The UFC’s infamous “International Fight Week” has finally returned and headlining the action-packed UFC 266 card is the featherweight title fight between champion, Alexander Volkanovski and former title challenger and number two-ranked Brian Ortega. After being delayed from their original booking in March, these two 145 pounders will finally clash inside the cage.
What once seemed like a respectful rivalry has since turned a tad bitter after Volkanovski and Ortega were granted the opportunity to coach against one another on the return season of The Ultimate Fighter in the meantime. Look for this to add a bit of “spice” into fight week and what is sure to be a technical championship fight between two of the most elite fighters in the UFC. However, all drama aside, join us to preview the careers of both fighters and the potential paths to victory for this UFC 266 main event!
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega: Meet the Fighters
Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski
Alexander Volkanovski may just be the most underrated and underappreciated champion the UFC has right now. Having amassed an astonishing 22-1 (9-0 in UFC) record, Volkanovski has not faced defeat since his 4th professional bout back in 2013, putting him on a 19 fight win streak coming into UFC 266. The dominant Aussie is now looking to make Brian Ortega next on his shiny, undefeated, UFC resume.
“The Great” lives up to this nickname time and time again when he enters the octagon. Volkanovski has a very high wrestling pedigree, matched with a solid striking game. However, what may go unnoticed the most for the champion is his ability to gameplan for each opponent so perfectly, and then go out and stick to it step-by-step each time. While this may not lead to the most finishes or flashy performances, it has gotten Volkanovski two straight wins over former featherweight champion, Max Holloway, a TKO victory over perennial contender, Chad Mendes and a one-sided showing against the King of Rio himself, Jose Aldo, just to name a few.
Now Volkanovski finds himself up against one of the most unique talents in this stacked featherweight division, Brian Ortega. A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace, who has shown massive improvements with his striking. This is sure to grant Alexander Volkanovski a tough challenge, but one he is sure to come prepared to conquer. Should “The Great” pass this test, it will be time to start putting a whole lot more respect on his name and consider him in the conversation for one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Brian “T-City” Ortega
California’s own Brian Ortega enters UFC 266 looking to right the wrongs from his first title opportunity in 2018. After taking a long layoff to reassess his skillset, he has since returned dominantly and defeated fan-favorite, Korean Zombie last fall. Now holding a professional record of 15-1, 1 NC (7-1, 1 NC in UFC), is it time for Ortega to finally reach the epitome of the sport?
Once known for his next-level jiu-jitsu, Ortega now looks to be just as comfortable on the feet as he is on the mat. He showed this for five straight rounds when he defeated the aforementioned Korean Zombie and looked to encompass the patented “2.0” ora that so many people grant fighters after reinventing their fight styles. However, don’t let his incredible standup fool you, this man is always looking for the proper opening to drag his opponents into this realm where he knows he will hold a massive advantage. Being that his foe, Alexander Volkanovski, is such a great grappler, that makes this fight ten times more interesting.
If Brian Ortega can secure the victory at UFC 266 and become featherweight champion, it will be quite the accomplishment. Considering how he lost his first attempt at gold to Max Holloway in such a dominant fashion, paired with his long layoff after the fact. Not to mention that Volkanovski is as elite a fighter as you will find in the UFC. All signs point to this being a stylistic chess match, and because of that, fight fans everywhere should be waiting with anticipation.
This is where the fun begins when talking about this incredible main event. Two of the most well-versed fighters in the 145-pound division get to go toe-to-toe for the ultimate prize. First, we have the current champion, Alexander Volkanovski. A swiss army knife if you will, in terms of his well-rounded capabilities. His grappling being his strong suit, having been able to implement this with nearly every opponent he has faced. Volkanovski is very physically strong for this weight class and considering he once played rugby while sitting at over 200 pounds, this should come as no surprise.
However, his striking is nothing to sleep on either. Fans have seen this most recently in his last two outings against one of the best strikers in all of MMA, Max Holloway. Not only did he go tit for tat with the former champion, but he got the best of most striking exchanges during their ten rounds spent together. He has a solid jab and fantastic leg kicks that can keep his opponents guessing on if and when the shot for a takedown will come.
For Ortega, it has been made clear multiple times in this article already how elite his BJJ skills are. After all, he holds seven victories by way of submission. “T-City” can so quickly alter the state of the fight due to his ability to create openings either by using takedowns, pulling guard, or simply grabbing hold of his opponents’ neck at any moment, just ask Cub Swanson. But can he utilize this against Alexander Volkanovski, who is a whole different beast, that is the question?
On the feet is where the winner of this fight may just be determined. Assuming neither wishes to grapple with the other due to their talents on the mat, it may come down to the striking department. Whilst Ortega is the taller fighter, the reach leans in favor of the champion in this matchup. However, Volkanovski tends to want to fight at closer ranges even with his reach and for Ortega, if his performance against TKZ is any indicator, he will want to take his best shots while at distance.
So whichever fighter chooses to take control of the octagon and force the other onto their backfoot could definitely get the upper hand early. If this is Volkanovski pressing forward, it will take a lot of space away from Ortega and his precise, fast and, rangy strikes. And should Ortega take center control, he will force the champion to have his back toward the fence making it much harder for him to shoot in for takedowns.
This fight really is one of the most evenly matched title fights the UFC has booked this year on paper and one can only hope it turns out that way once they are locked inside the octagon. For the winner, a chance to not only carry gold but to further cement their legacy while still having plenty of fights left. For the loser, they may be sent to the back of the line in this top-heavy featherweight division.
Let us know your predictions for Alexander Volkanovski vs. Brian Ortega in the comments below!
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