Being locked in a cage with UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov would be viewed as punishment by most – even some fellow UFC fighters – but not Brian Ortega.
The No. 1 UFC featherweight contender is set to headline UFC 231 in Toronto against 145-pound champ Max Holloway in December, and if he wins he’s hoping to get a crack at the 155-pound titleholder.
“My dream fights would be to be able to be successful come Dec. 8 here in Canada, once that happens see if I can move up a weight class and fight Khabib,” Ortega told Geoff Rohoman of 680 News while in Toronto promoting the event.
Nurmagomedov is fresh off a victory over Conor McGregor at UFC 229 this past weekend. However, the 27-0 Dagestani star sparked a post-fight melee that garnered international headlines and he now faces a potential suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
So, it’s unclear when Nurmagomedov will be ready to return to competition and who his next opponent might be. It’s likely the UFC will attempt to set up a rematch with McGregor once the dust settles but nothing is set in stone.
Meanwhile, Ortega knows what a daunting challenge beating Holloway will be. The skilled Hawaiian, after all, is riding a 12-fight winning streak that dates back to 2014.
If the stars were to somehow align and a fight with Nurmagomedov does become a realistic possibility, Ortega makes a compelling case as to why it would go over well with fight fans.
“It would be the first time in UFC history where you have two undefeated champions from two different weight categories challenging each other,” he said. “Then you have the stylistic part of the matchup, not just the belt and the records, now it’s just a traditional wrestler/Sambo-type style matchup versus a jiu-jitsu guy. And we’re both great on the feet so I think it would be an interesting fight.”
Ortega, a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Rener Gracie, is 14-0 with one no-contest in his MMA career. All of his victories in the UFC have been finishes via strikes or submission, including a first-round knockout of former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar at UFC 222 in March.
A scrap with Nurmagomedov is something that could be in Holloway’s future as well. In fact, earlier this year, Holloway accepted a fight with Nurmagomedov on extremely short notice in an attempt to salvage April’s UFC 223 card in Brooklyn. Holloway ultimately wasn’t medically cleared to fight so that matchup never materialized but, like Ortega, Holloway isn’t afraid of a challenge.
“I want to be the No. 1 pound-for-pound [fighter] in the world and I believe that if you believe you’re the best guy in the word you fight anyone,” Holloway told Good Show. “Everybody keeps saying ‘you’re crazy fighting Khabib on six days notice blah blah blah.’ I was like ‘Khabib’s crazy taking the fight against me. He’s fighting me! That dude is insane.’”
Before the champion vs. champion talk persists, Holloway and Ortega have to take care of business in the cage.
“This is the second-biggest fight in featherweight history [behind Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor at UFC 194],” Ortega added. “This is gonna be a dogfight. There’s no nice way of saying it.”