Alexander Volkanovski fends off Brian Ortega's submissions, retains title in featherweight thriller

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·Combat columnist
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LAS VEGAS — The scores were wide in Alexander Volkanovski’s favor, but numbers don’t explain the mortal danger the Australian’s featherweight title reign was in Saturday at UFC 266 in the third round of his main event with Brian Ortega at T-Mobile Arena.

Volkanovski was battering Ortega for two-plus rounds, when Ortega landed a left hand that dropped Volkanovski and brought the sell-out crowd to its feet.

Ortega, one of the best submission artists in the game, caught Volkanovski in a mounted guillotine. He was squeezing for all he was worth and the grimace on the champion’s face told the story.

“I thought he was done,” Ortega said in the cage afterward.

He was not. Volkanovski survived the guillotine and a triangle choke moments later to win his grudge match with Ortega and retain the featherweight title with a unanimous decision. Judges scored it 49-46, 50-45 and 50-44 for Volkanovski. Yahoo Sports had it 49-46 for Volkanovski.

It was one of the best fights of the year and one of the best title fights in the division’s history. The third round will rank among the greatest rounds ever in the UFC.

Afterward, Volkanovski shrugged it off with his typical humility.

“I”m a normal human being, but [my success is] just preparation and hard work,” Volkanovski said. “Anyone can do what I have done.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 25: (R-L) Alexander Volkanovski of Australia punches Brian Ortega in their UFC featherweight championship fight during the UFC 266 event on September 25, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 25: (R-L) Alexander Volkanovski of Australia punches Brian Ortega in their UFC featherweight championship fight during the UFC 266 event on September 25, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

That might be stretching it. Volkanovski showed an unbelievable pace, a great chin and an amazing ability to survive serious submission attempts.

The classic brawl seemed to end the feud that had existed between them, fueled by their stint coaching on "The Ultimate Fighter."

“He’s good,” Volkanovski said. “Of course I’m going to say he’s not on my level and try to get in his head as much as I could, but fair play to him. He’s good.”

Ortega returned the compliment, saying “He’s a champion for a reason.”

It was Ortega’s second loss in featherweight title fights, but he was much better in this one and despite the scores, had chances to win. And he showed massive heart after the third when he could barely pull himself off the canvas but went on.

Volkanovski has an enormous will and has now won 20 in a row. He has been looking for recognition from the masses that should now come.

“It’s about [expletive] time,” he said.

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