UFC 231: Holloway-Ortega shaping up to be ‘greatest featherweight fight of all time’

Max Holloway stepped onto the scale and put to rest any doubt that he wouldn’t be defending his belt against Brian Ortega in the main event of UFC 231.

While there was some concern Holloway, the UFC featherweight title-holder, would have difficulty making 145 pounds again after being pulled from his last fight due to what some believe was weight-cutting issues, he came in a whole half-pound under the championship limit during the official weigh-ins Friday morning. Ortega tipped the scales at 144.75 pounds.

Bottom line is, this highly anticipated fight is a go. And nobody is happier about that than UFC president Dana White, who already counts Holloway-Ortega as his No. 3 fight in the Toronto MMA era, just behind the Jon Jones-Alexander Gustafsson epic (UFC 165 in 2013) and the Georges St. Pierre-Jake Shields scrap in front of 55,000 at the Rogers Centre in 2011.

“If I had to name my top five cards of all time here I would call this the No. 3,” White said. “Jones-Gustafsson you have to call No. 1, it was the greatest light-heavyweight fight ever. No 2 would have to be GSP in the stadium, our first-ever stadium show. And then I’d have this No. 3. This fight hasn’t even happened yet and I’m calling it No. 3.

“If this fight goes the way I think it’s gonna go, this could end up bumping the No. 2 or No. 1 slots.”

High praise indeed, given the number of great fights Toronto has hosted. Anyone recall the Cub Swanson-Doo Ho Choi featherweight barnburner just two years ago? Or the Jones-Lyoto Machida tilt at UFC 140, a fight that ended with Machida asleep on his feet? Or even Holloway’s clinical dismantling of Anthony Pettis for the interim title two years ago? None made White’s top three.

But it’s easy to see why White thinks this fight is going to be one for the ages.

“You’ve got a guy (Holloway) who’s on an unbeaten streak for five years, he hasn’t lost,” White said. “Then you’ve got this up and coming kid (Ortega), 15-0 (actually 14-0 with one no contest) and undefeated, which is almost impossible to do, especially with the people that he’s fought.

“You have the two very best in the world, fighting in the prime of their career … this is what fighting is all about right here.”

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Holloway (19-3) is, simply put, a fighter. He believes he was put on this planet to fight. And fighting is all he wants to do.

Riding a 12-fight win streak that dates back to 2013 (his most recent loss was to Conor McGregor), his confidence is sky high even though he hasn’t been in the octagon for a year.

“This is going to be the greatest featherweight fight of all time,” Holloway said. “This is the most compelling. What else are you guys talking about? Nobody’s talking about any other featherweight fight but this fight. It’s gonna be the greatest fight of all time. Make sure you tune in.”

There’s a chance it will be Holloway’s last fight as a featherweight, no matter the outcome.

At 5-foot-11, he’s tall for the weight class. Cutting down to 145 pounds isn’t easy for him and might be behind the mystery ailment that forced him out of his previously scheduled fight with Ortega in July. There’s a chance the boss — White — might not allow the 27-year-old Hawaiian to fight at 145 again.

“With the stuff he went through with the weight-cutting thing, I didn’t want him to fight again at 145, I wanted him to go to 155” White said. “It was a big concern. I told him I wasn’t gonna let him do it. He went to a million doctors to prove me wrong that he could do it. He got his clearance and he got his fight.

“He didn’t want to go to 155. You know why? He wants to beat Ortega. What more could you ask for? That’s a real fighter. That’s a guy that people get behind, that’s why we’re sold out here and people love him in Toronto.”

In Ortega, Holloway is facing a guy who grew up on the hardscrabble streets of San Pedro, Calif., and started training in martial arts at age 5. In six UFC fights, Ortega has never needed to go the distance. The guy just finishes fights.

He’s also a disciple of the legendary Gracie family and trains at their facility in Torrance, Calif.

“The way we look at things, we break them down with fundamentals that were instilled in me since I was a kid,” Ortega said of his Brazilian jiu-jitsu training. “You have this methodical way of thinking that allows me to break people down. I still use it with the striking. We mix it up well.”

In the co-main, Joanna Jedrzejczyk will square off with Valentina Shevchenko for the women’s flyweight belt.

UFC 231 also marks the return of Iceland’s Gunnar Nelson, who hasn’t fought since losing to Santiago Ponzinibbio in July 2017. Nelson (16-3-1) takes on Brazilian Alex (Cowboy) Oliveira (20-5-1, 2 NC).

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Also on the main card, rising Canadian featherweight Hakeem Dawodu (8-1-1) will fight Kyle Bochniak and Jimi Manuwa will meet Thiago Santos in a light-heavyweight bout.

In total, six Canadians are on the UFC 231 card. Having that many Canadians fighting at home is part of the plan, according to White.

“The Canadian market is educated on mixed martial arts,” he said. “They know how good this main and co-main event is. When you’re in Canada, Canadians want to fight in front of their hometown or fans and Canadian fans want to see Canadians win. It’s by design.

“We’re sold out on Saturday and the co-main event and the main event does not involve a Canadian.”

TALE OF THE TAPE

Brian Ortega (Challenger)

Fighting out of: Torrance, Calif.

Record: 14-0-0, 1 NC

Age: 27

Height: 5-foot-8

Weight: 145

Reach: 69 inches

Leg reach: 39 inches

Max Holloway (Champion)

Fighting out of: Waianae, Hawaii

Record: 19-3

Age: 27

Height: 5-foot-11

Weight: 145

Reach: 69 inches

Leg reach: 42 inches

Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies