UFC Fight Island takeaways — Brian Ortega’s title shot is deserved; Jessica Andrade a contender at 125


Ortega looked like a different fighter

On paper, Brian Ortega had three things going against him heading into Saturday night:

1. He was coming off the worst loss of his career, a fourth-round TKO (doctor’s stoppage) to Max Holloway.

2. He had not fought in 22 months.

3. He changed the majority of his corner since the last time he competed.

Usually, that concoction leads to trouble.

But, in the end, those three question marks equaled tremendous results for “T-City.”

What a win for Ortega. What a performance. What a fight.

I’ll be honest. I didn’t expect this. Those three reasons above, plus his surprising decision to shave his patented locks on Friday, which usually means a tough weight cut, gave me serious pause heading into this fight. I thought it was Chan Sung Jung‘s to lose.

Boy, was I wrong. Ortega looked like a completely different fighter during the unanimous-decision victory. Patient, controlled, on point. Truth be told, this was not the fighter who lost to then-featherweight champion Holloway almost two years ago in Toronto.

Heck, if you didn’t know better, you’d think Ortega’s background is actually in striking, when in reality his bread and butter is his ground game. On this night, though, he didn’t need any ground skills. He beat Jung at his own game and never wavered. He legitimately outclassed Jung. Color me extremely impressed.

How good did he look? Ortega landed 127 significant strikes against Jung, the most in a fight in his UFC career. His previous high was 110 significant strikes landed in his loss to Holloway. In addition, Ortega landed a personal-best 59 percent of his significant strikes (127 of 212). Heading into this fight, Ortega had an average significant strikes accuracy of 33 percent. Those two stats tell the story: he was dominant and on point.

I said earlier this week on “Ariel & The Bad Guy” that I didn’t think a win for Ortega should equal a title shot, although UFC president Dana White said that’s what awaited the winner. It seemed weird that he would get a crack at the belt after being away for almost two years and not winning since March 2018. That just didn’t make sense to me.

I’ll take that back now. Sign me up for Ortega 2.0 vs. Alexander Volkanovski for the featherweight title. When you consider his vastly improved striking and his ground game, that should make for a very interesting fight. And, for the record, it’s not just the W that makes me feel like Ortega deserves the title shot, it’s that he looks so much better than he did against Holloway. That, plus the fact that he thoroughly dominated the guy who I thought should be next for the belt, makes me think this is the right call after all.

Y’all must’ve forgot? Nah, we learned something new from Ortega on this night. We learned that he could adapt, evolve and overcome. Bravo.

As for Jung, he won’t fall too far down the rankings. He’s too popular and too much fun. I know Edson Barboza is new to the division, but I’d love to see that fight. The timing would work because Barboza just fought. If not, Holloway, who is looking for big fights after going 0-2 against the champion, would certainly be an intriguing option.

— Ariel Helwani

Could Jessica Andrade be the flyweight to shock the world?

So, let’s come right out and say it: The UFC’s women’s flyweight division is not its deepest weight class. It’s wide open. I don’t say that to disparage any of the women currently fighting there, but there’s a reason why Cynthia Calvillo was able to move up from strawweight earlier this year, win one fight, and is already No. 3 in the UFC’s official flyweight rankings.

The champion, Valentina Shevchenko, has not been less than a 6-to-1 betting favorite through four title defenses. No one expects Shevchenko to lose this belt any time soon. However, I can’t think of anyone better suited to pull it off than Andrade, who stopped Katlyn Chookagian in the first round.

Consider what makes Shevchenko so good — technique. She’s near-perfect everywhere. No one is going to out-fight Shevchenko at 125 pounds. But maybe, someone can go in there on one particular night and knock her unconscious. That’s the great equalizer in this sport, after all.

And look at what Andrade brings to the table. She’s the type of bullish fighter who walks through feints, is willing to take risks, and has this other-worldly power to deliver an upset. If/when Andrade fights Shevchenko for the belt, she will be an underdog, and I will most likely pick Shevchenko to win. But honestly, I think Andrade might be the only flyweight in the world who even has a chance at knocking off Shevchenko.

— Brett Okamoto

Jimmy Crute impressed in several ways

Jimmy Crute is a young man in a hurry. He joined the UFC less than two years ago, and on Saturday he got his fourth finish inside the Octagon, which ties him with three others for the most in the light heavyweight division during that time.

A little over a year ago, it appeared that maybe Crute was in too much of a hurry. At age 23, he was booked against veteran light heavyweight Misha Cirkunov and ended up getting submitted for his first career defeat. Despite that, an ESPN panel soon afterward ranked Crute as the No. 7 MMA fighter under age 25.

Then, in February, Crute got back on track with a first-round submission victory over a fellow prospect, Michal Oleksiejczuk. And on Saturday, the Australian, who won’t turn 25 until March, took another step toward being a contender. Crute looked fully in control during every second of his first-round knockout of Modestas Bukauskas, who came in having won seven fights in a row.

The most impressive thing I saw in the bout: Even though Crute got the job done in barely two minutes, he did not appear to be in a hurry this time. He looked relaxed and poised, countering every Bukauskas attack but not forcing anything. The finish came on a wind-up right hook counter-punch and a follow-up left. It was a thing of beauty.

And so was Crute’s work right afterward. He immediately put his arm around his fallen opponent, then jumped the cage to thank UFC president Dana White for keeping the fights going during the pandemic, then issued a respectful challenge of Nikita Krylov because “I reckon that’d be a banger.”

Nicely done.

— Jeff Wagenheim

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