Brian Ortega wasn’t happy with his previous coaches, even as he was racking up victory after victory and routing the elite of the UFC’s featherweight division.
He showed he could defend wrestlers and strikers and grapplers — just about any style one could imagine. Until he was outstruck by Max Holloway in a bid for the featherweight title at UFC 231, he largely went unchallenged in his time in the UFC.
So while he made dramatic changes in his nearly two years off and said he’s significantly upgraded the coaching he receives by switching to the Huntington Beach Ultimate Training Center, it’s not like he’s a used car with a rebuilt engine.
He’s a significant underdog on Saturday at Fight Island in Abu Dhabi in his fight with Chan Sung Jung, aka “The Korean Zombie,” as the oddsmakers have Zombie as a -193 favorite at BetMGM.
Underdog bettors will get +160 on Ortega, fantastic value for one of the finest featherweights in the world.
It’s only smart money, though, if a bettor cashes a ticket and the question is whether Ortega will be able to return after 22 months of inactivity and deal with a fighter of Zombie’s pedigree.
The bout is viewed as Jung’s striking against Ortega’s grappling, but it’s far more nuanced than that.
Ortega noted to Yahoo Sports that while Zombie is a striker just as Holloway is, they’re vastly different. Holloway is a volume striker, while Zombie tends to rely more on his power.
If he’s correct, then there is an ominous sign in the statistics that could lead one to choose Zombie to win the fight.
Zombie lands at a slightly higher rate than Holloway, but the fascinating number is strikes absorbed per minute. Ortega absorbs 7.36 significant strikes per minute, which is a high number against anyone but very dangerous against a hard hitter like Jung.
Ortega simply can’t afford to get hit that often by someone like Jung, or he’s going to make a trip to the hospital before leaving Fight Island. Ortega’s one of the UFC’s more athletic fighters, and needs to use lateral movement to avoid Jung’s attacks. The sooner he’s able to get the fight to the ground, the more advantageous it will be for him.
Ortega has gone five rounds twice, but never against competition like he’ll face on Saturday. The Zombie has shown that he can push the pace and last five rounds.
Jung, though, insists he expects Ortega to be better than ever.
“He can fight all aspects [of MMA] and he’s good at all of them,” Jung said. “He’s going to be dangerous the entire time.”
Ortega has been invigorated by the coaching change and said judging him by the way he fought in the past would be a mistake.
He said he wasn’t pleased with how things were going and expressed his reservations to his former coaches more than a year before the Holloway fight. He said nothing was ever done and that he was forced to fight with what he believed was less-than-optimal preparation.
“They’re teaching me and there’s detail and explanation and drilling and I’m in a position where every day, my eyes are wide open and I go, ‘I didn’t realize that,’ ” he said. “It’s been such a great situation for me. I’m so comfortable and I love what we have done. I feel like I’ll be a better fighter than I have been.”
Numbers don’t lie, though, and Ortega’s defense against strikes has to be a red flag. They were pushed out of proportion in the loss to Holloway, but it’s a giant issue.
It’s why I’d recommend laying the -193 and playing Jung to win the fight. I don’t believe he’ll finish Ortega, so I’d also recommend a bet on Jung by decision (+400).
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