Brian Ortega moving to lightweight after short-notice UFC 303 fight: ‘There’s no title fight for me’

Brian Ortega’s fight with Diego Lopes on Saturday at UFC 303 could be his last in the featherweight division.

Ortega (16-3 MMA, 8-3 UFC), a two-time UFC title challenger at 145 pounds, already had set his focus on a move up to lightweight for a divisional debut at UFC 306 on Sept. 14 at Sphere in Las Vegas before he got the call to fight Saturday.

After Conor McGregor withdrew from the planned International Fight Week headliner vs. Michael Chandler, the UFC had to reshape the UFC 303 lineup. Ortega got the call to face Lopes (23-6 MMA, 3-1 UFC) and jumped on the opportunity, even if it threw a loop into the existing plans.

“We talked about fighting Sept. 14 at Sphere – that’s the only conversation I had with them that made sense (about what’s next),” Ortega told MMA Junkie. “I said yes to it. They said yes to it. We all got excited and that was kind of in the world. They told me my weight class had no one that they wanted me to fight. They didn’t really want me to fight contenders and stuff, so I decided to move to 155. (We had a name), but I can’t say it. It might still happen. And I hope it does.”

Ortega, No. 7 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie featherweight rankings, most recently competed in February where he earned a third-round submission of Yair Rodriguez. That result seemingly moved Ortega closing to a third chance to fight for the featherweight belt, but he doesn’t really see it that way.

There’s a growing queue of options for reigning champion Ilia Topuria, with a showdown against BMF champ Max Holloway and a rematch with former titleholder Alexander Volkanovski on the horizon. Ortega said his path to fighting for the belt is murky at best, and he has no desire to wait for things to play out in his favor.

That’s why Ortega, 33, opted for the fresh start in moving up to 155 pounds, and no matter what happens against Lopes, he still sees that as the best career move.

“There’s no title fight for me anytime soon because of what’s going on in the game,” Ortega said. “Max has a guaranteed title shot and Volkanovski does, as well. So even when Topuria does fight, he fights Max. If Max wins, it’s Max vs. Volk 4, which is going to take up to next year. If Topuria wins, then it’s Topuria vs. Volk 2. Then I still have to wait until next year. So when I say the title fight’s not coming anytime soon, it’s just not because of the favors that both of them have done, the leaps and the risks that they both have taken.

“Volk (fought) on two weeks’ notice against Islam (Makhachev), and Max against (Justin) Gaethje, although it was a full camp, he fought for the BMF belt. Both of them, it’s just a lot. Everyone has done a lot. So for me to say that I’m there and deserve it right now, it’s not true. Selfishly, of course – since I was a kid I’ve been chasing to be a champion. But you have to make peace with reality, and that’s the reality of this game right now. That’s where it’s at, that’s where it’s going, so why not just have fun with my career?”

If this is indeed his featherweight swan song, Ortega is going in with a realistic mentality and his preparedness. There hasn’t been a true training camp, so when he steps into the octagon at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (ESPN+ pay-per-view, ESPN, ESPN+), it will be Ortega in his rawest form, and he relishes that.

“I don’t care what anyone says – you can’t train in two weeks,” Ortega said. “Let’s just be honest: I can’t train for you for two weeks. You can’t train for me for two weeks. It’s a two-week weight cut and we’re going to go in there and just literally play it as is. We’re just going to start fighting. We can see as much tape as we can, but even then it’s not enough. We don’t have enough time. There’s not enough time to process anything. It’s just get in there, make the weight, fight, and it’s just crazy – and I love it. This is the stuff that got me in the game with the love of the game.

“At the end of it I just figured, why not? When’s the last time I had something come up that was exciting, that was nerve-racking – that made all these feelings happen to where you’re like, ‘Bro, this is crazy’? Usually you get two months. You get to train. I see the guy in my head for two, three months and I know everything about him. I’ve watched the film and you know what can go wrong and what can go right in each position. But now it’s just, what for? Let’s just freaking fight. We’re fighters.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 303.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie