If undefeated Brian Ortega, who grew up surfing in California, is to complete the effort of pulling himself off the Southland’s rough streets to become a champion, it will take place in frigid Canada.
Ortega (14-0) spoke to the Los Angeles Times late Friday after all of the other pageantry and obligatory interviews were complete for UFC 231 at Scotiabank Arena here. He reflected on the journey that’s taken him to within a Saturday night victory over UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway of wearing the golden belt.
“It’s about all the hard work we’ve put in … all the training I’ve done for the last 10 years of my life was to get here. And now we’re here,” Ortega said. “We’ve got to take advantage of this shot we have and capitalize.”
Holloway (19-3), a gifted stand-up fighter from Hawaii who has won 12 consecutive fights since a 2013 loss to former two-division champion Conor McGregor, enters the bout slightly vulnerable after being out of the octagon for a year. He was forced to withdraw for unspecified health reasons before a planned July fight with Ortega.
Standing next to his boxing coach, James Luhrsen, Ortega said the plan they’ve crafted in company with Gracie family jiujitsu experts in Redondo Beach is sound.
“We’re really good going into this fight,” Ortega said. “We’ve weighed all the options, seen all the routes of the way this could go, and we see ourselves getting that belt and taking it back home to California.”
An Ortega triumph would reinforce what the Golden State means to mixed martial arts, given that current UFC champions Daniel Cormier, Khabib Nurmagomedov, T.J. Dillashaw, Henry Cejudo and Cris Cyborg either reside or train in California.
Ortega has spent many days driving his worn pickup to Luhrsen’s small Harbor City garage, listening to motivational talks and honing the boxing skills that made him the first man to ever knock out former champion Frankie Edgar, in March, and now might propel him to the belt.
“Yes, that’s the one thing people don’t truly understand. We started this in the dungeon — yes, it’s a garage. We come from the dirt and now look at us,” Ortega said.
“So, we’ve already won. Now, for the cherry on top.”