Alexander Volkanovski retains UFC featherweight title in thriller vs. Brian Ortega

Volkanovski, Ortega put on Fight of the Year candidate at UFC 266 (1:12)

Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega give the Vegas crowd its money's worth and more with an epic clash at UFC 266. (1:12)

LAS VEGAS -- Alexander Volkanovski's status as the best featherweight in the world has been solidified.

After escaping several close submission attempts, Volkanovski poured on the damaging blows to beat Brian Ortega via unanimous decision (49-46, 50-45, 50-44) Saturday night in the main event of UFC 266 at T-Mobile Arena.

Volkanovski retained his UFC featherweight title with the victory in one of the best championship MMA fights of 2021. Volkanovski has won 20 fights in a row overall, the longest active unbeaten streak by a fighter on the UFC roster.

"All them doubters," Volkanovski said in his postfight interview, "I'm gonna keep proving you wrong time and time again."

The ringside physician had to check the cuts on Ortega's bloody face prior to the fourth and fifth rounds before letting the bout go on.

Volkanovski said this past week that he wanted badly to finish the extremely durable Ortega. He didn't do that, but this win was impressive -- one of his best performances in UFC. Volkanovski waded riskily into Ortega's dangerous guard on the ground several times in the third and fourth rounds, landing huge ground-and-pound shots that busted up Ortega's face.

Despite the damage, Ortega's best round might have been the fifth, when he had Volkanovski reeling at times with punching combinations. Ortega nearly finished him in the third round with a mounted guillotine and a D'arce choke. He also nearly had a choke in the fourth.

"I thought it was done," Ortega said. "That's what we trained for my entire camp. ... That little bastard is f---ing tough as hell."

The bout was initially scheduled for UFC 260 in March but was pushed back when Volkanovski tested positive for COVID-19. Volkanovski and Ortega then coached opposite each other over the summer on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show, and that created bad blood between the men. Volkanovski called Ortega "unprofessional" this week and called out his 2014 positive drug test in a heated stare-down Thursday.

Volkanovski is ESPN's No. 6-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Coming in, ESPN had Volkanovski ranked No. 1 and Ortega ranked No. 3 in the world at featherweight.

"Some of them were pretty tight," Volkanovski said of the submission attempts. "For some reason I went to the ground with him. Obviously, he's good. ... I thought I was in his head, and he came back even stronger."

The wildest sequence of the fight came in the third round, when Ortega caught a Volkanovski kick and took him down right into a mounted guillotine. Volkanovski was close to tapping but somehow escaped. Seconds later, Ortega tried to cinch in a D'arce choke, which Volkanovski also escaped.

"It was deep," Volkanovski said. "It was 'F---, I'm about to lose the belt' deep. ... That was as deep as it can get. No s---. I remember I was making f---ing weird noises."

Volkanovski outlanded Ortega in significant strikes, 214-88, with a 53-0 shutout for Volkanovski for strikes on the ground. Those 214 significant strikes are the third-most landed in a featherweight fight in UFC history and the seventh-most in UFC history in any division.

Both Volkanovski and Ortega won $50,000 bonuses for Fight of the Night. Volkanovski might have escaped the submissions, but he was still wearing damage from Ortega blows, including two cuts on his face and one on his head.

"I wanted to get the finish," Volkanovski said. "I've been talking about getting that finish. But at least it was a war."

Afterward, Volkanovski said he expected to defend next against the winner of a Nov. 13 fight between Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez. But Volkanovski said he didn't want to wait a long time to fight again and would consider a move up to lightweight just to stay busy. He also said he would consider moving his family from Australia to the United States to get away from his home country's COVID-19 lockdowns.

"I'm expecting to Max to go out there and do his thing, and we're gonna be running that trilogy. ... That's gonna be a huge f---ing fight," Volkanovski said.

Volkanovski (23-1) has won all 10 of his UFC fights, a winning streak that is the third-longest active one in UFC behind only Kamaru Usman (14) and Amanda Nunes (12). He is coming off a split decision win over Holloway at UFC 251 in July 2020, his first title defense. That was a close one, and many thought Holloway was the true winner.

Volkanovski, 32, hasn't lost since May 2013, his fourth pro fight. He beat Holloway to win the title at UFC 245 in December 2019. Volkanovski is only the fifth UFC fighter to begin his run with the promotion at 10-0.

Ortega (15-2, 1 NC) was coming off a unanimous decision win in October over "The Korean Zombie," Chan Sung Jung, in a comeback victory after being out nearly two years due to injury. The California native had only one career loss coming in, and that also was in a featherweight title fight, against Holloway at UFC 231 in December 2018. Ortega, 30, holds a 7-2 (1 NC) record in UFC.