The Blessed Express is truly back at full steam.
The Canadian crowd in attendance for the UFC 231 card had already seen a great night of fights with champions crowned. But they were in for one more treat – seeing the 2017 fighter of the year return to true form.
After a year of mysterious medical issues and frequent fight cancellations, Max “Blessed” Holloway closed out 2018 by reminding everyone why he’s the featherweight champion. Showcasing the relentless pace he’d put on in his two bouts with Jose Aldo, Holloway was too much for a previously unbeaten challenger.
Brian Ortega was game, but he was unprepared to deal with the superior striking and distance management of Holloway. The champ effortlessly switched between southpaw and orthodox stances while launching off five and six-shot combinations at a time.
All this was peppered throughout with confident theatrics, showing that the champ knew he was back to his old self. Ortega did his best work in the third round, touching Holloway on multiple occasions with punches and elbows. At one point, he threatened a rear-naked choke, with many wondering if the featherweight division’s king of comebacks would do it again.
But Holloway showed great defense, and at the beginning of the fourth round he looked to UFC commentator Joe Rogan and gestured this would be the round he’d put Ortega away. Ripping the body and bloodying the face of the challenger, Holloway looked as fresh 15+ minutes in as he’d looked during the pre-fight instructions.
Ortega wouldn’t quit, but the doctor had seen enough at the end of 20 minutes of action. With Ortega’s face swollen and bloodied, his vision obscure and his wellbeing at stake, the doctor stopped the bout, giving Holloway the TKO win.
Calling his victory and doing so in front of his family, including his son “mini-Blessed,” Holloway had one of the greatest moments in his entire career. It could be his greatest victory, and seriously put him in discussions for superfights.
There are a few possibilities ahead, including a potential clash with lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. This fight was booked for a few days when Holloway attempted to step in for an injured Tony Ferguson at UFC 223, before a bad weight cut stopped it. The last man to defeat Holloway, Conor McGregor, is also looking for opponents at 155.
Holloway didn’t confirm which division he’d be in, citing management’s desire for him to move up and saying they’d talk about things. It’s a great time to be “Blessed,” and this victory puts the champion back on track to win fighter of the year again in 2019.
As for Ortega, he proved he was durable and had good striking of his own. There’s no shame in losing to Holloway, but Ortega will likely need to win a couple fights before he can challenge for the title again. Maybe a matchup with Aldo, or an Edgar rematch, this time with Edgar having spent a full camp preparing?