Perhaps most importantly, there was one supporter that he was determined not to let down.
Ortega’s 13-year-old brother Christopher was with him throughout fight week, assisting him during the open workouts and cheering him on at the event. That meant he witnessed firsthand Ortega becoming the first man to finish Frankie Edgar, a 29-fight veteran.
Appearing on The MMA Hour on Monday, Ortega explained how his brother’s presence made it imperative that he have his hand raised on fight night.
“The energy was fun with him this week,” Ortega said. “Actually, right before the fight, he was with me all week sleeping in my room and just hanging out with me, and he fell asleep on me.
“We’re both sleeping and I’m getting my rest before the fight and I looked down and I woke up and I looked at him and I go: ‘You better not f’ing fail this kid.’ I remember telling myself, ‘You better not f’ing fail this kid.’ He was a big motivation for me this weekend.”
Those positive vibes were essential for Ortega, who had made it a goal to finish Edgar, though he admitted that he thought his striking would lead to one of his trademark submission victories, not actually put Edgar away altogether. Ortega ended up landing a picture-perfect uppercut that briefly had Edgar airborne, a shot that he drilled relentlessly in the weeks leading up to the bout.
Though Ortega took the booking on three-weeks’ notice as a replacement for injured featherweight champion Max Holloway, he believes the urgency of the situation helped him focus on what would turn out to be the game-winning maneuver.
“My boxing coach James Luhrsen and I really trained hard, we even called it, we’re going to catch him with this uppercut. I said the way he is and he comes in that uppercut’s going to land,” Ortega said. “I can remember during the training camp, we would go and train, just me and him, and we would do 10 five-minute rounds and just drill the hell out of these things. To the point where I’m like, ‘Come on dude, that’s enough uppercut-left hook. You can’t do 10 rounds of uppercut-left hook.’ As a coach, now I see, okay you were right. I always hate saying you were right, but you were right.
“Every single fight I’ve always tried to land something, but especially my uppercuts they just fall short, and this time I feel with - I don’t know how many rounds we did of training that with my coach, but when I see it, I could just imagine the mitt versus his chin and I just threw that uppercut and timed it right.”
Prior to the finishing blow, Ortega rocked Edgar with a stunning elbow, but even then Ortega wasn’t sure if he could actually knock him out.
“I thought it was maybe like another Edgar-Gray Maynard-type situation,” Ortega said, referring to a past bout in which Edgar was badly hurt, but would go on to avoid a loss. “I wobbled him and I seen him wobble and I was like, ‘Yeah, right. This guy’s gonna come back like a bat out of hell like he did with Gray Maynard, but I said I’m still gonna pursue him and I’m still gonna attack and then once I seen him, he didn’t really come back from it as well as I thought he was, then when he leaned on me that’s when I knew this guy’s in survival mode.
“I didn’t know how much time I had, but I knew I was running short of time, so at least if I’m not going to finish him, let me just finish and get this round back and that’s what I was aiming for when I seen that opportunity I took it.”
Ortega is now the No. 1 contender at 145 pounds and he undoubtedly gained new fans by taking out an established veteran in a pay-per-view co-main event. He’s hoping to use his platform to promote the Brian Ortega Foundation and the “T-City Scholarship”, projects that are designed to help underprivileged youths enrich their lives through grappling.
“The first steps that we’re going to take is we’re going to start doing what’s called ‘The T-City Scholarship’, where we’re going to be sponsoring kids from ages six to 16 and we’re going to give them one full year of training,” Ortega said. “We realized that if we only cater to our own city, we’re limiting ourselves, so we’re using the Gracie University and all the schools that we have affiliated with to where anyone who is around that university can go and we’ll sponsor a kid to go train there for free for one year.”
Ortega’s original plan was to spend the next few months setting up his foundation while waiting for the Edgar-Holloway winner, but his plans may have to be adjusted now that a title shot is being discussed.