The way UFC 223 played out still leaves a sour taste in the mouths of many hardcore mixed martial arts (MMA) fans.
Initially the interim lightweight title was scheduled to be defended by then-title holder Tony Ferguson, who would finally face longtime rival Khabib Nurmagomedov. Unfortunately news broke on Easter that El Cucuy suffered an injured knee in a freak accident and was forced to withdraw.
Fans were excited to finally see Ferguson and Nurmagomedov – arguably the best 155 pounders in the world today in their primes – go head-to-head, but yet another injury prevented that from happening.
UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway would step in to replace Ferguson, however, the New York Athletic Commission didn’t allow him to compete the day before the fight. Instead, Al Iaquinta stepped in to challenge The Eagle with the vacant undisputed lightweight throne on the line.
Of course, Nurmagomedov wound up winning the fight and is now the king at lightweight. It turns out things could’ve played a whole lot differently in Brooklyn that night. Apparently top-ranked featherweight Brian Ortega also volunteered his services against the undefeated Russian.
Ortega, who is gearing up to challenge Holloway for the 145-pound title at UFC 226 next week, recently discussed how he threw his rule of not accepting late-notice fights out the window in attempt to fight Nurmagomedov.
T-City’s fight against Frankie Edgar at UFC 222 was a short-notice affair as well. Ortega won that fight via first round knockout to become the No. 1 contender for the featherweight title. After that fight, Ortega vowed not to take another fight on short-notice again (via MMA Fighting):
“The way I looked at it was, I can enjoy some food now because I won’t get no more short-notice calls,” Ortega said. “Frankie was a short-notice call. I said I’m not taking a short-notice call anymore, that’s it. When they let me know that Max’s foot is healed up, then I’ll get ready for a camp.”
When Ferguson pulled out of the fight, UFC President Dana White called Ortega and asked him to step in. He noted Holloway was called as well but hasn’t gotten back to him yet, and if The Blessed One accepted the challenge he’d get priority over Ortega since he’s the champion.
Ortega accepted the challenge, but Holloway eventually got back to White and accepted as well:
“I got the call from Dana and he said ‘Happy Easter’ and I said what’s going on,” Ortega said. “And then he was like, ‘hey man, [Tony] Ferguson pulled out, will you fight Khabib.’ I was like yeah, he was like ‘hell yeah.’”
“A lot of people obviously don’t want to fight Khabib on one week’s notice,” Ortega continued. “I accepted the fight and he said Max Holloway, I’ve called Max Holloway and he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. If he says yes, he’s the champ, he has priority.”
How do you think Ortega would’ve fared against Nurmagomedov? Let us know in the comments below!