The main event of UFC 266 features a featherweight title fight between two talented grapplers who have made undeniable developments within the gripping realm.
Despite being known for his dangerous ground play, Brian Ortega has continuously made measurable progress in his strikes. By constantly keeping the light on his toes, the 11-year-old pro stays ready to throw or move with his opposition, regularly setting the temperature to apply his approach.
Working behind a fair amount of feints, Ortega will throw punches from any position, almost like a flint lighter for the fires he attempts to start. And once Ortega kicks in, he puts his punches together well, varying well with the body while punctuating his presence with precise uppercuts and knees – something I see serving him well in this particular game.
In his last fight against Chan Sung Jung, we saw Ortega lean a lot more on his left-handed position as he applied more of a fighting approach. Using his front side extensively for pushing and checking, Ortega cleverly picked his points to land powerful punches from his left side throughout the contest.
Yet despite adding useful tools like rotating or checking elbows, defense hasn’t necessarily been Ortega’s strong suit (especially when it comes to the legs and body). For this reason, I’ll be curious to see what his general approach looks like against a savvy attacker who can regularly target these domains.
Enter Alexander Volkanovski.
An acclaimed wrestler turned rugby player, Volkanovski first entered the scene as a vanguard fighter who generally approached the pocket like a juggernaut coming from his compact stance. A natural athlete, Volkanovsky shows few problems when having to crush distance with his patented kicks and crusaders, strikes that have typically been set up from sharp shots.
However, since incorporating influences from Brad Riddell and his sister gym City Kickboxing, Volkanovski has apparently refined his feints, footwork and striking fundamentals, measuring and moving through space more easily and in balance than before. The 32-year-old champion will now change his approach to combining, doing things like leading with position-degrading kicks and finishing combinations with a long lead.
It’s a small detail, but I love when fighters use balance-disrupting leg kicks to beat their opposition like Alex Volkanovski does to Chad Mendes here…
– Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) September 23, 2021
Volkanovsky also took some of the feigned bluster of his team mates, showing or throwing some punches to make others with a bigger picture in mind. That said, Volkanovsky isn’t beyond being stung as he’ll have to be careful with his distance and level changes against someone who can turn things around as fast as Ortega can.