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Alexander Volkanovski: Brian Ortega’s choke was ‘f*ck, I’m about to lose the belt deep’

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UFC featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski earned a dominant win over Brian Ortega at UFC 266. But in the third round, there was a moment where he thought he might lose.

The fight’s midpoint saw a wild swing when Ortega snatched Volkanovski’s neck in a scramble and applied his signature guillotine choke. For several tense moments, it looked as though Volkanovski might be forced to tap, and the champ confirmed as much.

“It was deep,” he said. “It was, ‘Oh, f*ck, I’m about to lose the belt deep.’ But the type of human being I am, we talk about me going through adversity, always being prepared and busting my ass, never give up attitude and all that sh*t, that’s what you seen.

“I was deep. That was as deep as it can get. No sh*t. I remember I was making f*cking weird noises. I don’t remember what noise I made, but it was a weird, ‘Oh, f*ck, I hope I don’t lose this belt.’”

Volkanovski got a momentary reprieve, only to fall into Ortega’s other signature move, a triangle choke that appeared similarly close to being sunk.

“T-City, he’s known for his jiu-jitsu,” he said. “I thought that he wouldn’t get me that deep. Credit to him.”

It certainly wasn’t Volkanovski’s intention to continue grappling with the jiu-jitsu ace, but a caught kick and a simultaneous punch sent him to the canvas. That was just one moment from 25 minutes where he was not fully in control. Other than that, he felt like he was dictating the action. Judges scorecards of 49-46, 50-45 and 50-44 backed up his case.

“The boys were telling me more, posture up, stand up, and I thought they meant, ‘Get the f*ck out of there,’” he said. “Which I don’t blame them for saying that if they did, but I thought they wanted me to keep raining bombs. I was giving him big shots, and it looked like he was done, but he come back stronger. So I’m just going to give him credit.”

Initially, it seemed like credit might not be the thing Volkanovski offered after a long and heated buildup with Ortega via The Ultimate Fighter 29 that culminated in a tense staredown where the champ brought up the challenger’s past with performance-enhancing drugs. After the second round, the two had to be separated by referee Herb Dean as they continued to jaw. But at the end of five rounds, they showed nothing but respect.

Volkanovski might not feel the same love from the fans. Despite a 19-fight winning streak, he was not a significant favorite against Ortega, and the crowd at the T-Mobile let him know he was not the hometown hero.

He’s getting more OK with the idea of not being popular as time passes. So he has no regrets about going for the jugular against Ortega.

“I’ll always be respectful, but there’s going to be some things that might need to be said sometimes, so I’ll say them,” he said.

The champ expects that an upcoming fight between Yair Rodriguez and ex-champ Max Holloway will serve as a No. 1 contender bout, and he’ll have to ready himself for the winner. He already owns a pair of wins over Holloway, whom he defeated to capture the featherweight title.

“That’s not until November, and I want to fight,” Volkanovski said. “So, do I move up, fight at lightweight, maybe fight the champion? Give me something, because I had 14 months off because of this whole [lockdown]. I’m thinking of maybe coming over here [to the [U.S.] to ride out this lockdown thing, because it’s a mess. That’s why I said this fight is for everyone back home that are struggling, they’re going through tough times, New Zealand and Australia.”