Inside the Harbor City garage where he dissects his fights, analyzes his life and breaks down future opponents, Brian Ortega has hung the trunks he’s worn in previous mixed martial arts battles.
Some are spotless, others are blood spattered, but Ortega takes time to glance at them when he’s inside the spot he calls “the dungeon,” to ponder what those bouts taught him.
What he’ll do with the blue pair he wore in his first UFC title fight Saturday night at UFC 231 is unknown, as his takeaway after Ortega was dealt his first defeat in a four-round battering by featherweight champion Max Holloway.
Will he regret the defensive woes that allowed Holloway (20-3) to pepper the challenger with right hands? Does he kick himself over not trying harder to take the fight to the canvas?
Or will Ortega simply chalk up the loss to meeting the sport’s best-ever 145-pound fighter?
The answer will emerge, but Ortega (14-1) first required a trip to a Toronto hospital early Sunday morning to treat a badly swollen left eye and other wounds suffered in a slugfest that featured more significant strikes than any other in UFC history.
Holloway subjected Ortega to a slew of hard rights to the face, the effect worsening until a ringside physician stopped the fight after four rounds.
“I was just thinking, ‘He’s going to be in here for five rounds taking this much damage? I hope he’s OK. So be it,’ ” Holloway said after both earned an extra $50,000 for their fight-of-the-night bonus. “I take guys to deep waters. You want to tough it out, good for you.
“I didn’t break the [striking] record. Ortega did it for me taking all those punches. I took some damage too — kudos to him. Fighting like this is in my DNA. You watch Mexicans, they can take some shots, too. It’s in his blood.”
Holloway’s early success landing the right hand made the fight plan simple, and he passed veterans Michael Bisping and Frankie Edgar to stand as the organization’s all-time leader in significant strikes.
“My coaches loosened the leash on me and told me, ‘Go do your thing, go attack,’ ” Holloway said. “I had got a new tattoo, ‘Blessed,’ down my right arm and I thought, ‘I might as well bless you.’ That’s what happened.
“Every round, I felt him dropping. I heard his coaches talking, and then there was no talking … I was this close” to finishing him after three rounds, “and then it was over.”
UFC President Dana White still foresees Ortega, 27, as a significant draw and expressed being “blown away” by the strength of the challenger’s chin, but he was pleased the doctor stopped the damage.
“That’s what you call too tough for your own good,” White said. “I believe he would’ve done the fifth round, but … he’s a young, talented guy and going into that fifth round would’ve been very bad for him health-wise. The fourth round wasn’t good for him.”
Ortega’s manager, Ed Soares, reported Ortega broke a thumb in the bout.
“Just a broken thumb and a broken heart. He’ll be back stronger,” Soares said in a text message.
When recovered, Ortega’s featherweight title dreams could be quickly resurrected because White wants Holloway to move up to lightweight, the home of champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, former champion Conor McGregor and No. 2 contender Tony Ferguson of Orange County.
White mentioned a possible Ortega rematch with Brazil’s Renato Moicano, whom Ortega submitted in the third round in a fight of the night last year at Honda Center.
Holloway, 27, has won 13 consecutive fights since his 2013 loss to McGregor “when I was a kid,” and he was due to fight Nurmagomedov in April but fell ill cutting weight while seeking to replace the injured Ferguson on less than one week’s notice.
White emphasized he carries “a lot of influence” on the matter.
“I’d like to see Max go to 155. He’s in his prime, has never looked better and he’s done everything he can do [at featherweight],” White said. “Why keep fighting [at 145] when there’s big things for him at 155? Everyone in the top five is a fun fight for him.”
Holloway appears up for any challenge to assert his dominance in the sport.
“Dana White is the boss and the boss is looking for super-fights, and I keep hearing Conor, Khabib. I want to be pound-for-pound No. 1,” Holloway said. “Me and Conor fought when I was a kid … Khabib is another undefeated fighter. I have this itch to give an undefeated fighter his first loss. I ain’t picky. Feed me.”
Joining Holloway as a champion was Valentina Shevchenko (16-3), who claimed a unanimous-decision victory over former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk to win the women’s flyweight belt.
It was Shevchenko’s universal skill set, complementing her striking strength with dazzling kicks and forceful takedowns, that propelled her to victory after she lost a narrow decision to bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes last year in Canada.
“All my hard work in martial arts — all my sacrifices for this sport I love so much — is reflected in this belt,” Shevchenko said. “Only in this [kind of fight] can you prove you’re a real champion.”
Jessica Eye might emerge as Shevchenko’s next opponent after an upset victory Saturday, and Shevchenko made it clear she wants another shot at Nunes after the Brazilian fights for Cris Cyborg’s featherweight belt this month in Las Vegas.
“I expect it. Of course it will happen, because I [did] not lose that fight and [Nunes] knows it,” Shevchenko said.