Pre-Fight Thoughts: Max Holloway -vs- Brian Ortega
So it's finally happening; we're actually going to get to see Max Holloway fight in 2018. For a while, it didn't look like that would happen, in fact there was concern that Max's fighting days may already be over (story). That all seems to be in the rear-view at this time, thankfully, as Holloway successfully made weight yesterday, as did his opponent, Brian Ortega. There is a lot to this fight, from Max's health issues to the style match-up this featherweight title represents — I am very glad the fates did not conspire to once again rob us of this match-up.
Max Holloway has established himself as one of the best featherweights in the world, dispatching former divisional kingpin Jose Aldo in two fights. I can't take anything away from Conor McGregor's quick KO victory over Aldo, but that fight wasn't a test of either man's grit and determination — it was an incredible win but hardly a fight. Meanwhile, Holloway took the very best the Aldo had to offer, easily withstood it all, and then TKO'ed the man twice. Holloway has cut his teeth fighting the very best of the division, and stands atop it as the rightful champion of 145 pounds. His UFC debut was Dustin Poirier and his only other losses are a split decision to Dennis Bermudez and a decision loss to Conor McGregor, and has won 15 fights in the UFC otherwise.
The challenger, however, poses a unique challenge to Holloway's title reign. While I am mostly joking when I say that Ortega has been losing every one of his fights right up until the moment he won, it's not that inaccurate. Ortega has been improving a great deal from one fight to the next, however his past performances also featured him taking a fair bit of damage and looking anything but unstoppable. Still, the California native found ways to persevre and rack up a string of remarkable finishes, including his most recent work — a spectacular KO over tough-as-nails Frankie Edgar. Initially considered little more than a BJJ ace with a wicked submission game, Ortega's boxing has developed into a significant weapon which makes him a threat regardless of where the fight takes place.
I would expect Holloway is going to do everything in his power to keep this a stand-up fight, and Ortega seems proficient enough in that area to not mind so much — at least not right away. The big question is whether Ortega can hang with Holloway on the feet, and I think the answer is "no," although I think Ortega is more than competent enough to avoid being easily overwhelmed. Provided Holloway's durability was not affected by his weight cut, or whatever the mysterious ailment that got him pulled from UFC 226, then I don't see Ortega being the guy to KO Holloway. (To be fair, if you told me he was going to floor Frankie Edgar with an uppercut I would assumed you were running a fever.) Ortega's striking should keep him in the fight, and give him an opening to shoot for a takedown or implement his jiu-jitsu, although he may just be crazy enough to try and win the fight on Holloway's terms.
The reason this fight is so compelling is because both fighters are exceptionally talented in different domains of MMA, but are also far from one-dimensional. This truly is evolved MMA; Max Holloway isn't just a striker, he just happens to be really good at stand-up and thus it's a staple component of his game. Likewise, Brian Ortega is more than just a jiu-jitsu guy, capable of grappling well and possessed of solid boxing fundamentals. I would expect Holloway to take either a decision win or possibly score a TKO, while I believe Ortega's route to victory is by way of submission. As well-rounded as Ortega looks, I don't think he can win a 5-round kickboxing match against Holloway, and the more damage he takes the less likely a submission becomes due to fatigue — not impossible, just far less likely.
If anyone is going to surprise me, I suppose it would be Brian Ortega. I will profess that I have consistently written him off and underrated him; I figured the Frankie Edgar fight would be where he got "exposed." It is absolutely possible that in the past 8 months, that Brian Ortega has improved even more than I could imagine. It is also possible that Max Holloway is diminished in some capacity, as a result of a tumultuous 2018 and a variety of health issues. I'm not going to concern myself with those possibilities; provided both fighters come into this fight as per my expectations, I see Max Holloway retaining his title fairly convincingly. I expect Brian Ortega to acquit himself well, and not simply get steamrolled, but I believe that at this stage of their respective careers, Holloway is the better fighter. I also think this is the last time Holloway should try making the cut to 145 pounds, but that's a subject for another day.
I'm expecting a good fight, with Holloway by either TKO or decision. Regardless of the outcome, however, I'm also expecting this to be a tremendous fight; on paper, this is the very best that featherweight has to offer.
Published: December 8th, 2018.