Brian Ortega is one of the featherweight division’s brightest prospects, and his most impressive performance undoubtedly came earlier this month when Ortega submitted longtime contender Cub Swanson with a highlight-reel guillotine choke in the main event of UFC Fresno.
The victory pushed Ortega’s UFC record to 5-0 with five stoppages — a sixth stoppage win was overturned in 2014 due to Ortega failing a drug test — but despite an already solid résumé, Ortega’s triumph over Swanson was the sort of breakout fight that “T-City” has been looking for. In a magnificent finishing sequence, Ortega latched onto a standing guillotine, then jumped guard and readjusted his grip in midair to coax a remarkable, second-round tapout from Swanson and force his way into the 145-pound title picture.
“Man, I felt like I was riding a bull,” Ortega said recently on The MMA Hour, reflecting back on the finish. “You know when the cowboy takes one hand up? I was like, man, I better hold on for dear life. Because I grabbed the neck and I felt him doing the proper defense, which was bringing his legs together and pretty much slipping my legs out of the way, therefore there’s no guillotine. Once you get rid of the legs, then you can get rid of the hands next. So I felt the legs going, and I had the neck loose a little bit, so me trying to re-grab the neck, I was also trying to redo my legs at the same time.
“I was, like, trying to kill two birds with one stone. I just figured if I hold onto this, I don’t want to lose it, so I just risked it. And I remember I cinched it up tighter, I let it go, I tried to crawl up his back with my legs and at the same time lock my hands in, so by the time my legs crossed and my hands re-locked, it was right on the money.”
The submission sequence was no fluke either. Ortega nearly sent Swanson home earlier in the night in an eerily similar way.
With time running low in the opening stanza, Ortega appeared to be inches away from submitting Swanson with an anaconda choke, but the veteran Swanson gamely gutted out the final seconds of the round and was saved by the bell.
“I knew I had it and I could feel it,” Ortega said. “But sometimes when you cover — like, I’m wrapped over his head, I was hoping that I covered his hearing. But once I saw him running away, I was like, alright, this guy’s stalling for time. He knows that the bell is going to save him right now. And I was like, instead of just squeezing all I have and hoping for a last second submission, I already know this guy is choke-prone, so let me just relax my energy, let me just hold it, and when the bell rings, go back to the corner, shake my hands out, and man, if I almost had him in the first round, I can only imagine what we have to do with 20 minutes left of fighting.
“I was just like, ‘I’m going to submit this guy. This is what I’m going to do to him.’”
Ortega said he may have been able to finish his first-round choke with five or 10 seconds more time to work, but ultimately it didn’t matter.
Moving forward, Ortega appears to be in prime position for a big fight in the featherweight division, whether that’s a title shot or a No. 1 contender battle. Ortega acknowledged immediately after his victory that Frankie Edgar remains ahead of him in the running for the next shot against UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway. Ortega reiterated the same sentiment on The MMA Hour, saying that his ideal next step would be to wait for Holloway vs. Edgar to play out, then challenge the winner.
“The perfect scenario for me would be enjoy maybe a good month of vacation right now, and then get back to work and wait for the winner of Frankie and Holloway, and just keep training as hard as I can,” Ortega said. “Not just relaxing, but really just — every time I let the fans see and the world see who I am in fighting, I want them to be like, ‘Man, this guy has evolved on a crazy level.’ And that’s what I want to do. Every time, after every fight, I look at the tapes, I look at where I made the mistakes, and not only do I try to improve myself, but I try to, like, times that by two by putting a lot of crazy work in, a lot of hours of training.
“I want to be the best. I truly believe I can be one of the best, and I’m just going for it, man. So a perfect scenario would be let these guys fight it out, I’m going to train my butt off, and by the time whoever the winner is, is ready to defend the belt, I’ll already be in full speed of a camp.”
Ortega said he has one fight remaining on his current UFC deal after his win at UFC Fresno. He expects to renegotiate a new contract before his next fight, regardless of whether it’s a title shot or not.
But either way, Octagon success has come quickly to Ortega, and that fact has not been lost on the 26-year-old Californian, who spoke eagerly about wanting to give back and do extensive charity work with his platform as a rising UFC star.
“It’s happened soon, I’m not going to lie. This has happened very soon,” Ortega said. “I’m not even done fighting on the second contract of my [UFC career]. The second contract, I’m not even through with it. I know people who’ve fought four contracts with the UFC and they’re barely breaking into the top 15. So I’m for sure ahead of schedule and I love it, because if you’re ahead of schedule, you’re doing good. And like you said, I’m 26 years old. I feel like I’m barely starting to learn about fighting and I’m just excited for the future.”