Alexander Volkanovski successfully defended his UFC featherweight championship with a unanimous-decision win over Brian Ortega in the main event of UFC 266 from Las Vegas.
Although the final scorecards looked like a convincing win for the champion his margin for error was razor-thin in this one. He survived multiple tight choke attempts from the challenger to earn the title defense in a wildly entertaining five-round fight.
The first round saw both men have their moments as the strike stats were nearly identical. Volkanovski was a little more efficient, moving in and out and establish his leg and body kicks as a threat. However, the challenger utilized his length by putting his jab to good work and disrupting the champ's rhythm.
Both fighters turned up the heat in Round 2. They transitioned from a felling out phase to actually throwing heavy strikes. Volkanovski played the role of aggressor more often than not. He backed Ortega to the fence on multiple occasions and landed some significant strikes.
After the second frame the two shared a little verbal exchange. After the two shared a season of The Ultimate Fighter together as coaches it shouldn't come as a surprise there was some extra tension.
From that moment the fight hit an all-new level of wild. The champ opened the round with considerable momentum when Ortega did what he does best—jump on a choke. Ortega sunk in a deep guillotine choke that Volkanovski somehow got out of.
From there, the champion took top position and was once again in control but Ortega struck again with a triangle choke attempt that once again put the fight in jeopardy for Volkanovski. He escaped again from Ortega's go-to submission and finished the round strong.
The fireworks continued in the fourth as Ortega had another tense guillotine attempt and Volkanovski nearly finished the fight with ground strikes.
The fifth round saw a beaten and battered Ortega hanging on but still fighting. He landed a right hand that appeared to be heavy but it was more of a coronation round for the champion who showcased why he has that distinction.
Ultimately, it was the kind of fight that will raise both fighter's profiles.
Volkanovski's rise to championship status has been incredible to watch, but the win over Ortega adds even more legitimacy to his reign. After taking the belt from Max Holloway and narrowly defeating him via split decision in his first title defense, this is the first time he's fought someone other than the Hawaiian since May 2019.
That was when Volkanovski took out featherweight legend Jose Aldo five months after knocking out Chad Mendes.
The matchup with Ortega took a while to finally come together. The two were scheduled to fight in the spring, but a positive COVID-19 test for the champion postponed the bout and the two were selected to coach against one another in the return of The Ultimate Fighter TV series.
With Ortega now behind him, the division feels like it can move forward, but the next big name for Volkanovski might not even be in the organization.
Bellator champion A.J. McKee has made comments about testing himself against the best the UFC has to offer if the money is right.
The Australian has already addressed the buzz, explaining his doubt about McKee's resume, which includes a perfect 18-0 record.
"It's just totally different," he said, comparing his rise with McKee's, per Alexander K. Lee of MMA Fighting. "You've got a bunch of absolute killers. He could be a killer himself, but he hasn't had the competition that we've had. That's obvious, but again, is he a great fighter? Yeah, he probably is. Will he beat me? No."
Although the champ only has two title defenses to his name, he already holds wins over some of the top ranked names in the division. He has victories over three of the top five, including two over Holloway.