UFC 266’s headliner between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega is already touted as one of the best featherweight champion fights in recent history. But there was a moment before the fourth round when “T-City” showed visible signs of struggle.
During the break, Ortega was seen being propped up on the stool, which according to Volkanovski, should’ve been a TKO stoppage already. He also appeared to have compromised his vision, which urged both referee Herb Dean and the ringside doctor to step in.
Ortega was subsequently allowed to continue, which Dean explained in a recent interview with Helen Yee.
First, he addressed the corner issue that the champion brought up.
I don’t think his cornermen helped him. He was laying there, he wasn’t getting up. I think it was more of those ‘Hey, it’s time to get up. Let’s get moving.’ ‘Cause once they grabbed him, it’s not, like, they had to lift him up. Once they put their hands on him, he was getting up to get on the stool.
But I think he was really having that — I can’t speak for him, but I know how it feels like to struggle with yourself. And he definitely was spending some time talking to himself there, figuring out, digging deep. Finding the strength to go on.
What was interesting is he got that minute rest period. ‘Cause basically, at the end of the round, it was exhaustion, I think. He had given it his all. Then the physician comes in, medically clears him, says he’s clear.
Some of (Ortega’s) answers weren’t exactly clear, but then when he looked at me and gave clear answers, like, ‘Yes, I see, yes I wanna continue,’ and you could see that he was ready to compete again, we gave him another chance.
Of course, we’re gonna kinda watch closely, but he got out there and did what he was supposed to do.
Dean later admitted that the fight was on the brink of a stoppage at the time. But after deciding that it was a fatigue issue more than anything, he allowed the action to continue.
Definitely, it was close to being stopped. At the end of the round (Ortega) was exhausted. And he made it through the round and I think a fighter has the right to make that decision after the rest period.
He made it through the rest period. His problem was he was tired, so I think getting some rest, a minute of rest, would be the best thing for him. And he has the right to make that decision then.
As Dean also explained, he tends to give certain leeways during title fights.
As far as a referee, I’ll allow guys to set their own pace a little bit in the first and second rounds. Maybe have more of a feel-out round than I would (allow) in other rounds. They’re the champion, they deserve it.
And I know that most of the time in championship fights, or most of the time in the UFC, people definitely wanna be there. And they wanna compete and let it all out. Definitely, at the championship level, they do.
Volkanovski won the fight via unanimous decision to mark his second successful title defense and 20th consecutive career victory.