When Max Holloway pulled out of his scheduled title defense against Brian Ortega just days before UFC 226, Ortega was put into a difficult situation: take a short notice fight and risk losing his title shot, or decline to fight and risk not being compensated and angering UFC President Dana White. Ultimately, Ortega chose not to accept any short notice fight, and while some fighters think that may have been a bad decision, Ortega says there was never any other choice to be made.
“All of [my team] were on the same page,” Ortega recently told Brendan Schaub on Below the Belt. “It never happened in the history of our team. It’s always like [one guys says] ‘I think you should take it,’ [another guy says] ‘No, you’re stupid!’ and then it’s this thing and we finally come to an agreement. This time, I walked in the room and everyone was on the same page. . .
[So], we talked to Dana and he was pretty pissed off. He was just in a bad mood, a fight fell through, DC just fell, and then he walks in this meeting. So I tell him, ‘Hey, I’m not gonna fight.’ I’m holding my ground. ‘Listen, with all due respect, I stepped in and fought [Thiago] Tavares on two weeks’ notice, I stepped in and I fought Frankie on three weeks’ notice, and I stepped in and tried to fight Khabib [Nurmagomedov] on six days’ notice. It’s not a scared issued, it’s not that I’m not down for the company. I finished everyone you told me to, every single person you put in front of me, I took their heads off and, like Conor [McGregor] says, I put them on your f**king doorstep. That earned me a title shot and now that I’m here, why go anywhere else besides forward?”
As far as being “a company man” goes, Ortega has been more than willing to step up when to occasion calls for it. as he outlines, Ortega has fought on short notice or against a change of opponent three times in his seven UFC fights, including stepping in to fight Frankie Edgar when Holloway pulled out of his scheduled title defense against Edgar for UFC 222.
Unfortunately for Ortega, the UFC is often a “what have you done for me lately” organization, and at UFC 226, Ortega did a lot, but not the thing they wanted, and so he wasn’t compensated for any of his time. Ortega says that he tried to argue with Dana White but to no avail. He wasn’t interested in an interim title and White wasn’t interested in anything but getting his way.
“The offer was Frankie [Edgar] or [Jeremy] Stephens,” Ortega said. “I was like, Frankie, we just fought him and Stephens, I want to fight for a title, not fight – if you look at it, [Renato] Moicano beat Stephens, [Cub] Swanson beat Stephens, and Edgar beat Stephens, I just finished all three of these guys.”
“[Dana] put on his promoter hat and is like, ‘Listen man, just fight, we’ll work something out,’ and I was like, ‘We don’t need to work anything out. I want Max Holloway or I want the belt.’ [Dana says] ‘Well, we’ll see if we can do an interim belt.’ I’m not fighting for a fake belt. It looks cool but it’s not the real belt. There’s no real money involved with that one. Nothing really goes on in terms of being a champion. You just get something that says, ‘I’m first place.’ It just says I’m next in line for the belt but I’m already here! You just want to put something shiny around my waist to make me feel better. No, I’m not gonna do it.
“I showed up, I was cutting weight, I did all the media, even the media in Spanish. I had to do double the work and do all that in Spanish. Every fighter left and I’m still stuck there doing everything in Spanish. I showed I was a company man. I was down to promote the hell out of this fight, I took extra hours while I’m hungry, starving, to keep doing media. I showed up. Don’t you think that’s worth something? Even if I didn’t take the fight, I did my end of the deal. Then they came back and said ‘Well our deal is to find you a fight and we found you a fight and you turned it down. I did my job, you didn’t do yours. Your job is to show up and fight.’”
It was a tough break for Ortega who was denied a paycheck and a title fight and now is stuck in limbo, waiting for Holloway to heal up and come back. Holloway withdrew from their fight due to concussion-like symptoms and there is no timetable for his return. Since Ortega says he will only fight for the real belt, “T-City” could be in for a long layoff. Unless, of course, the UFC decides to strip Holloway due to inactivity. Holloway hasn’t defended his title since December and has now withdrawn from three consecutive fights this year. Ortega says that if Holloway is going to be out for an indefinite amount of time, stripping him would be the right call, and if they do, Ortega would be happy to fight any of the guys offered.
“I want the belt, I don’t care who has it,” Ortega concluded. “If Max Holloway can’t fight for another six months to a year, that means that would be a full year that he hasn’t defended the title, which means the rules say you’ve got to strip him. I want to fight soon. If he can’t fight, let’s keep fighting. If he can’t fight for awhile, then give me a title fight. It doesn’t matter [against who]. I don’t care. It’s never been about an opponent. I don’t care who it is. Just throw them in front of me and let me do what I have to do. Let me earn the belt.”