Fighter of the Week: Brian Ortega

Brian “T-City” Ortega

Pro Record: 13-0-1

Association: Black House/Black Belt Surfing Team/Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy

Weight Class: Featherweight/Lightweight

Move over Demian Maia, there’s a new Brazilian practitioner in the UFC making noise and challenging for a title shot. In this week’s addition of Fighter of the Week we take a look at Brian Ortega, a fighter Dana White called “the future” when discussing Ortega’s submission victory over Cub Swanson at their headlining event UFC Fight Night 123. It may be time for everyone to start believing that if you already haven’t. The days of submission specialists being title contenders were over, weren’t they? Well, not so fast. Ortega may be changing the game and bringing submission specialists back to the forefront. To his credit, he does own two KO/TKO victories since arriving in the UFC as well and has trained a ton on his boxing. He has technical holes but he has many positives as well. Let’s take a closer look at how he arrived to Takeover’s FOTW.

Ortega grew up on the streets of San Pedro, California in the Section 8 housing. He said he started fighting at age 5 and got mixed up with the wrong crowd. At age 13 he would look for an outlet and start training at Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy under Rorion Gracie and his sons Rener and Ryron. Rener would say early on in Ortega’s training that we would sometimes miss weeks at a time. Ortega would come back in and tell Rener how he had a friend killed in the streets. Brian remained loyal to his friends on the streets while training at the Academy and also started circling the underground fights. That’s where he met boxing coach James Luhrsen who started training him in his striking. Ortega would later say that James and Rener are his “ying and yang”… one that understood him from the streets (Luhrsen) and one that understood him as an athlete and a coach (Gracie). Under both coaches, Ortega would go undefeated in his amateur career with all his fights ending in s finish.

Ortega would keep his momentum going through the professional ranks competing mostly in regional promotions. He’d win his first pro-MMA championship in his fifth career fight, beating Carlos Garces by decision to become the Respect In The Cage (RTC) Featherweight Champion. He’d win his next championship in RFA just three fights later to win their Featherweight belt. In total, he’d start his professional career out 8-0 before joining the UFC.

The beginning of his UFC career didn’t go as planned as he was removed from his promotional debut against Diego Brandao due to a Brandao injury. Despite making and winning his actual debut against Mike De La Torre by first round submission at UFC on Fox 12, it would be reversed to a no-contest due to Ortega testing positive for the anabolic steroid drostanolone. He would later release a statement: “In preparation for my UFC debut, I used a banned substance called drostanalone. It was an irresponsible decision that I will regret for the rest of my life. I apologize to my family, friends, fans, the UFC and everyone else who was affected by my selfish actions”. “It should be known that my coaches were totally unaware of my decisions, and I am ashamed that I let down the people who believed in me more than I believed in myself“. “Going forward, I’d rather lose a fair fight to any opponent, than defeat myself the way I have done”.
Since that result, Ortega has not let a fight go to a decision, reeling off five consecutive victories, all by finish including three bonuses for Fight of the Night. None more impressive than his submission win over Cub Swanson at UFC Fight Night 123, however. Swanson came in highly regarded and some were even saying he should have already gotten a shot at champion Max Holloway since he himself had reeled off four straight wins in the division since his loss to him. Instead, Swanson was slated to face Ortega in a fight that the winner would almost certainly get title shot consideration. The fight was back-and-forth and despite Swanson appearing he was getting into a groove with his striking, it was Ortega who was able to sink in a deep guillotine and escape with a huge victory. Swanson later said of the guillotine: “It crushed my head and it’s like my neck flared up and I just panicked… I felt like I was going to die”. Pretty intense stuff there and goes to show that if a practitioner of Ortega’s caliber gets a hold of you it’s game over.

So what’s next for Ortega in the ever-crowded Featherweight division? Dana White said there’s no chance of Ortega passing Frankie Edgar for a title shot. Of course, until both champion and challenger are in the octagon, anything can happen. I like what our own Keith Shillan had to say in his “Who’s Next” article, however, and I think Ortega should face the winner of Holloway and Edgar and if for some reason Edgar still isn’t ready to fight or gets injured again, Ortega replaces him. We keep asking to see more of Ortega, specifically against better competition and he keeps answering with solid wins. There are other fights out there for him, but does he want to risk dropping ranks from his all-time high right now? I think he’ll end up fighting again before a potential title shot and I think it’s going to be against the Lamas – Emmett winner. Time will tell. All I know is when this guy sees an opportunity and gets a hold of a limb or a neck, you better watch out!

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