Brian Ortega and Cris Cyborg give UFC reason to love L.A.
UFC President Dana White walked into the post-fight news conference, spotted a reporter from Los Angeles and grinned.
“It was a good night for you,” White said, referring to the newsworthiness of the impressive UFC 222 victories by Southland fighters Brian Ortega and Cris Cyborg.
Mostly, it was a good night for the UFC.
Unbeaten Ortega, in a stirring, first-round destruction of former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, immediately transcended from a rising name in the sport to someone with the potential to capture massive mainstream interest.
Cyborg (20-1) battered contender Yana Kunitskaya with such force that White’s only answer for a real new challenge is to push, sooner rather than later, for an appetizing showdown with bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.
In the personable Ortega (14-0), the UFC offers a powerful reformation story of a 27-year-old who redeemed himself from four high school expulsions through a mentor’s training in a Harbor City garage.
“He loves God, wants to save the world and is a good looking guy. What’s not to like?” one female fan asked Saturday.
“Once I really relaxed in there, I started throwing my shots and landing them, and figuring him out, and that was it,” Ortega said after backing up Edgar with a combination of punches before knocking him out with a massive uppercut thrown “with bad intentions.”
Victory moves Ortega to the featherweight title fight against Hawaii’s Max Holloway, whose leg injury ironically opened the spot for the Southern Californian to fight Edgar on Saturday’s card, three months after his wicked submission of another UFC veteran, Cub Swanson, in Fresno.
Ortega’s dominance in winning a performance-of-the-night bonus was furthered by his ability to master his weight cut and gain. He said he rehydrated from the featherweight limit of 145 pounds on Friday morning’s weigh-in to 164 pounds on fight night.
“I’ll be a heavy blanket [on the ground] and if you’re striking, the more weight you gain, the heavier your punches are going to be,” he said.
Holloway tweeted late Saturday that he’d like to fight Ortega at UFC 226 in July.
“The guy is so incredible and well-rounded,” White said of Ortega afterward. “You think fighting Frankie Edgar, he’s going to [submit] him if he’s going to win, and then he goes in there and knocks him out in the first round.
“This kid is super talented, has an incredible personality, and the fact that we have a title fight with he and Holloway, that’s exciting.”
Cyborg, too, said she’d like to return in July after taking Saturday’s bout only 62 days after defeating former champion Holly Holm in a grueling five-round fight.
But White said he’s now intrigued to place her against Nunes in Brazil on May 12. Nunes had been in talks to fight Raquel Pennington in her home country.
“The fight to make is her and Nunes. That’s the fight that needs to happen. We’ll get that one going,” White said.
The Costa Mesa-trained Cyborg was only briefly tested by getting pressed to the cage by Kunitskaya. The champion delivered a forceful knee to the gut with a punch to the head, turning the bout into the fistfight Cyborg wanted. Soon, Kunitskaya was down and getting roughed up by a slew of blows that convinced referee Herb Dean to stop the fight in the first round.
“When I got in the cage, it reminded me how my last fight was so quick [ago],” Cyborg said. “My coach said, ‘If you fight all the time, that’s really great for you.’ I see that.”
Of Nunes, she said, “The girl beat Ronda [Rousey] and Miesha Tate and a lot of big names, but let’s see. I cannot analyze it before the fight. I go to the cage and fight.”
Follow Lance Pugmire on Twitter @latimespugmire
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