- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
UFC featherweight Brian Ortega said he didn’t even want people to recognize him on Saturday, as he came off a nearly two-year layoff from the Octagon. It’s safe to say he succeeded.
Fighting for the first time since he was badly outclassed in a UFC championship fight in late 2018, Ortega (15-1) looked like a new man in a dominant five-round decision over Chan Sung Jung (16-6). All three judges scored the featherweight bout — which headlined UFC Fight Night on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island — a 50-45 shutout for Ortega.
The victory earns Ortega, 29, the next crack at defending featherweight champion Alex Volkanovski, who is coming off back-to-back wins over Max Holloway.
“We’re gonna find out if I’m ready,” Ortega said about going straight to another title shot. “In this game, you take chances. You don’t grow in the comfort zone. Alex Volkanovski, you’re the champ. The thought of fighting you is exciting. I’ve got a team. Ready or not, I’m f—ing coming.”
It was an especially rewarding win for Ortega, as he was stopped in the fourth round of his title fight against Holloway at UFC 231. He was scheduled to return against Jung, a.k.a. Korean Zombie, in late 2019, but was forced to withdraw from the bout due to injury. The lengthy layoff, plus the extensive damage he absorbed in his last fight, clearly loomed over Ortega as he went into Saturday’s contest.
“I got one message,” Ortega said. “All my homies that rolled with me after my last one, I love you all. For all of you who counted me out, learn how to count.”
Ortega will likely have plenty of support going into his second title shot, following Saturday’s performance. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt chose to stand and trade with Jung, who is regarded as one of the hardest hitters of the featherweight division. Ortega mixed his offense up beautifully, peppering Jung with his jab and leg kicks.
Jung’s best moments came in the second round, as he appeared to find his timing and rhythm. Ortega reversed the momentum in the final minute, however, as he hurt Jung with a spectacular, counter elbow, reminiscent of the one Yair Rodriguez knocked Jung out with two years ago. He also dropped Jung with a left hand in the opening round, and cut him over his left eye in the fourth.
Jung, of South Korea, continued to move forward in the fifth, and landed several good shots as Ortega danced around the perimeter, but Ortega’s defense was on point and his toughness will never be in question after the heart he showed during his loss to Holloway. It was the first time in Ortega’s career he has gone five rounds.
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