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Brian Ortega eager to show he’s not ‘just a good jiu-jitsu guy’

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LOS ANGELES -- Brian Ortega knows that some still consider him a one-trick pony.

The “T” in the featherweight contender’s “T-City” nickname stands for “triangle,” the choke he used for three of his first four career submission victories.

And even his biggest wins have reinforced the notion that Ortega is a jiu-jitsu guy first and foremost. Ortega pulled off a standing guillotine from out of nowhere against Cub Swanson at UFC Fresno which landed fourth on MMA Fighting’s 2017 Submission of the Year list.

But fighters who rely too much on one skill can end up being exposed in his deficient areas, and that’s something Ortega, who trains at the legendary Gracie Academy in Torrance, Calif., admits was an area of concern as he worked his way up the ranks.

“That was a fear that I had,” Ortega said Monday. “I didn’t want to reach where one day I fight guys, and I get clowned on the feet, and they’re like ‘well you’re just a good jiu-jitsu guy but that’s it, you’ve pretty much peaked in your skill.’”

Ortega sensed early on that if he’s going to take that final step and get to the top, he was going to need to become a complete fighter.

“At the end of the day, this is mixed martial arts,” Ortega said. “And one thing I took you know especially from boxing at a young age from my coach was, if you’re a jiu-jitsu guy, and you only cater your training to jiu-jitsu, there’s going to come a day and time in your career when you face a guy who is a great wrestler, has great takedown defense, and he’s going to make you look silly.”

Now, Ortega stands at the very sort of moment-of-truth toward which he’s been building: His UFC 222 fight against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Not only does Edgar have a slick boxing game and superb wrestling, but he’s taken out a whole lot of fighters with big dreams along he way.

You’ve seen the development show over the course of his current five-fight win streak. Sure, there were three submission wins along the way. But there were also a pair of finishes via strikes against Thiago Tavares and Clay Guida. And Ortega said that’s no accident.

“We decided to take it on early, to pretty much just add more to the plate,” Ortega said. “Jiu-jitsu is crazy, strength and conditioning is crazy, let’s throw boxing in there. Let’s throw this in there. Let’s just keep doing it. And now when I’m in there I feel confident with anyone when I stand in there.”

And that gives Ortega confidence to fight Edgar anywhere Saturday night’s fight may take them.

“Pick your poison,” Ortega said. “If you want to bang, we can bang. If you want go to the ground, we can go to the ground. I’m at a stage where I feel comfortable no matter where I land in the fight now, and that’s such a great feeling to have. To know that no matter where this fight goes, I’m alright. Everything’s going to be cool. I can take care of myself.”

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