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UFC Mexico City, The Morning After: Brian Ortega, the sport’s greatest nail


Yes, you read the headline correctly. No, it’s not a reference to Brian Ortega’s piercing blue eyes.

Combat sports is a game of hammer and nails, and everyone’s strategy primarily involves being the former and avoiding the latter. Unfortunately for all those would-be undefeated combatants, MMA is absolute chaos, so even the most athletically gifted and technically skilled will eventually find themselves on the wrong end of a bad round.

A lot of great fighters are not prepared for this role. Fight fans have clowned on Brock Lesnar for reacting poorly to being hit for years, but he’s hardly the only champion who falls apart when they’re unable to impose their will. In fact, many of the best fighters are solely accustomed to being the hammer, so their skill at recovering from a beating is rarely practiced.

Brian Ortega, longtime Top Five Featherweight and former title challenger, is an exception. He’s the rare elite fighter who has spent a lot of time losing rounds, spending minutes at a time taking his opponent’s best strikes. It’s not a strategy any coach would advise or recommend to a newcomer, but can we really argue that it doesn’t work for Ortega? He nearly submitted Alexander Volkanovski at the height of his powers!

Last night, Ortega’s threw down with Yair Rodriguez, one of the most gifted men on the entire roster. Nobody moves quite like Rodriguez, who can exploded with a variety of funky kicks from either stance or just bulldoze his opponent with a quick burst of punches.

Predictably, Ortega spent the first five minutes as the nail.

It was a bad five minutes. Rodriguez landed at least three sequences that finish most mortal men: the initial knockdown, and half-dozen precision snap kicks to the liver, and the hail of ground strikes that bounced Ortega’s head off the canvas repeatedly. Ortega spent most of the first round on wobbly legs, and the referee kept inching towards him every time Rodriguez landed a shot.

He somehow finished the round on top and in mount.

If you turned on the tv at the start of the second, you could be forgiven for thinking Ortega actually won the first round. Despite the bleeding face and closed eye, Ortega was the man pressuring and move faster. Rodriguez had leveled down from superhuman Taekwondo master to regular kickboxer who doesn’t like being put on the back foot, and within a minute, Ortega had landed some nice punches and scored a takedown.

The roles were reversed. Rodriguez spent four minutes on his back, taking unpleasant elbows straight to the face while his lungs desperately tried to make use of thin, polluted air. He did not take anywhere near as much damage as Ortega did in the first round, yet his fate was decided.

He lasted just a minute into the third before tapping to an arm triangle choke.

In this bout and many others, Ortega’s ability to absorb brutal onslaughts and come out the other side relatively unbothered was the deciding factor. He may be a sneaky boxer with excellent jiu-jitsu, but his real gift is that of insane durability and composure. Quite simply, there is no elite fighter on the roster more accustomed to being the nail, more able to survive the unpleasant parts of fighting and then return the favor at an opportune time.

There’s no break in “T-City.”

For complete UFC Mexico City: “Moreno vs. Royval 2” results and play-by-play, click HERE!



This story originally appeared on MMA Mania

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