Brian Ortega vowed that fans would see a new side of him in his return to action after a long layoff.
So far, so good.
For 25 minutes, Ortega out-struck and outworked “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung to pick up a commanding unanimous decision win in the main event of UFC Fight Island 6 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi. While Ortega did not add to his list of impressive finishes, he showed a more tactical side of himself against one of the featherweight division’s most feared fighters and ran away with the fight on the scorecards.
Discussing his performance on the ESPN+ post-fight show, Ortega said that the next stage of his career is just beginning.
“It feels great,” Ortega said. “This is a new evolution of what I have to bring to the table. This is barely Phase 1 though. Me and this team is brand new. This is our first date and it’s going great. We have a full game plan, a full strategy for my entire career and this was a great testament and trust for me to have on them.”
As for what adjustments Ortega specifically made, a couple of key factors that his team focused on were Jung’s proclivity for fast finishes—his last three wins all came within the first round—and how Ortega employed his ability to switch stances.
“I was expecting a solid first round,” Ortega said. “If you look at all of his fights, right from the beginning, [Renato] Moicano, [Frankie] Edgar, Dennis Bermudez, all the dangerous times is at the first round. So we figured, alright, let’s chill this first round even if we have to take it off and then we pick up the pace.”
Ortega wound up winning the first round and then taking the second by an even larger margin. It was in round two that Ortega landed a wicked spinning shot that likely would have finished any featherweight not named The Korean Zombie.
Outside of that strike, Ortega stuck primarily with keeping his left hand as his power hand.
“That’s the only thing that changed,” Ortega said. “I switch a lot back and forth, you’ve seen in all my fights. But right off the bat I started orthodox. I went southpaw and I just found more [comfort] there. I was like, ‘You know what? He can’t hit me from here, he’s having a hard time swinging, he’s missing,’ and I was like I’m just gonna stay here.”
One major change that Ortega made that won’t be permanent is the chopping off of his trademark locks. Ortega surprised many by showing up to Friday’s weigh-ins with a freshly-shaved scalp, which he later explained was due to him wanting to make a donation to cancer patients.
He’s still looking for a charity organization that will get the hair where it needs to go with no charge to the recipient, but the act itself was important to him given how recent experiences put his own struggles in perspective.
“October, there’s like Breast Cancer Awareness and all that and that was kind of sitting on me,” Ortega said. “I visited a lot of children’s hospitals where I saw kids who had cancer and it’s always been something in the back of my mind. I told myself always when I cut my hair I want to donate it to an organization that does help. When I was doing my weight cut I was like, ‘Man, I’m suffering right now.’ I don’t know why, I get sentimental, I started thinking I’m suffering with these poor people, they’re suffering more than I am.
“And I was like, ‘Yo, bring the fcking clippers right now, I’m doing this.’ They suffer for a long time and they have to deal with it. I suffered for one weight cut and I’m back to normal. So I was like, ‘Give me the fcking thing.’ They’re all like, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it.’ I was like, ‘Gimme ‘em!’”
“I’m gonna grow it back, it’s gonna come back,” he added.