Time away from the cage served Brian Ortega quite well.
In his first appearance since he absorbed 290 significant strikes from then-featherweight champion Max Holloway nearly two years ago, Ortega returned with a vengeance and took a unanimous decision from Chan Sung Jung in the UFC Fight Night 180 headliner on Saturday at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Not a single judge awarded Jung a single round, as 50-45 scores were cast across the board.
Now once again the No. 1 contender for the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight crown, Ortega did not look like a man who had been idle for 679 days. The 29-year-old Californian picked apart Jung with a sharp and effective standup attack, and he made few mistakes while doing so. Ortega outlanded “The Korean Zombie” by substantial margins in all five rounds, incorporated a few takedowns to keep the World Extreme Cagefighting holdover guessing and delivered the signature moment of the fight—a devastating spinning elbow in the second round that resulted in a knockdown and almost led to a finish.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Ortega vs. Korean Zombie,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Brian Ortega vs. Alexander Volkanovski: Ortega whiffed on his first pass at 145-pound gold on Dec. 8, 2018, when he was assaulted for 20 minutes and wound up on the wrong side of a fourth-round technical knockout against the aforementioned Holloway at UFC 231. Much has changed since. Volkanovski dethroned Holloway at UFC 245 in December, then turned away the Hawaiian in their rematch seven months later to cement his reign. A former professional rugby player, the Australian has rattled off 19 consecutive victories—nine of them since he joined the UFC roster in 2016—and sits on the featherweight throne with an eye-popping 22-1 record. In addition to his two wins over Holloway, Volkanovski has also defeated Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes and Darren Elkins inside the Octagon.
Jessica Andrade vs. Valentina Shevchenko-Jennifer Maia winner: No one was surprised when Andrade made a sudden impact in the women’s flyweight division. The 5-foot-1 Brazilian powerhouse debuted at 125 pounds with a first-round technical knockout of Katlyn Chookagian in the co-main event, as she buried the Mark Henry disciple with a pair of right hooks to the body. Chookagian succumbed to punches and pain 4:55 into Round 1. A former champion at 115 pounds and the first woman to post wins in three UFC weight classes, Andrade has already shifted her attention to a title shot. Shevchenko will defend her flyweight crown on Nov. 21, when the pound-for-pound mainstay meets Maia at UFC 255 in Las Vegas.
Jimmy Crute vs. Mauricio Rua-Paul Craig winner: Crute’s submission loss to Misha Cirkunov in September 2019 has begun to look like a blip on the radar. The 24-year-old Dana White’s Contender Series graduate needed less than half a round to lay waste to Modestas Bukauskas in their light heavyweight showcase, as he brought down the former Cage Warriors Fighting Championship titleholder with a flurry of power punches. Bukauskas, who entered the cage on a seven-fight winning streak, met his end 2:01 into Round 1. Crute now sports a 4-1 record in the UFC, and given his youth, his considerable talents and the lack of depth in the 205-pound weight class, he figures to be a concern for the rest of the division for the foreseeable future. Rua will rematch Craig—their first encounter resulted in a split draw—at UFC 255 on Nov. 21.
Jonathan Martinez vs. Andre Ewell: News of Thomas Almeida’s return from close to a three-year layoff was greeted with general sense of anticipation. Martinez saw it as an opportunity to introduce himself to a wider audience. The promising Factory X prospect outlanded Almeida by narrow margins and denied all five of his attempted takedowns to claim a unanimous verdict over the former Legacy Fighting Championship titleholder in their three-round featherweight feature. All three judges scored it 30-27 for Martinez, who has posted four wins in his last five appearances. His lone misstep in that stretch resulted in a contentious split decision defeat to Ewell under the UFC 247 banner in February—a perceived wrong he would undoubtedly like to right. Ewell last competed at UFC Fight Night 178, where he outpointed Irwin Rivera on Sept. 19.
Gillian Robertson vs. Alexa Grasso: Robertson improved to 6-2 inside the Octagon with a clear-cut unanimous decision over Nova Uniao’s Poliana Botelho in their three-round undercard confrontation. Scores were 29-28, 29-27 and 29-27 for the 25-year-old Canadian, who cemented her place as a Top 15 threat at 125 pounds. Robertson executed single takedowns in all three rounds, consolidated them with suffocating top control and outstruck Botelho by a 104-39 clip. The Din Thomas protégé has recorded back-to-back victories since her technical knockout loss to Maycee Barber at UFC on ESPN 6 a little more than a year ago. Grasso last appeared at UFC Fight Night 175 on Aug. 29, when she took a unanimous decision from Ji Yeon Kim.