Post-Fight Thoughts: Max Holloway -vs- Brian Ortega
After experiencing a lamentable run of bad circumstance throughout 2018, Max Holloway came into this title fight with a lot of questions hanging over his head. If one had concerns about Max Holloway's health — or the overall viability of his fighting career — it's safe to say that the UFC featherweight champ assuaged those fears with his performance in the main event of UFC 231. Despite facing a very game challenger, Max Holloway was in fine form; I'd say he put on a vintage performance, but honestly he looked better than ever. If you were to sketch out the ideal fight for Max Holloway, you would have come up with something like the fight we just got.
Right from the start of the fight, Holloway seemed incredibly comfortable in the cage, adopting a somewhat lazy stance but dishing out a high volume of strikes. Brian Ortega did well initially, defending strikes and landing his own. Holloway's chin was in fine form, as he shrugged off a good number of solid punches and barely letting them register. At first, I was a bit worried that Holloway was lulling himself into a false sense of security, but when Ortega started stringing together combinations Holloway adjusted and put a stop to that in short order. Holloway's takedown defence was on point as well, as Ortega failed to get him to the mat on each of his 5 attempts throughout the fight.
For the most part, Ortega had very limited success, with his best round being the third where Max seemed to take his foot off the gas a little bit. Despite being outgunned and looking more and more overmatched as the fight went on, Ortega showed zero signs of becoming discouraged or quitting, even when his face was a lumped-up, bleeding mass of flesh. The challenger showed a lot of heart, and potentially took some life-changing damage in defeat, but he didn't look out of place fighting for the title. The reality is that Max Holloway is just that good, having dispatched his last 12 opponents with relative ease and shattering all divisional records in the process. Losing to Max Holloway, in what is clearly the prime of his career, is no mark of shame, and the fact that Ortega wasn't finished — with the fight stopping on advice from the ringside physician — is impressive given the onslaught he endured.
While the fight unfolded pretty much as I envisioned, it did so with much more nuance that I expected. Ortega's skillset continues to improve, and his boxing looked even better than when he dispatched Frankie Edgar. Holloway put a clinic on Ortega, but he had to put significant work into it; don't mistake the finnesse in Holloway's game with the notion that anything he did was easy. Brian Ortega made Max Holloway work very hard, forcing him to stuff quality takedown attempts early, and peppering the champ with 100 strikes over the course of all 4 rounds. Undeterred, Holloway triple-up Ortega's striking score, and the fourth round was such a one-sided beatdown that I'd argue a 10-8 round was in order even without a knockdown occurring. Even if the doctor did not stop the fight before the fifth frame, it would have been in Ortega's best interest for his corner to throw in the towel anyway.
At this point, it is impossible to fathom anyone at 145 pounds beating Max Holloway. The most logical next fight would be a rematch between him and Conor McGregor, at lightweight. That said, I don't know how much interest Conor would have in that fight, given it's risk:reward ratio is skewed pretty heavily towards "risk." Holloway is an exciting, dominant champion, but his drawing power is probably not quite high enough to convince the UFC to shelve the notion of a rematch with Khabib Nurmagomedov or completing the Nate Diaz fight trilogy. On merit, Holloway would fight Conor next, but that doesn't mean much in the UFC's world. I have no clue who should get the next featherweight title shot, maybe Frankie Edgar, although it's hard to imagine anyone faring better if Max puts on a repeat performance.
Brian Ortega didn't lose much in defeat, aside from probably some money and brain cells. For a young, previously undefeated title contender, Ortega acquitted himself well; he just came up short against one of the very best fighters to ever compete in the 145-pound division. It will be interesting to see how Ortega rebounds from the loss, although given his poise and composure during his losing effort, I would expect his confidence to remain high and for him to eventually get another shot at the title. Nothing Holloway did made Ortega look bad, rather it just illustrated just how elite-level Max Holloway is. Brian Ortega may yet be featherweight champion, but right now it's Max Holloway's division and everyone else is just living in it.
Published: December 9th, 2018.