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Brian Ortega aims to be become first fighter to finish Frankie Edgar

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LOS ANGELES -- One of the qualities which has made Frankie Edgar one of mixed martial arts’ most popular stars over the years is his endurance.

The former UFC lightweight champion hasn’t won all of his fights -- he has five losses and a draw to go with his 17 wins — but never in 28 career bouts has the New Jersey native been finished. Win, lose, or draw, he’s the sports Energizer bunny who just keeps going and going.

And that, to Brian Ortega, is the most intriguing aspect of their upcoming fight.

Ortega and Edgar tangle in the featherweight co-main event of UFC 222 on Saturday night in Las Vegas. And the upstart, undefeated Los Angeles native brings in a reputation as a finisher, with two KOs and three submissions in his past five fights.

Beating Edgar in and of itself would be one thing. Being the first to finish him, Ortega admits, would take it to another level.

“That’s the best part,” Ortega said Monday. “This is a great challenge because it puts that extra edge on me. Because you know what? This is a guy that’s never been finished.”

Ortega said he’s heard from Edgar’s fans on social media that he can’t finish Edgar, which only adds fuel to the fire.

“I’m the kind of guy who if you tell me you can’t do something, like, ‘Brian, you can’t do a backflip off that two-floor building’ and I’m going to give it a shot,” said Ortega, who has seven submissions among his 13 career victories. “That’s the way I’ve been ever since I was a kid. So if you say ‘hey man, this guy’s never been finished,’ and everyone told me ‘You can’t finish Frankie Edgar, you can’t do this,’ for me it’s like let’s go for it. Let’s see if we can do it.”

Mind you, Ortega’s ambitions come from a place of respect. Ortega, who turned 27 last week, sometimes still has to stop and check himself when he realizes he’s stepping into the Octagon with someone like Edgar, or previous opponents such as Clay Guida and Cub Swanson.

“I’m happy that now in my career I am sharing the Octagon with guys like [Edgar],” Ortega said. “Big names. I got to share the Octagon with Clay Guida. I got to share the Octagon with Cub Swanson. Now I’m going to share the Octagon with Frankie Edgar. These are things that as a fighter you always dream of. You dream of fighting the guys that you watched growing up now I’m doing it. Not just on one guy, but those three guys in a row who have huge names and have done a lot great things in this sport, especially Frankie as a legend.”

Ortega, who indicated that the UFC initially approached him with the idea his bout with Edgar would be a five-round main event before Cris Cyborg ended up headlining with a women’s featherweight title defense against Yana Kunitskaya, is also grateful Edgar simply took the fight.

Edgar was slated to fight Max Holloway for the featherweight title, but when Holloway dropped out, Edgar decided he wanted to take a fight either way.

“I love the fact that he’s a down guy to fight no matter what,” Ortega said. “The change of opponent and everything, he’s still in there. I’m grateful.”

And though he wants to be the first opponent to defeat Edgar inside the distance, the sense of admiration won’t entirely fade.

“Frankie was a guy who I’ve seen him, I’ve looked at his fights growing up, I wouldn’t say I was a fan fan, but for sure I was like ‘yo, that guy’s tough, he’s the champ, he’s fighting the best of the best,’” when I was in high school. You know? And now I’m growing and I’m going to fight Frankie Edgar. That’a going to happen on Saturday. That in and of itself is an achievement.”