Brian Ortega is primed for continued success in the UFC (Photo Credit: Brian Ortega Instagram)

There’s no denying it, we saw a featherweight title fight for the ages when defending champ Max Holloway met top-ranked Brian Ortega at Saturday’s UFC 231 in Toronto. On one side of the Octagon stood one of the greatest 145-pounders in UFC history and an all-around great guy who represents all that’s right in MMA. On the other, an undefeated assassin with an unbelievably dangerous ground-game and an up-and-coming fan-favorite who’s become impossible to dislike.

At the same time, there’s no denying that Holloway dominated the fight. Through four rounds, the reigning featherweight king picked Ortega’s defense apart with superior striking skills while neutralizing his opponent’s deadly ground-game. Ultimately, Holloway’s stand-up skills left Ortega bloody, battered and with a badly damaged left eye that forced doctors to stop the fight after the fourth round. But this isn’t the end of Ortega’s rise, in fact, it’s just the beginning.

While the fight was both statistically and visually one-sided thanks to the 307 total strikes Holloway landed compared to Ortega’s 112, “T-City” and his team have a lot to be proud of following UFC 231. Aside from the fact that Ortega stood toe-to-toe with Holloway for 20 minutes, the proud Gracie disciple displayed the kind of heart we’ve only ever seen in a Rocky movie. Obviously, heart is an essential ingredient of Octagon success, and the overwhelming majority of all fighters possess it. But what we saw from Ortega was something different, and it says a lot about his future.

If you happened to catch any of the pre-fight coverage leading into UFC 231, you probably know that Ortega could’ve easily taken a darker path in life. Raised in Los Angeles, he was exposed to many of the issues that plague North America’s inner cities and low-income neighborhoods. But he found a way to rise above it, and understandably, seems to carry that struggle like an invisible badge of honor into every fight. It was part of what kept him going against Holloway despite the outcome which soon became painfully obvious, and it’ll continue to be one of the many reasons for Ortega’s success.

Is Ortega the only fighter from a rough background? Of course not. But he’s proven to be one of the few who’s chosen to use his platform to help others at every turn. Arrests and the type of extra-curricular activities that can kill a promising career aren’t part of Ortega’s future. Coincidentally, he possesses many of the same endearing qualities that have helped to make Holloway a fan-favorite, and in the Octagon, Ortega’s resume speaks for itself.

In a little more than four years Ortega has worked his way up the featherweight ranks by defeating all but one of his UFC opponents. That one blemish on his record came via a no-contest against Mike De La Torre in Ortega’s UFC debut. But he’d been unstoppable until falling to Holloway, defeating each of his next six opponents including Clay Guida, second-ranked Renato Moicano, career contender Cub Swanson and former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.

Most impressively, Ortega had finished all six of his previous opponents heading into UFC 231, earning four performance bonuses in the process while also becoming the first to finish Edgar. The win over Edgar solidified Ortega’s status as the next threat to Holloway’s throne. And if and when the featherweight champ makes a likely move to the lightweight division, Ortega will be free to reign supreme over the sport’s premier 145-pound weight class.

During the next few months, Ortega will have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of his labor as one of the lead actors in a semi-secretive action movie. Hopefully, that project, coupled with a likely medical suspension, will give the UFC more than enough time to determine his next opponent–a question that suddenly seems to have no answer.

But despite the lop-sided outcome, we did learn two things from UFC 231’s featherweight title fight; Max Holloway is a truly one of the best in the business, and Brian Ortega is here to stay.

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