MCGRATH: A tactical analysis of Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega

By David McGrath, MMATorch Contributor

It’s fight week. The UFC’s early Christmas gift to the hardcore fans is almost here. The casuals are clueless. There is no trash talk, no drama. There dollies thrown at busses, just an excellent Mixed Martial Arts match up. Let me just preface this by saying for the purposes of this article, I am going to assume that Max Holloway is healthy. I am worried about Holloway however, this fight has been cancelled before already. He looked completely incoherent last summer in the lead up to UFC 226. I think there is something in him that gets triggered when he begins the weight cutting process. You have to remember, when you cut weight your brain becomes completely dehydrated. I think that is what we saw with Holloway in the lead up to the first scheduled fight. Holloway looked completely dehydrated and I am interested to see how he makes it through this weight cut. Let’s assume that we make it to Saturday.

The Striker vs. The Grappler

Holloway and Ortega are so different in their fighting styles. Hollowway, the master of distance and Ortega the submission master and world class grappler. As you know, I never make predictions on fights but let’s take a look at both fighters and potential scenarios I see playing out Saturday night.

How Holloway wins

Holloway is a master of distance control. His punches are so long and he catches you at the end of those long punches which make it so hard to get inside and clinch him and dirty box. Holloway’s boxing is superb. I don’t think Max is going to be overly concerned with Ortega’s striking either. Ortega’s striking is good and much improved, but I see Max standing right in the pocket and getting comfortable early. That is a problem for Ortega. If Max is comfortable early and his striking is crisp, I think that will be the theme of the night. If I am Brian Ortega and his team, my game plan is to hang in with Max and find a way to get in tight and instigate the clinch. Should this turn into a clinch battle then Ortega has executed his game plan properly, has found a way to cover distance without catching a knockout punch and I could see this being ”T-City’s” night.

Easy for me to say right? The hardest thing in fighting is learning how to cover distance properly. Especially against a puncher like Holloway. One false move from Ortega coming in, and he is going to kiss the mat. Pace is such a weapon too, Max’s pace is such a weapon. His cardio is phenomenal and his chin and fighting spirit mixed all in to a big stew is such a tall task for anyone. It takes a special blend of perfect gameplan, and heart to beat Max.

How Ortega wins

So it sounds like Ortega has no chance huh? Wrong. Ortega has shown that even if he is losing the fight he can catch you at anytime and submit you. Name a smoother jiu-jitsu fighter than Ortega right now, I’ll wait. There isn’t one. Ortega is so inventive and so creative with submissions that he is such a difficult puzzle to solve. My best guess is don’t even bother trying to take that puzzle out of the box. Stay on the outside with him and stay on the feet. If Ortega can get inside with Max and clinch him and take him down, that is the pathway to victory. You may see Ortega getting beat on the feet and pulling guard, which nobody does. Why wouldn’t he? He’s got the clear advantage, hell I would pull guard quickly if I was Ortega, why bother standing with this guy who has proven that his chin is Iron and he can bang with anyone.


It’s the classic grappler vs. puncher scenario. Two guys who have little mainstream notoriety, have never been arrested and never talk trash – it’s a hardcore fight fan’s dream. Few people know them, but they are two of the very best fighters in the world. I am ecstatic both get the main event billing they deserve. Let’s hope we get there.

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