There is this mythical instrument supposedly used in mixed martial arts to gauge all things buzzworthy on the sport’s landscape. While no such tool of measurement actually exists, the realm of public opinion typically does a fair job of projecting a level of excitement surrounding a fighter or a particular bout. With this indicator in mind, very few fighters ever come to the UFC registering a tremendous amount of frequency, but it is every fighter’s goal to leave a solid spike on the radar in the aftermath of their debut performance.
Brian Ortega doesn’t mind flying below the previously mentioned radar, but he certainly has every intention of shaking things up once the smoke clears on his inaugural showing under the UFC banner. After a bit of turbulence and a few twists and turns, the 23-year-old Californian will finally make his official UFC debut against Mike De La Torre at UFC on FOX 12 on July 26.
It is a moment the Black House-trained fighter has envisioned since he was a teenager first starting out on the grappling mats, and Ortega is determined to make the most of the opportunity.
“Every fighter’s goal is to make it to the UFC, and now that dream is coming true for me,” Ortega said. “I have been waiting a long time but I’m finally going to be able to feel that canvas beneath my feet and I’m ready to fight. This is something I’ve been dreaming about and training for since I was a little kid.
“T-City” was originally slated to face The Ultimate Fighter season 14 winner Diego Brandao back in May, but the scrappy Brazilian was forced out of the bout with an injury. Due to the close proximity of the event, no replacement opponent was found, and Ortega’s first dance inside the Octagon would be put on the backburner.
Nevertheless, he’s locked in for a scuffle with De La Torre in San Jose and Ortega is about to unleash six months of preparation on his opponent this weekend.
“I’ve been training very hard and I’m ready for this fight,” Ortega said. “I don’t have a big name yet, but that is why I want to do well in my first couple of fights so I can start to draw some bigger names and become a well-known person in the UFC.
“It all starts with this first step. I trained for Diego Brandao for two months solid and I’ve trained for this fight for two months as well. The fight before that I trained for two months as well so I know I’m very prepared for this fight. I’ve been a monster lately and I’m looking to get in there and get the win.”
Where Ortega will bring an undefeated record and nearly a decade of working with the first family of MMA into his Octagon debut, the road he’s traveled to the sport’s biggest stage is far different than what fighters experienced in previous eras.
Even going back just 10 years ago, to see a competitor coming to the UFC with much more than a collegiate wrestling background or a grappling pedigree was a rare sight. Nowadays, a fighter attempting to break through into the big leagues without spending a solid amount of time in the amateur ranks or competing for smaller promotions will have a difficult time establishing their footing on the UFC roster.
Fortunately for Ortega, the four years he’s spent on the professional level have come with an ever-increasing level of competition. The Torrance-based fighter has continuously stepped up to face more seasoned opposition every step of the way and he’s won titles in every promotion he’s competed for. This process has allowed his skill set to evolve, and his approach has Ortega feeling confident he’s ready to join the ranks of the best fighters in the world.
“The Gracies have treated me like a little brother,” Ortega shared. “Ever since I was 14 years old, they took me under their wing and have treated me like a little brother. They’ve trained me every step of the way and it has been beautiful to be a part of their family.
“I was really happy I had the chance to join RFA because I was at a point where I was fighting people who were on the same level, but I was a bit better than them,” Ortega said. “I was undefeated and defeating some of my opponents pretty easily, and that was good for my confidence. I had a lot of confidence going into RFA and my first opponent, Jordan Rinaldi, hit me harder than I’d ever been hit in my life. I defeated him - and that was great - then I had a really tough fight against Keoni Koch in my next fight. That was a war and it’s only made me step up my game and my training from there.”
While Ortega will be attempting to make a successful first showing inside the Octagon, De La Torre will also be looking to earn his first victory under the UFC banner. “El Cucuy’s” debut was stunted by veteran Mark Bocek back in April, and the San Diego native will be eager to get things back on track on July 26. That said, Ortega acknowledges his opponent’s determination, but believes he’ll be the hungrier fighter when the two featherweights lock up in San Jose.
“I think it’s a good matchup,” Ortega said. “[De La Torre] is dropping down to 145 pounds, which means he’s going to be heavier, and I’m used to training with a lot heavier guys. Ryron and Rener Gracie are both taller than me and outweigh me. It helps to train with bigger guys so when I get in there with someone smaller it will feel completely different. The matchup is great because he comes in wild and crazy and has good jiu-jitsu. He’s one of those guys that likes to brawl, you know? He’s got heart, and if I stick to the game plan and don’t really make mistakes and get caught with something dumb, I’ll be able to win this fight.
“I want to go in there in this fight and show people what I’m about. I want to make a statement and start moving up the ranks. I’m coming in good, looking to perform at my best and hopefully I can get a big statement across that I’m here to stay. I want to make a run in the UFC.”
Brian Ortega: Rising from Under the Radar
"I don’t have a big name yet, but that is why I want to do well in my first couple of fights so I can start to draw some bigger names and become a well-known person in the UFC." - Brian Ortega