LOS ANGELES -- Brian Ortega had made up his mind: No more short-notice fights.
Ortega accepted a late call to fight Frankie Edgar at UFC 222, a move which paid off in spectacular fashion when he used a first-round knockout to become the first fighter ever to finish the legendarily tough former UFC lightweight champion.
So the fighter nicknamed “T-City” was going to sit back and wait for the title shot he had earned against UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway by virtue of his victory over Edgar.
“The way I looked at it was, I can enjoy some food now because I won’t get no more short-notice calls,” Ortega told reporters at a UFC 226 media day on Wednesday. “Frankie was a short-notice call. I said I’m not taking a short-notice call anymore, that’s it. When they let me know that Max’s foot is healed up, then I’ll get ready for a camp.”
But right around the time Ortega came to this decision, UFC president Dana White gave Ortega a ring with an idea that was tough to turn down.
Tony Ferguson had pulled out of his UFC 223 main event with Khabib Nurmagomedov in Brooklyn six days out, which turned out to be just the first event in a wild UFC week that was the equivalent of an F-5 tornado touching down in the center of town.
“I got the call from Dana and he said ‘Happy Easter’ and I said what’s going on,” Ortega said. “And then he was like, ‘hey man, [Tony] Ferguson pulled out, will you fight Khabib.’ I was like yeah, he was like ‘hell yeah.’”
“A lot of people obviously don’t want to fight Khabib on one week’s notice,” Ortega continued. “I accepted the fight and he said Max Holloway, I’ve called Max Holloway and he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. If he says yes, he’s the champ, he has priority.”
Holloway did in fact accept the invitation to fight Nurmagomedov. Ortega was flown to New York and on standby. But when the infamous incident in which Conor McGregor allegedly through a cart through a van continaing Nurmagomedov occurred on Thursday of fight week, and Nurmagomedov’s bout with Holloway wasn’t called off, Ortega assumed he wasn’t going to get the call to step in.
“It was just a crazy week,” Ortega said. “But all I know is Thursday night, I figured I wasn’t going to get the call, and then I decided to go to Junior’s and have some cheesecake and yeah, it was all good. I was like, you know what, this whole week has been crazy. We just enjoyed a little cheesecake and watched the fights then.”
As it turned out, come Friday morning, Holloway was pulled from the bout with Nurmagomedov due to concerns over his weight cut. After a frantic scramble, Al Iaquinta ended up with the fight against the undefeated Russian.
The way Ortega sees things, it would have been too late to step in and accept the bout at that point, regardless of whether his diet had gone astray
“It would have been too much weight to try to cut in two hours,” Ortega said. “I gave myself til Thursday night.”
As it turns out, after the roller-coster week, Ortega ended up with the fight he had wanted all along: The matchup for Holloway’s 145-pound title, which will take place on July 7 at UFC 226 in Las Vegas.
“I said, you know what, if Max is healthy to take a fight against Khabib, he’s healthy enough to take a fight against me now,” Ortega said. “And soon after that, we got the call, and we signed the contract and we’re going to happen for July 7.”