TORONTO — UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway has heard plenty about the accomplishments of his undefeated challenger, Brian Ortega, ahead of UFC 231.
Ortega is a perfect 6-0 inside the Octagon with all six wins arriving via stoppage. Along with being one of the most feared grapplers in the sport, Ortega also became the first man to ever knock out Frankie Edgar when he stopped the legendarily tough former lightweight champion earlier this year with a first-round assault at UFC 222.
But Holloway has plenty of accolades of his own to fall back on — a 12-fight win streak capped off by back-to-back lopsided victories over featherweight icon Jose Aldo. And Holloway isn’t about to let himself be overshadowed by his challenger’s résumé.
“He’s good,” Holloway said when asked about Ortega at UFC 231’s pre-fight press conference on Wednesday. “He’s a dangerous man, but everybody keeps talking about Brian and this and that. Everything the guy did, I did better. He’s on what, a six-fight win streak? I got 12. He beat a champion? I beat two — and I beat one of them twice. So at the end of the day, the ‘Blessed’ express is going around in a circle. We’re lapping you, bro. And I’m younger than you, so congratulations.”
Holloway’s words drew a wry smile from Ortega, who was seated across the reigning featherweight titleholder on the UFC 231 dais.
Asked for a response, Ortega demurred.
“Sometimes the best response is no response,” he said.
“Sometimes you don’t have a response, so…” Holloway shot back.
“Someone is still delirious,” Ortega replied.
The matchup between Holloway and Ortega is one long in the making. The two were previously scheduled to meet in July at UFC 226, however Holloway withdrew from the contest after suffering some scary “concussion-like symptoms” during fight week.
Holloway is still unsure of the cause of his seeming neurological issues and has said he is conducting a private investigation into the matter. Nonetheless, both he and Ortega still stand atop the 145-pound division as the clear-cut two best featherweights in the world, and with both fighters still in their mid-20s and just hitting their fighting primes, both men know that UFC 231 could only be the first of an eventual series between the two.
“He ain’t going nowhere and neither am I — and there’s no more room at the top,” Ortega said. “And like I said, no matter what happens, I don’t see him going down and spiraling down into a crazy thing, and neither do I see myself — so whatever happens, fall down, get back up, and then challenge each again. So, this is the beginning.”
“Me and him are (around) the same age,” Holloway agreed. “We’ll probably run into each other in a couple different weight classes. Who knows? If he wants to. Our backgrounds, Hawaiian and Mexican, we love food, so you might even see us be fighting for the ‘Daddest Man on the Planet’ (heavyweight) one time, so who knows.”
Because of the uncertainty that still floats around Holloway’s medical issues, Ortega admitted Wednesday that part of him is still worried about whether the bout will survive to Saturday night. UFC featherweight contender Renato Moicano has already been tapped as a back-up fighter in case disaster strikes again just as it did at UFC 226, but Ortega also issued words of support in advocacy of the man he is currently scheduled to challenge.
“At the end of the day, I really do care about your health, and how you are and how you’re doing,” Ortega told Holloway. “I know you’ve got a son. Bullshit aside, I know we’re fighting and all of that shit, but I do hope you’re alright, he’s alright. For me, it ain’t cool if you step in there and you’re not physically alright or something’s going on. I wouldn’t want me to step in there, I wouldn’t want him to step in there, especially [because] you’ve got a family, I’ve got my family. So, like I said, I did worry about him. I do.
“I pray for you, swear to God, and we’re going to give you guys the show you deserve and [knocks on wood] nothing’s going to happen.”