In particular, Ortega, 31, looks at the third round when he snatched a guillotine choke that had Volkanovski in serious trouble. As he locked up the submission, he appeared mere seconds away from a finish.
The choke was so tight, Ortega admits he’d already started polishing his title belt.
“I sat there and I looked at that tape over and over again, and I go how in the f*** did this man get out of that choke?” Ortega said during UFC Long Island media day. “I was on top celebrating, I’ll be honest with you.
“I was in there, and I had him in that guillotine, and I was like, ‘I’m about to be a world champ!’ I was just waiting for the tap, and it never came. He got out, and I was like s***, this is a tough motherf*****, and then it was like, he’s on top now. OK, he’s pissed.”
Volkanovski began raining down blows on Ortega. But the momentum didn’t completely shift, because seconds later, Ortega attempted another submission. This time, he locked up a triangle choke, and once again he was confident the end was near.
“The triangle, I was like, ‘T-City by T-City,’ and then he escaped,” Ortega said. “I’m like, ‘F*** me, right?’ Then I was like, ‘Damn, bro, this is not my f****** night, or what’s going on.’”
The fight eventually ended in an unanimous decision loss for Ortega. The result forced him to reexamine key issues in his preparation. Most notably, he thought perhaps he had not been paying enough attention to detail to his grappling, which in the past was always his strongest weapon.
“There are just minor adjustments that I missed,” he explained. “Small things that I have to re-work on. As a fighter, you stick to your bread and butter and you do things, and because I’ve been known as a jiu-jitsu guy, I kind of got comfortable with it, and I didn’t train it as hard as I used to.
“It’s like well, I’ve got that in the bag. Let me work on these other things that I’m not so good at. Let me work on my striking, let me work on other things. Then when it came down to the situation where your bread and butter’s going to get you this fight, I forgot minimal, minor details, and it was a reality check for me. It’s like, don’t forget where you come from and what brought you over here.”
The loss to Volkanovski still stings, particularly because he can rarely avoid constant reminders about the fight. But even in defeat, Ortega learned a lot about himself and took notes from the reigning and defending UFC featherweight champion.
“I’d be lying to you if for the past couple months ... every fan reminding you, like, ‘You almost became a champ,’ and I was like, ‘Thanks you f***** d***,’” Ortega said with a smile. “You don’t think I sit there and think about it? Trust me, I know. I’ve got to live with my f****** self.
“Then there’s a part of, stop being a b****. Go in there and make the adjustments and make sure you’re undeniable the way he’s doing right now. I’ve got to take a page off of his book. He’s making sure that he’s undeniably the best that there is. I need to become that.
“If I want to become a champ, I need to steal a page off that man’s book, which when it comes to that mentality, you have to be undeniable. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing my best to grind, to work as hard as I can to make sure that I’m undeniable.”
On Saturday, Ortega will return for the first time since that loss when he faces Yair Rodriguez in the main event of UFC Long Island.
With Volkanovski vanquishing former champion Max Holloway for the third time in their trilogy at UFC 276, the featherweight division doesn’t have a clear-cut No. 1 contender. That could change after Ortega and Rodriguez square off.
Rodriguez has already stated the UFC has told him he’ll receive a shot at gold with a win. Ortega expects the same concession, especially considering his previous encounter with the champ.
“I haven’t personally had anyone come up to me and tell me, ‘You’re going to win and you’re going to get another title fight,’ but looking at how it’s looking, it makes sense,” Ortega said. “Somehow in my career, I’m always in these situations, and to me it’s like, ‘F*** it, let’s go.’
“When it comes to this fight, if whoever wins does get a title shot, that’s what that is. I’m so far the man who’s put the champ in the most trouble. I’m not saying I beat him or nothing, but where he’s had the most difficulty or someone’s who’s dangerous to face him is me. The world saw that.”