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Ninja Sh!t, Part 2: Breaking down Volkanovski and Ortega’s chess match from UFC 266

Part 2 of 2 of our Alexander Volkanovski vs Brian Ortega breakdown. Anton Tabuena goes over the final two submission attempts and various transitions.

UFC 266: Volkanovski v Ortega Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

In the first part of our breakdown, we dove into the insane third round between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega from UFC 266. We detailed the nasty guillotine that the champion described as “about-to-lose-the-belt deep,” along with a follow up attempt at a darce choke.

There was so much more that happened in this entertaining back-and-forth title bout, so let’s pick it up right where we left off. There were two more more submission attempts and even more interesting transitions, and here, we will go over what they both did, what went right, and what ultimately prevented the finish:

As soon as Volkanovski got out of those guillotine and darce attempts from earlier, he still willingly engaged Ortega on the ground and was able to land some punishing ground and pound. The champion did get a tad bit careless at one point though.

Amidst some of those ground strikes, Ortega was able to secure his right wrist while Volkanovski still tried to punch with his left. As soon as Ortega got some control of his head, he opens his guard and shoots his legs up! He then grabs his shin to control posture, as he’s looking to adjust his legs. He wants that “figure four” lock closer to where the glove is, not on the foot. There’s still a lot of space, but the triangle threat is very real, and he’s not called “T-City” for nothing! [GIF here]

It’s worth noting that the old traditional method of teaching triangle chokes was to remain lined up with your opponent, get the arm across and pull the head down as you squeeze the legs inwards. More modern triangles focus more on the angle, with the body and legs lined up to the side. This is a stronger choke as it leaves less space and you also get more optimal use of the stronger leg muscles — not the best analogy, but think adductor squeeze vs leg press. Both can obviously work, but compare these photos from Matt Serra in 2002 and Anthony Pettis in 2018.

Angles make strangles.

Back to the submission, and Ortega swims his left arm in to control his posture and get a better lock with his legs. Ortega tries to get that critical angle that he likes to finish with by getting an underhook on his leg. Volkanovski, who still has some space on his shoulder saving him, falls to his side, where Ortega’s legs are locked. [GIF here]

Volkanovski badly needs to posture away from Ortega, to relieve some pressure. He does this by smartly framing on Ortega’s head to insert and wedge his left knee on his chest. Volkanovski’s arms are trying to create space, while also leaning back, framing and pushing with his legs. He clears just enough distance and space to be safe from the triangle! [GIF here]

Ortega’s common options would be to either go for an armbar, or get on top as Volkanovski basically conceded position to avoid getting finished. Ortega chose the latter. Volkanovski of course knows this trade off, so the moment Ortega moves, he frames to slow him down, then turns that into an underhook as he scrambles out the back door. [GIF here]

As Ortega sees this reaction, he gets an overhook to prevent him from getting his back taken. He then quickly rotates to try and get Volkanovski’s back instead. He tries to follow and spin to his back, but Volkanovski stands and shrugs him off before he can even insert his hooks and get control. Good offense, but brilliant defense! [GIF here]

Ortega, who already took a lot of big shots and might have emptied his tank trying to finish those submissions, just flops down to guard after. Maybe it’s exhaustion and the damage he took, maybe it’s partly the BJJ mindset, but as mentioned earlier, that’s not a safe position against an elite MMA champ. Volkanovski again doesn’t hesitate to engage him in his guard, and then rains down with even more brutal ground and pound until the round concludes. [GIF here]

Volkanovski went from comfortably winning almost every exchange, to nearly losing his belt and then fending off two more submissions, only to turn back the tide and land some concussive blows. All of that, and the many transitions in between, happened in just about two minutes in that third round.

Despite both coming close to being finished in that entertaining back-and-forth, it was only Ortega that was left badly hurt, with the doctor and referee checking on him after. Regardless of what you think of the officials’ — and his corner’s — decision to let it continue and allow further punishment, Ortega’s insane display of heart had him get one more chance for a submission in the very next round.

UFC 266: Volkanovski v Ortega Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

After mostly spending the first minute trying to recover, but still taking some shots on the feet, Ortega eventually slips a right hand and changes levels. They end up in an over-under clinch. Ortega locks his arms and tries an outside trip as he pushes him to the fence. Volkanovski defends, but Ortega then turns him a little and follows up with a slick inside trip that gets him down! [GIF here]

As soon as they hit the mat, Volkanovski tries to drive forward and get back up. Ortega sees this and again gets another head-and-arm control. He’s threatening with another choke, but the fence is limiting his movement! Typically, he can sprawl his legs into a proper front headlock position, where he’ll have a myriad of options, but the fence is in the way. [GIF here]

Ortega switches to a bicep grip to go for an anaconda choke. He drops down and tries to roll him over, but only gets there half way because of the fence. Commentators shout ‘this is tight!’ but it’s actually not. [GIF here]

Ortega needs Volkanovski on his side, not on top of him. He also wants that arm crunching inwards, to have Ortega’s own shoulder pressuring his neck. Volkanovski just frames and keeps his right elbow out to make sure that grip doesn’t get tighter, but there is no choke here. He isn’t in danger, and puts his thumbs up to let everyone know. [GIF here]

We already discussed this on our Ninja Sh!t breakdown on Giga Chikadze, but for those that are still confused with the difference between this anaconda choke and the darce choke that Ortega attempted earlier, here’s a quick and basic explainer:

Anyway, back to the fight. Ortega tries to wall walk and roll to the other side to improve the position of his choke, but it’s just not there. Maybe this could’ve been different without the fence, but Ortega gives up on the submission. The moment he tries to roll on top, Volkanovski times his defense perfectly. He quickly gets his arm out, and turns to get on top. [GIF here]

Volkanovski gets a left underhook and then a cross-face, which prevents Ortega from turning towards him. Ortega sits back to at least salvage half guard. Volkanovski doesn’t mind, and just continues to dole out even more punishment for making him defend yet another submission. [GIF here]

The fight stays here longer, with Volkanovski pouring on with very effective ground and pound. Ortega has heart, but this was just one of the many instances this could’ve — and probably should’ve — been stopped by the referee, doctor, or his own corner. Instead, it went the full 25 minutes, with Ortega now being the only fighter to take more than 200 significant strikes in a bout, twice! [GIF here]

No one will ever get to question his heart, but at what cost? After the fight, Ortega said he suffered a “fractured orbital and some bruised ribs” during that contest.

As for Volkanovski, he ended up in some tough spots, particularly the guillotine and triangle, but he also proved to be a severely underrated grappler in his own right. He willingly engaged with a top notch grappler on the ground, and not only did he acquit himself well with some smart and crafty defense, that’s also where he dealt the most damage.

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