With Max Holloway set to defend the UFC featherweight title against Brian Ortega this weekend, it’s time to take an in depth look at how the two stars match up.
For my fight analysis, I’ll cover a multitude of variables for each fighter and how they’ll clash, while trying to avoid putting you to sleep while I do it.
John Danaher on Joe Rogan’s JRE MMA show describes the three keys of winning the majority of your fights as dictating the setups, the pace, and change of direction. Holloway and Ortega are two shining examples of this in action. Holloway’s volume striking will likely be ramping up the pace and speed of direction change. Why, I hear you ask? Holloway’s volume striking has the ability to determine the direction of the fight, due to the minimum requirements needed to execute a tactic. That said, Ortega possesses an equally unpredictable movement as a part of a well-rounded set of offense tools.
The key to Holloway’s effectiveness is pressure. In the Hawaiian’s pair of fights against Jose Aldo, he uses every inch of his reach to poke at Jose. Through maintaining this pressure,he prevents himself from moving backward, usually strafing while punching. When he picks his shots, he pushes forward. If momentum is gained through a successful combination, the volume striking commences. Same with Lawler vs Dos Anjos when RDA caught Lawler, pushed him to the cage, and performed a flurry of punches for 20+ secs. Why does he do this? The average opponent’s natural reaction when faced with relentless attacking is to reciprocate this pace of attack.
Holloway combines the pace with the pressure to entice opponents to give their all, sapping his opponents energy reserves, the 26-year-old then capitalizes on their weary states with volume punches. If the champion plans to use volume striking on Ortega, he has to answer the following questions: Can he assert enough pressure onto Ortega to establish a perimeter for volume striking? If so, can his volume combinations be enough to wear Ortega down for follow-ups? If this happens, can his flurries be enough to overwhelm Ortega?
Holloway also holds wins through grappling, handing a guillotine choke loss to both Andre Fili and Cub Swanson. His submission wins have come largely from reactionary grappling, whereas Ortega’s majority of submissions came from active grappling efforts via pressure and setups.
In Holloway’s fight with Ricardo Lamas, he showed effective takedown defense in round one, gaining partial control of Lamas’s back not only to prevent further work into a dominant position, but also to potentially set Lamas up for a submission. In the second round, he defend against a single-leg takedown from Lamas and then capitalized on his opponents position from committing on the takedown in order to deliver a guillotine, dominating Lamas in back mount for the remainder of the round. He also used defense to guide himself out of the clench near the cage in Round 3, shifting his weight to the left to push Lamas off to gain enough room to maneuver out of the clench.
For Ortega, footwork and pressure breaks via providing heavy but efficient punching will be the key to threaten Holloway, and cause him to second guess his strikes. Holloway showed recently that he has heavy hands, but Ortega has shown K.O power potential of his own. Although he doesn’t display his striking power often, the challenger does hold notable KO victories over Clay Guida and Frankie Edgar.
The best defense he has against volume striking, in my opinion, is his grappling. Both fighters are BJJ practitioners; Ortega being a black belt at Black Belt Surfing and Holloway being a purple belt at Gracie Technics. However, not all belts are equal as they don’t take into account an individual’s abilities, both in physical prowess, or fight IQ. So removing their belt colors, let’s take a look at the grappling of both fighters.
In his fight with Swanson, Ortega dominated the direction and setups by switching back and forth, guiding him toward the cage. Ortega’s first and second submission attempts involved getting the over-under hooks. The 27-year-old capitalizes on Swanson’s forward offense with an over-under, then quickly transitions to a D’arce choke.
In his victories over both Swanson and Renato Moicano, Ortega demonstrated he is adept in reactionary offense. In his fight with Diego Brandao, the california native showed the world that he is an expert at transitioning to other submissions, switching from a guillotine choke to a triangle choke.
Keys to victory
Holloway by KO
If Holloway catches Ortega with his striking and follows up as he did with Aldo, the victory will be his. Holloway’s winning condition with volume striking will depend on the variability of attack. In the Lamas fight, he mixed up the striking with jumping kicks, spinning back kicks, and switching between top and bottom attack focuses.
Holloway by Decision
If Ortega maintains his cardio and can withstand the flurries but is unable to sufficiently keep Holloway at bay, a decision victory is likely.
Holloway by submission
Holloway is adept in BJJ. His submission game through reactionary and potentially active means will be the key to victory.
Ortega by KO
Setting up Holloway for any strike will allow the opportunity for a knockout, as it was in his recent victory over Edgar. Ortega’s KO and TKO victories are proof enough that he possesses the ability to secure a finish.
Ortega by Submission
This is the most likely outcome for Ortega given the majority of the UFC victories on his record have come this way. Ortega holds the advantage when it comes to BJJ and can most likely out-maneuver Holloway in the ground game.
Ortega by Decision
This condition depends on Ortega’s pressure. As we’ve just went over, his calm demeanor, constant shifts in stance, and aptitude for both stand up and ground game will give Holloway a hard time. Ortega has experience with fast-pace strikers in Clay Guida and Renato Moicano. In both situations he pressured them with grappling and prevailed with submission victories.
Nothing that Holloway delivers will be new to Ortega, as Ortega has faced punchers just as swift and powerful. His chin has been tested plenty despite having very few matches in 2 years. Although Holloway has delivered knockouts, three times in two years were merely TKO’s.
Unless Holloway saps Ortega’s cardio with body shots early, or can compromise his stand up and Jiu-Jitsu by attacking the legs, Ortega will be taking the win. Judging by their similar styles alone, this fight is too close to decide a clear winner.
Both fighters use unpredictable movement, constant stance changes, via orthodox and unorthodox head movements, feints, irregular punching patterns, from light jabs to full power kicks and even jumping kicks. It is a battle of whose unpredictable striking and game plan is the most effective? Can one’s style be executed at the right time?
Time will tell.