Brian Ortega and Yair Rodriguez's ill fated matchup showed us some interesting new developments in Ortega's game, even if he ended up on the wrong side of a gnarly injury.
Prior to this fight, I and many others were desperate to see an Ortega takedown game. Entering the UFC as a jiu-jitsu savant it remains somewhat of a marvel that Ortega has reached the upper echelon of one of the UFC's best divisions without a way to actively implement his biggest weapon. Ortega is notorious for only shooting takedowns when being outstruck long-term. During the media buildup to his bout with Rodriguez, Brian mentioned that his guillotine attempt on Alex Volkanovski failed due to a few basic fundamentals being out of place. He had since pledged to tighten up his grappling even more, refusing to forget his identity.
This mentality was apparent in the few minutes of action we saw in this fight. Ortega actively pursued the takedown in the first and only round, something new for him and something that made me very happy as an Ortega fan. That comical Ortega "Blast Double" made an appearance but this time was utilised as a setup, allowing Ortega to enter into a body lock and march Yair over to the fence. Ortega's strength in the clinch was uncontested by Yair, who only managed to break free due off of a failed Ortega takedown. After a second clinch, Ortega was able to land the takedown and establish top position before the injury occurred.
The other tactic I was happy to see utilised was pressure. It's hard to say given the lack of time whether Yair's limited kicking was to deny Ortega an easy takedown or because Ortega simply wouldn't give him the space, but Ortega's pressure would certainly serve to shut down much of Rodriguez's kicking game which was limited to low kicks, a couple of blocked roundhouses and a front kick which landed as Ortega marched forwards.
Upon an initial watch I thought Yair was able to outstrike Ortega but this simply wasn't the case. The significant strikes were landed almost evenly, with Ortega also having the better land percentage at 62% vs Yair's 50%. Both men went to work with long, dipping overhands but ultimately not enough time was spent striking to establish much more than opening exchanges.
Ortega certainly wasn't fighting a perfect fight before the injury. His ever lacking defence still showed, being hit with some hard strikes early on due to his insistence on crowding Rodriguez as discussed. Yair's leg kicks were also landing unchecked and there was little response from Ortega. This could have been expanded upon later in the fight with a similar deterrence Brian used against Volkanovski, countering the leg kick and working it into a takedown. Alas, the injury denies us an answer.
Life as an Ortega fan definitely isn't easy. In his early days Ortega proved a legitimately frustrating fighter to watch, clearly figuring it out as he went along and finding the finish sometimes with seconds to spare. Since the Holloway beatdown, every fight has felt like some great obstacle to overcome, with The Korean Zombie showing his renewed ability and Alex Volkanovski reminding him of the hill yet to climb. This fight should have been Ortega's moment again and my frustration as a fan comes from my recognition of Ortega's desire to improve. It is that much more bitter that he wasn't bested but instead simply removed from competition by a freak dislocation.
I'd love to see Yair and Ortega run it back. It's a compelling matchup for all the reasons discussed pre-fight, but will be even more so now that both fighters have seen a glimpse of one another's gameplans. Of course, this depends on how quickly Ortega's injury heals which as of right now is an unknown. If Ortega is forced to remain out of action for some time, then I'd happily see Rodriguez fight for the title. I believe it to be a more compelling fight than Emmett despite the less legitimate claim. Or if Volkanovski would prefer to wait on his Lightweight title fight, Emmett vs Rodriguez for the #1 contender spot would give both fighters a stronger case to challenge the champion.
It hurts to see Ortega implement some of the changes we all wanted to see from him and suffer through no fault of his own. But, at risk of sounding cliché, this is a sport of the highest highs and the lowest lows. I hope to see T-City healthy in good time.