Analysis: The story behind the UFC 231 main event

 

On December 8th, in Toronto, Canada, the long-awaited Featherweight Championship match up between the ultra-talented Champion Max Holloway and BJJ expert Brian Ortega will finally happen.

The Champion was scheduled to defend his title against longtime top contender Frankie Edgar before being forced to pull out with a leg injury. Ortega then stepped in on short notice, only to shock the world and cement his spot as #1 contender. Most didn’t think it was the smartest idea for the young gun going up against a very experienced and elite fighter on three weeks notice.

We thought, if T-City wins this, it’s going to be a submission; Frankie is a BJJ black belt under Ricardo Almeida but it’s clear Brian’s BJJ is the elite of the elite, no one could see him outpointing Edgar, and didn’t expect him to submit him, we just were thinking that’s his only shot. He comes out and gets a KO late in round 1 with a series of vicious uppercuts.

After that, Max tried to step in on a week notice to fight Khabib Nurmagomedov for the Lightweight Championship when Tony Ferguson pulled out with a freak accident knee injury but was forced by the commission to withdraw from the bout because of the weight cut.

The pair was then supposed to meet at UFC 226 until Holloway was forced to withdraw due to concussion-like symptoms. The last three fights Max Holloway has been scheduled for, he hasn’t been able to show up, unfortunately.

Now we should finally be able to watch this high-level match up once and for all. Since each of them came to the UFC, we all expected big things from them. Each were world champions before joining the big show. Max Holloway won the X-1 lightweight championship over five rounds in his third pro fight, and T-City won both the RTC and RFA Featherweight titles in five-round fights and defended the RTC title once with a triangle choke victory.

Max came to the UFC in 2012 when he was 19 years old at 4-0 to fill in for Ricardo Lamas against Dustin Poirier; and though he lost that fight, by first-round submission at that, we seen very good striking, he looked like a very seasoned fighter, even as an adolescent. Each of his opponents had a wealth of experience over him before joining the UFC.

Ortega’s UFC debut was a little more anticipated. He was supposed to fight TUF 14 winner Diego Brandao in his debut, however, Diego withdrew, and Brian was also taken off the card due to how late the injury occurred. Two months later he came in and steamrolled Mike De La Torre and got a rear naked choke victory in under two minutes. It was soon overturned due to a failed drug test, he got a nine-month suspension and came back a little over ten months later to fight a long time veteran Thiago Tavares in a tough back and forth war before getting the finish late in round three by TKO.

His next three fights looked pretty similar, back and forth wars until he stops them, submitting two high-level black belts Diego Brandao, and Renato Moicano and KO’ing the very durable Clay Guida with a beautifully timed knee with only 20 seconds left on the clock.

After his four third-round finishes, he submits another BJJ black belt in Cub Swanson in round 2, then shocks the world with his first-round KO of the modern day MMA Rocky, Frankie Edgar, becoming the first man to ever stop him.

Max Holloway’s UFC career was a little rockier at the start, after losing his debut, he wins three in a row before his next loss. At 7-1 he goes in to fight TUF 14 finalist Dennis Bermudez, and loses a very tough split decision.

I for one didn’t understand how two judges gave that fight to Bermudez, and still don’t. Then he fought Conor McGregor and lost a unanimous decision in a fight both guys got injured in.

Since then, he hasn’t lost a fight and is on a 12 fight win streak with 9 finishes.

The fight that really let us know he’s a top level elite fighter was when he stepped in to fight Cub Swanson, most thought it was too early for a top guy like that; he passed with flying colours and dominated him up until the late submission win.

Three fights and three wins later, he fought former WEC and UFC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis for the interim featherweight championship and became the first person to ever finish him. He then unified the title with Jose Aldo, winning via TKO in round 3, then rematched him and had the same result. People talk about T-City’s third round finishes, but Max actually has more, he has six, Ortega has five, four in the UFC. Ortega has some of the most opportunistic and skilful BJJ any of us have ever seen, and an ever improving stand up game.

When asked about his cardio, his coach Rener Gracie said his cardio isn’t really the best, not that it’s bad but he does get tired, he just knows how long is left on the clock and knows what he needs to do to get the finish. I’d say aside from the Jose Aldo vs Chad Mendes fights, Aldo vs Conor, and Aldo vs Holloway, this is the highest level match up featherweight has ever had.

Both guys are so elite at what they do, it’s going to be a war! We just need to pray that these next few days go accordingly for Max.

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