On Saturday Night in Fresno, Calif., Brian Ortega met his toughest challenge to date when he took on Cub Swanson. The majority of fans thought the same thing: Swanson was too experienced, too fast, and too creative for the 26-year old. Turns out those people were wrong.
It was nonsense. Had they seen Ortega fight before? I’ve been following him ever since his UFC debut, and there was something about him that separated him from other rising prospects in the featherweight division — his jiu-jitsu was on another level.
I’m not gonna lie. I didn’t think much of Ortega’s grappling skills when he first came into the UFC, despite the fact that he was training with Rener Gracie. His submission win over Mike De La Torre was impressive, sure, but there was nothing unusual or amazing about it.
It was when he fought against Diego Brandão at UFC 195 that he revealed a heck of a lot more about himself. The fluidity of his movement and the effectiveness of somewhat risky transitions he showed and yet managed to perfectly execute in the finishing moments of the fight were nothing less than a beautiful work of art.
So, when Ortega was coming in against Swanson and a lot of people seemed to be writing him off as just another prospect that needs more time to develop, I knew those people were in for a pleasant surprise. Ortega delivered, too. He submitted the No. 4-ranked Swanson in the second round by a very rare standing guillotine choke. With this win, Ortega managed to put everyone in the featherweight division on notice.
Ortega has everything needed to become a champion, with maybe the exception of enough experience. His striking has been constantly evolving every time he steps inside the Octagon and has gotten to a point where he can hold his own against anyone in the division on the feet now. He doesn’t need to worry too much about being taken down due to his jiu-jitsu skills from his back, and he doesn’t fear clinching with anyone — we saw why this past weekend. Cardio is never an issue for him, as most of his finishes have come in the later rounds. Added onto all the physical skills, Ortega has extraordinary poise, which allows him to fight like a veteran no matter the situation. We saw this in nearly all of his fights. He’s been down on the scorecards and yet somehow always finds ways to finish fights.
Ortega’s backstory attracts so many people, too. He grew up in a rough neighborhood and has seen it all. If you have been following him for the past couple of years, you’ll know that he’s spoken in multiple interviews about experiencing deaths of those close to him, as well as coming close to his own death. Even after defeating Swanson, Ortega used the post-fight interview spotlight to express his good intentions of helping out those in need of help.
If Ortega gets a good push by the UFC — and as long as current featherweight kingpin Max Holloway is able to get through Frankie Edgar — Ortega could be matched up with the current champ in 2018. It would be massive and easily one of the best title fights in the history of the promotion. It would boost the popularity of the division to have two of the best younger fighters collide, and we know Holloway and Ortega can combine for an exciting fight.
Ortega is not done improving. He is still only 26 years of age and has plenty of time to continue to develop. Sooner or later, with the proper promotion, he will be an absolutely gigantic part of the UFC’s featherweight division.