Brian Ortega reacts to bizarre ankle roll before big UFC Mexico win, plays it cool on possible title shot

MEXICO CITY – Brian Ortega wasn’t just in pain. He was in disbelief after he rolled his ankle when he jumped and landed awkwardly while octagon announcer Bruce Buffer introduced him for the UFC Fight Night 237 co-main event.

What an unfortunate thing to happen just moments before his first fight in 19 months.

“Talk about things stacked against me,” Ortega told reporters, including MMA Junkie, during Saturday night’s post-event news conference. “… I’d be lying if I said panic didn’t set in for a bit.”

The awkward moment – reminiscent of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw rupturing his Achilles before he jogged onto the field in Super Bowl LVIII – seriously concerned UFC CEO Dana White, as well.

“Saw that happen and then he looked like he saw a ghost after that, and I thought it was gonna be over quick,” White said. “And then you remember Brian Ortega, who is mentally and physically right, is a problem for anybody.”

That proved to be true on this night at Mexico City Arena, where Ortega weathered an early storm against Yair Rodriguez before rallying in the second round and then winning by arm-triangle choke submission 58 seconds into the third.

“Obviously I started just off right off the bat, and I got clipped, and then I paid the price for not being in the zone and focused on what I was supposed to do,” Ortega said. “I survived it. I think I ended up somehow taking him down at the end of that first and then we walked back, and adrenaline kicked in. It was like, ‘All right, let’s go.'”

Indeed, Ortega snatched the momentum at the end of the second round, which carried over into the third and led to his first submission since 2017.

Prior to UFC Fight Night 237, Ortega spoke about experiencing a “rebirth” as a person during his long layoff. He said afterward that he felt like a new fighter in the cage, too.

“Absolutely, 100 percent,” Ortega said. “The rebirth is basically a human having to come face to face with themselves in the mirror and really change all the bad things about you that, in the long run, will break you. My family knows all the things that I went through, and it was hard. My dad used to say that the eagle was his favorite animal and explained this process to me, and I didn’t really care about it. Then when I went through what I went through, that’s when I understood to be a better father, husband, family man, a fighter, I mean you name it, I had to go to war with myself. And it changed a lot of things about me that I didn’t want to, but I did.”

Even with the extensive period of inactivity, Ortega (15-4 MMA, 7-4 UFC) entered UFC Fight Night 237 ranked No. 4 in the official UFC featherweight rankings. The win over No. 3 Rodriguez (18-5 MMA, 10-4 UFC) positions him well for a potential title shot against new champion Ilia Topuria, who claimed the belt last week with a knockout of longtime champ Alexander Volkanovski at UFC 298.

Ortega, however, wouldn’t stake his claim and showed some respect for Volkanovski, whom he lost to in September 2021. But if the opportunity presents itself for a second title shot, he’s not turning it down.

“There’s some questions out there, but obviously Volk was a great champ,” Ortega said. “For people to kick him down right now, I find it kind of disrespectful after everything he’s done. Some things have to play themselves out, and we’ll see. But if he decides that he does not want to fight and chill, I’m more than happy to go to Spain.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC Fight Night 237.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie