Alexander Volkanovski has extended his winning streak to 20, with an impressive victory over Brian Ortega in a fight of the year contender.
The pair have had a bitter lead-up to the fight with both men coaching opposing sides in season 29 of The Ultimate Fighter.
Volkanovski and Ortega exchanged verbal blows in the weeks leading up to the fight as the reigning champion described his opponent as a “drug cheat” and a “spoilt brat.”
The two left it all in the octagon as they ended UFC 266 with an instant classic that may well go down as one of the greatest fights in UFC history.
Ortega displayed his world-class submission game, leaving the champ seemingly helpless on three separate occasions.
However, Volkanovski showed the heart of a champion, coming out on top of all three attempts with a flurry of heavy shots on the challenger, leaving Ortega unrecognisable by the end of five rounds.
Volkanovski entered the octagon fired up, wrapped with an Australian flag around his shoulders, the Shellharbour native prepared for a war with the iconic ‘Land Down Under’ blaring on the speakers as his entrance music.
Both fighters started the fight slow, testing the reach of each other before opening up and engaging in the later stages of the first.
Volkanovski became the aggressor late on in the round, leaving Ortega constantly on the backfoot.
The champion landed a few solid shots, but was met on several occasions by counter-strikes from Ortega.
After a tight opening round of the fight, both fighters walked away with gashes to the face as Volkanovski finished with a slight advantage.
Ortega began the second round on the front-foot, landing some key shots to the champion, before Volkanovski found his footing and began to dominate the second round.
The Australian displayed his phenomenal striking game, giving his all to Ortega for the remainder of the round. Volkanovski landed 38 significant strikes, whilst Ortega only managed 23 with a strike rate of 39 per cent.
The champion continued his assault throughout the round, leaving Ortega with a red face as the round came to a close.
It seemed the animosity between the pair had only escalated after the siren, as the fighters went face to face and exchanged some heated words before being separated by referee Herb Dean.
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Round 3 may go down as one the best rounds in Volkanovski’s career.
With Volkanovski seemingly ahead 20-18, the challenger needed to respond in order to keep his shot at UFC gold in reaching distance.
The champion started the round with an early jab to Ortega, which stunned the challenger as Volkanovski continued to follow through and land several significant strikes.
Ortega flipped the fight on its head after landing a huge straight shot on Volkanovski, which forced the champion to lose his footing.
The Jiu-Jitsu black belt demonstrated his world-class ground game after this shot, getting Volkanovski into a fierce Guillotine.
With the choke secured tightly, it seemed inevitable that Volkanovski’s reign as king of the Featherweights would be over a matter of seconds.
Volkanovski miraculously escaped the hold and proceeded to punish Ortega with several huge blows in the ground-and-pound.
The champion re-gathered himself and began to dominate Ortega before the submission specialist struck again.
Ortega brilliantly re-positioned himself to an advantageous position and got his opponent in another deadly submission, this time using his favoured triangle choke.
Fighting fans around Australia held their breath in shock as it again seemed Ortega had secured victory.
However, Volkanovski again found his way out of the choke and unloaded on Ortega.
Within a matter of seconds Volkanovski had the challenger rocked, as the final minute of Round 3 approached the champion persisted with his attack, throwing heavy shots to the grounded Ortega.
As many anticipated a Herb Dean stoppage, Ortega was saved by the bell and remained laid-out after the siren.
Volkanovski landed 61 significant shots in Round 3 with 46 of these shots to the head.
Many questioned if Ortega could continue after this, however after Ortega was thoroughly examined by doctors he was cleared to fight.
Volkanovski knew he had the fight in his control and prepared to continue the onslaught in Round 4.
A un-recognisable Ortega recovered during the round and took the champion down in a clinch.
For the third time, the challenger manoeuvred his way into a deadly submission and for the second time in the fight he went to his favoured triangle choke.
Volkanovski somehow escaped again, but this time he didn’t want to leave it to chance and began to outright dominate Ortega in the ground-and-pound.
Volkanovski landed 35 significant strikes compared to Ortega’s six. The champion showed out in the final minutes of Round 4 and left his opponent a bloody-mess heading into the fifth and final round.
Ortega managed to get himself in order for the final round and showed little signs of fatigue, giving his all to Volkanovski.
The champion dominated the opening minutes of the round before Ortega found a burst of energy.
Ortega landed some brutal shots towards the end of the round and attempted a takedown, but couldn’t find it in himself to follow through on any attacks.
Volkanovski continued to pick his opponent apart, nearly doubling Ortega’s significant strikes (26) with 50 of his own.
By the end of the round it seemed obvious to all the fans watching that Volkanovski had undoubtedly won this bout.
Volkanovski won the fight by unanimous decision with the judges scoring the contest, 49-46, 50-45 and 50-44.
“I thought he was done. That’s what we trained for all camp. That little b***ard is tough as f***ing hell. He kept slipping out and I was like, f**k! this guy is a champ for a reason,” Ortega colourfully said about his opponent after his loss at UFC 266.
It seems that the hatchet has been buried between the two, as Volkanovski embraced his opponent after the fight, raising his hand in a massive show of respect.
“I wanted to get the finish and I’ve been talking about getting the finish, but at least it was a war and entertaining, everyone enjoyed it,” Volkanovski said after retaining his title.
“I’m just happy I got the ’50 g’s’, I got the belt, I’m bringing it back to Australia, I’m on the piss, we’re laughing.
“It was a ‘f**k I’m about to lose the belt deep’, but as the type of human being I am, we talk about me going through adversity, being prepared and having a never give up attitude, that’s exactly what you’ve just seen,” Volkanovski said about Ortega’s submission attempts.
“We got Yair [Rodriguez] and Max [Holloway] fighting, so I’m guessing thats for the number one contender and that’s not until November. I wanna fight, so do I move up to Lightweight and fight the champion, give me something, I’m thinking over moving the family over for a year and ride this f***ing lockdown thing.” Volkanovski said on what his plans are moving forward.
The 32-year-old has now defended his belt on three consecutive occasions and holds the longest active winning streak amongst active UFC fighters.
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