Alexander Volkanovski had to survive a valiant effort from Brian Ortega in a potential Fight of the Year to retain his featherweight title in the UFC 266 main event.
Over the course of five rounds, Volkanovski appeared to be in complete control at times only for Ortega to turn the tables on him including a pair of submission attempts that nearly finished the fight in the third round. Through it all, Volkanovski refused to surrender and he just continued to batter Ortega with punches both on the feet and on the ground to secure the victory by unanimous decision.
The final scorecards read 49-46, 50-45 and 50-44 with Volkanovski remaining featherweight champion.
“I’m a normal human being. Just hard work got me to where I am,” Volkanovski said while celebrating his latest win. “Sky’s the limit for any of you. All them doubters, I’m going to keep proving you wrong time and time again.”
The featherweights were happy to exchange strikes early with Volkanovski connecting with a hard right hook on a couple of occasions while Ortega was sticking a jab in the champion’s face. Volkanovski also jumped into a well-timed left jab of his own that snapped Ortega’s head back as he successfully closed the distance but the challenger was still finding a home for his straight punches in return.
By the end of the first round, Ortega was sporting a cut over his left eye while Volkanovski had a gash of his own under the left eye.
While Ortega was sticking through every exchange, it was Volkanovski who was consistently landing the better power punches. The thudding shots didn’t seem to wobble Ortega but midway through the second round, he started to step forward with a bit more aggression in order to slow Volkanovski down.
As time passed it appeared Volkanovski was starting to really gain confidence as he came after Ortega with more pop behind his punches while also chopping away with leg kicks. Ortega was hanging tough with his jab but he was eating far more shots than he was delivering in return.
The tide turned in dramatic fashion after Ortega dropped Volkanovski with a glancing punch that saw the champion hit the canvas. Ortega seized the moment by jumping on a mounted guillotine choke and it appeared for a moment that the title would be switching hands but Volkanovski slipped free.
Just as Volkanovski was dropping bombs from the top with his ground and pound, Ortega then locked up a triangle choke that once again looked like the fight might be over. Instead, Volkanovski refused to give up and he eventually got out of the submission, which led to another brutal series of shots with Ortega’s head bouncing off the canvas.
It looked like Ortega was nearly done but he somehow managed to rise for the fourth round as he once again tried to latch onto a guillotine choke. This time, Volkanovski got loose with far less effort and then he just started punishing Ortega by standing up and then dropping bombs back down onto the ground.
While Ortega’s face was a mess and his gas tank was running low, he continued to push forward while Volkanovski was hitting him with everything trying to finish the fight.
Despite all the damage done, Ortega arguably had his best overall round in the fifth as he left everything in the octagon in an attempt to stage a comeback but Volkanovski was giving just as good as he was getting through every exchange. When the fight was over, Volkanovski had clearly done more than enough to deserve the win but Ortega put on a display of pure heart and determination to stick around to the final horn.
“He’s good,” Volkanovski said about Ortega. “I thought I was in his head and then he came back even stronger. I feel like an idiot saying some of the things I did cause he proved himself.”
While he came up short in his second attempt at becoming UFC champion, Ortega was still strong in defeat and he paid homage to Volkanovski, especially after surviving those submission attempts.
“I thought it was done,” Ortega said about his third round performance. “That’s what we trained for the whole time. I tried to come for his head but that little bastard’s f*cking tough. He’s a champ for a reason.”
Still undefeated in the UFC with a second title defense on his resume, Volkanovski hopes this latest win will finally earn him some much due respect.
“About f*cking time!” Volkanovski shouted. “Keep doubting me! I love it!. I’ll be the underdog until the day I die. That’s just going to make me work harder.”