**Guest Post by Theodore Baas
Initially slated as Max Holloway’s second title defense against the relentless veteran Frankie Edgar, UFC 222 has shifted from a regular title defense to a litmus test for Brian Ortega. The undefeated young featherweight has developed one of most interesting fighting styles in the UFC and tomorrow he stands before the final test of his acumen. A win sends him to the top of the division and likely earns him a title shot. A loss crushes his momentum and puts any shot at a UFC title years away.
I’ve come to see this as a battle of the opposites. Ortega is young, Edgar is old. Ortega is a grappler, Edgar is a wrestler. Ortega is tall for the division, Edgar is small. Edgar uses motion and speed to set up his striking and takedowns, Ortega is generally slow and static in the octagon and relies on scrambles and punches from distance. For the most part we understand what Edgar will do in this fight, for the most part we have no idea what Ortega will do in this fight.
But most hardcore MMA fans have a general understanding of what Frankie Edgar brings to the table. An impressive boxer on the feet who uses feints and movement to hide power punches as well as to chain together takedowns. He is very strong from the top position and though not a ferocious guard passer he rarely lets opponents up and is capable of decimating an opponent while in closed guard.
Ortega on the other hand is a major unknown. I see Ortega as a new type of grappler who can grab a submission from any position, he is lethal off his back and snatches guillotines off a takedown, he has proven effortless from the top position, and can even finish from the standing position as he showed against Swanson.
One of the interesting things about Ortega’s fighting style is his real absence of takedown defense. The traditional response to a takedown attempt in MMA is a sprawl, which transfers a fighter’s legs from his opponent’s arms and effectively takes away the power of double legs. Below you can see GSP execute this technique against Josh Koscheck.
Instead of sprawling to maintain his balance, Ortega shifts his hands over his opponent’s neck, pulls down, and prepares to crank. Since he will fall into closed guard he will be in essentially the perfect position to finish a guillotine.
I doubt that Edgar will get guillotined on the takedown (we rarely see this from super experienced wrestlers like Edgar). Even if Ortega prepares perfectly as he did in the above clip a strong wrestler can avoid guillotines by shifting opponent’s hips on a double leg (thereby breaking their grip) or by shooting a single leg and keeping your head away from the outside.
It’s probably a secondary concern for most opponents but Ortega also has the constant threat of the triangle choke even while on the feet. He’s shown in the past that he’s willing to pull guard and though we haven’t seen it yet in the UFC it’s not outside the realm of possibility. He also has the capability to launch triangle chokes straight after being taken down.
I think Ortega’s striking is also a point of interest. Like Edgar, Ortega throws a lot of punches and generally doesn’t throw kicks. Unlike Edgar though, who compliments his boxing with rapid motion, feints, footwork, and angles; Ortega is a simpler striker.
He generally doesn’t use his feet to create angles or really to move in and out of range as he has a pretty bad habit of moving forward without caution. He can do this because as stated before he is totally unafraid of any takedown. Instead of controlling distance with his feet he uses a constant jab from distance. His lack of motion is also made more challenging due to the fact that he rarely checks leg kicks and approaches with a very bladed stance. Edgar has solid leg kicks and could utilize them to great effect tomorrow night.
Ortega’s jab is his best offensive weapon, though not especially fast or powerful his above average reach and impressive accuracy have his jab landing against superior strikers. He generally throws power punches like straights and hooks when he is out of range or out of position which has led to few truly powerful shots landing. On the other hand, he seems to have good punching power for his experience level and is generally large enough that effective counterpunching is difficult. This could come into play against the diminutive Edgar who is small enough that typical counterpunching will be difficult.
Ortega is also not a very defensive striker which we saw in his last two fights against Renato Moicano and Cub Swanson who each landed with will. As I noted before he doesn’t use footwork to escape and instead when attacked in the pocket he relies on shoulder rolls and slips which have generally failed in the long term. His saving grace on the feet is the constant fear of the choke and what has proved to be a rock hard chin. He’s been hit before, but has always survived relatively unscathed.
Ortega has a pretty unorthodox guard, current MMA ideology says that being on your back is a negative because you are relatively undefended and your opponent has the advantage of gravity. Because of this most fighters spend their time in closed ground either:
a). Avoiding strikes through hand control, breaking opponents position, rubber guard, etc.
b). Trying to get a sweep or a reversal.
A lot of submission specialists still prescribe to these strategies. Elite grapplers like Demian Maia and Jacare Souza generally maintain control before looking for a sweep. This conforms to the positional hierarchy in both BJJ and MMA. Being on top is better than having someone else inside your guard because when you are on top you have the potential to advance to mount and/or side control.
Ortega rarely looks for sweeps and also very seldom tries to stand up. This would be a losing strategy for a fighter with a static guard but it generally works for Ortega because of how unorthodox he is from the bottom.
The ideal position for most MMA fighters in closed guard is like the picture above. You control the posture by controlling the head and thereby limiting power punches, and don’t allow upward posturing by keeping the legs tight around your opponent’s hips.
His closed guard is generally very open, his opponent can usually posture up whenever he wants. He also doesn’t try to break posture and hand fights less than most MMA fighters. Instead Ortega creates distance with his hips and uses his legs to quickly transfer to armbars and triangles when given the opportunity. His ability to generate distance also leads to larger control from the bottom. Ortega utilizes this control and is able to convert it into powerful elbows from the bottom.
It seems unlikely that Ortega’s submission attempts will frighten Edgar from his regular ground and pound. Edgar soundly defeated BJJ experts Charles Oliveira and BJ Penn using his regular ground and pound and has generally proven to be very difficult to submit from the bottom (or from the top for that matter). Edgar is careful, prudent, and effective from the top; it seems unlikely that Ortega will be able to dominate the fight from the bottom as he has done in the past.
This is probably the toughest fight of Ortega’s life for two reasons.
Firstly, he has a bad habit of losing rounds against even average fighters. So far this hasn’t been a problem for him because of his insane submission skills and a couple of well-placed punches, but against a guy like Edgar it could come back to haunt him. It’s actually pretty hard to imagine Ortega winning multiple rounds against Edgar. Edgar is a much better striker, if it goes to the ground Edgar will likely be the one doing the most damage (barring submission).
Secondly, Edgar isn’t as careless as most of the other fighters Ortega has faced. Edgar is a wily veteran who rarely engages in risky guard passes and is extremely in closed guard. Edgar shifts from standing to sitting quickly in guard and wins almost every hand scramble. In other words, even if Edgar spends the entire fight in guard its not clear he’ll be submitted or even close to submitted.
The best bet for Edgar is to keep Ortega standing and outbox him, which will probably lead to a decision victory for Edgar. On the feet, Edgar one hundred percent has Ortega’s number and can execute a variety of strategies to win. He’s not known for extreme power but he generally hits harder than most people expect and is also a skilled counterpuncher. If the fight stays to the feet, it’s certainly possible that Edgar finishes Ortega. The other positive scenario for Edgar is to take Ortega down and pin him against the fence. This limits triangle attempts and creative guard play. I see this being a very realistic scenario and could possibly end similarly to when he pinned Yair Rodriguez.
Ortega on the other hand wants to create scrambles and clinches, he may want to have the fight play out from guard. Ortega may have some success on the feet if he can evolve his game a little. His jab is probably good enough to keep the smaller Edgar back most of the time and maybe even good enough to have octagon control. If Ortega wants to fight takedowns I’d like to see him avoid moving in without caution and throwing wild rear uppercuts from distance. This combined with kicks to the calf or body, low knees, and an active jab can render Ortega a much harder target for takedowns than expected.
This fight is extremely hard to predict as we still have relatively little knowledge on who Ortega actually is. We don’t know how much he’s been working on his striking, we don’t know if he wants to play guard, we don’t know if he can control distance with Edgar or break some of his bad habits with striking. That’s what makes this fight so interesting for me, it’s a well-known veteran against one of the most unorthodox young fighters in the UFC. Also worth noting that a win here for Ortega probably sets up Ortega-Holloway which would be an extremely interesting matchup.
***PS (BJJ Scout): Thanks Theodore! I’m looking to add more writers for my site (BJJ/MMA/Analysis/etc). So anyone that would like to write, please do get in touch!