UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski won a dominating victory over Brian Ortega at UFC 266. But in the third round, there was a moment when he thought he might lose.
The middle of the fight saw a wild swing when Ortega ripped Volkanovski’s neck off in a scrum and applied his signature guillotine choke. During several tense moments, it looked like Volkanovsky might be forced to tap, and the champion confirmed it.
“It was deep,” he says. “It was, ‘Oh, damn, I’m about to lose my belt deeply.’ But the type of human that I am, we’re talking about me going through adversity, always being prepared and breaking my ass, never giving up attitude and all that bullshit, that’s what you saw.
“I was deep. It was as deep as it could get. No shit. I remember making some fucking weird noises. I don’t remember the sound I made, but it was a weird, ‘Oh, damn, I hope I don’t lose this belt.’ “
Volkanovski got a momentary reprieve, only to fall for Ortega’s other signature move, a triangular choke that looked just as close to being sunk.
“T-City, he is known for his jiu-jitsu,” he said. “I thought he wouldn’t sink me that deep. Credit to him.
It certainly wasn’t Volkanovski’s intention to continue wrestling with the jiu-jitsu ace, but a grabbed kick and a simultaneous punch sent him to the mat. It was only a moment after 25 minutes that he wasn’t in complete control. Other than that, he felt like he was dictating the action. The scorecards of the judges 49-46, 50-45 and 50-44 supported his case.
“The boys were telling me more, stand up, stand up, and I thought they meant ‘get the hell out of here,'” he said. “What I don’t blame them for saying that if they did, but I thought they wanted me to keep raining bombs.” I punched him hard, and it looked like he was done, but he came back stronger. So I’m just gonna give him some credit.
Initially, it seemed like credit might not be what Volkanovsky was offering after a long and passionate build-up with Ortega via The Ultimate Fighter 29 which culminated in a tense gaze where the champion spoke of the challenger’s past with performance enhancing drugs. After the second round, the two had to be separated by referee Herb Dean as they continued to chew. But after five laps, they only showed respect.
Volkanovsky might not feel the same love from the fans. Despite a 19-game winning streak, he was not a major favorite against Ortega, and the crowd at T-Mobile has let him know he is not the hero of his hometown.
He increasingly agrees with the idea of not being popular over time. He therefore does not regret having played the jugular against Ortega.
“I will always be respectful, but there are going to be things that have to be said sometimes, so I will say them,” he said.
The champion expects an upcoming fight between Yair Rodriguez and ex-champion Max Holloway to serve as the No.1 fight and he will have to prepare for the winner. He already has a pair of wins over Holloway, which he overcame to claim the featherweight title.
“It’s not until November, and I want to fight,” Volkanovski said. “So, do I go up, lightweight fights, maybe the champion fights?” Give me something, cause I got 14 months off because of it all [lockdown]. I think maybe come here [to the [U.S.] to get over this lockout thing, because it’s a mess. That’s why I said this fight is for everyone at home struggling through tough times, New Zealand and Australia.