a finish was imminent, Ortega closed in on Edgar, hurt him with a stepping elbow and then finished him with a brutal uppercut and swarmed with punches for a first round TKO. No one had ever finished Frankie Edgar before, and Brian Ortega — ostensibly "a jiu-jitsu guy" — outstruck and finished him in the opening frame. Even if you picked Ortega, you are a liar if you're telling me you saw this happening.
I stopped overlooking Ortega a few fights ago, but still did not expect to see him steamroll Frankie Edgar. The latter has been one of the very best fighters in every division he has competed in for over a decade, and other than dropped 2 decisions to Jose Aldo, had never showed any sign of slowing down. Even in the losses to Aldo, one of the best fighters in the history of the sport, Edgar still looked competitive. Then in comes Brian Ortega, who just destroyed him in less-than 5 minutes. It's not even that Edgar looked bad, because he didn't; Edgar looked very mortal, and Ortega is clearly better than anyone thought.
Seeing Frankie Edgar get TKO'ed is the most recent entry in a growing list of reminders that I've been watching MMA for a very long time. I've been watching MMA for almost 20 years. I've been watching Frankie, specifically, for 11 years. Another blunt reminder that nothing lasts forever, especially a young man's sport like mixed martial arts. It is impossible to say for certain, but odds are good that this was Edgar's last chance at another UFC title. This loss puts him at least 2 wins away from contention, depending on how the rest of the division looks, and that's assuming he rebounds from this loss.
One of Edgar's primary attributes was always his durability which, combined with the ability to maintain a gruelling pace for 5-round fights. I won't say that Edgar's chin is completely gone now, but it is clear that his threshold for punishment is clearly diminshed now. Who knows what further deterioration will result from this loss, but it doesn't bode well. It is all but certain that Edgar will fight again, which will tell us a lot more depending on how he looks. At the moment, it's likely that he is beginning the twilight of his career but Brian Ortega has been on such a run that this might just be an outlier, and Edgar has a couple more good years in him.
Ortega has now earned himself a shot at Max Holloway, whenever he recovers from the injury that scrapped the original fight. I favour Holloway significantly in that fight, but less so than if you had asked me a week ago. Ortega has quickly gone from prospect to contender and it's been due to anything but bullshit luck. Ortega has shown the composure of a seasoned veteran, and the heart of true warrior in gutting out each of his wins. It's grimly amusing that Ortega's easiest fight was a stand-up battle with Frankie Edgar, of all people. The sky really is the limit for Ortega, and as good as Max Holloway is (read: very), only a fool would write off Brian Ortega at this stage in the game.
Ortega is a fresh face at the top of the division, and arrived there completely organically. The UFC did little to push Ortega, he just made the most of every opportunity and won all of his fights. The way things are supposed to work, even if they rarely do. I am very curious to see Ortega's career develop, I've gone from simply respecting his potential to being a legitimate fan after this brilliant performance. I haven't given up on Frankie Edgar either, but the relentless march of time eventually diminishes everyone — without exception.
Published: March 4th, 2018.