At UFC 22 we experienced a changing of the guard in a sense. Some of the names that have been lurking just outside the tree line have finally stepped into the light. The most notable is Brian Ortega, who took the fight against Frankie Edgar on short notice and was able to manifest the next step in his dream of UFC glory.

There are many fighters who would have sat it out and waited. Edgar had earned his title shot against Max Holloway, but due to an injury, the Champ had to withdraw. It was scheduled to be the pay-per-view main event. There were rumblings of the TJ Dillashaw / Cody Garbrandt rematch but that was shutdown. Edgar chose to remain on the card and fight the up-and-coming Brian Ortega. Enter Cris Cyborg for a short-notice title fight against former Invicta bantamweight champion Yana Kunitskaya and we’re back in business.

Once again, Frankie Edgar earned his title shot and did not have to take the fight with Brian Ortega. In an environment where the Lightweight champion is absent from title defenses for over a year, nobody could have faulted him for sitting it out. Edgar is a gangster, a true martial artist, a legit fighter who put it all on the line for the spirit of competition. Unfortunately, it did not work out for him because Brian Ortega rode that perfect storm into victory.

I had picked Edgar to win by decision. In the back of my mind, if Ortega was going to pull it off, it was going to be via submission during a scramble. I did not see that elbow – upper cut combination that would ultimately separate Edgar from his consciousness. Edgar had never been finished before! With a few exceptions, Edgar has always been one of those fighters that would weather the storm, adjust and find a way to victory. Take a look at his third fight against Gray Marnard back at UFC 136. Marnard had him rocked in the first round yet Frankie remained composed, recovered and ended up getting the KO win in the fourth round. It’s what he does.

Rather than focus on Frankie Edgar’s possible fall from grace, let’s celebrate Brian Ortega. He was able to do something that no other fighter has been able to do. He was at the right place at the right time, but he got there through hard work and perseverance. I remember seeing him in the Gracie Insider videos with Rener Gracie years ago and wondering when he was going to be fighting again in the UFC. It was a slow steady rise, with incremental challenges until he met Edgar, for sure a future Hall of Famer, and robbed him of his title shot.

It’s a moment that will be remembered.

The card was punctuated with other notable introductions to fighters that are on the path to potential stardom. Sean O’Malley, the Dana White Contender Series prospect, maintained his undefeated professional with a win over Andre Soukhamthath in a fight that he probably would have lost if he was fighting a more experienced opponent.  He was winning on the scorecards, showcasing his solid kicking game and displaying some decent grappling, but an ankle injury put him in jeopardy. At that point, if Soukhamthath had kept it standing, he would have gotten the stoppage or KO. Instead, since the injured O’Malley was easy to take down, he repeatedly brought the scrap to the ground which was a huge tactical error.

It remains to be seen how O’Malley will do against higher level competition. For a time, Yair Rodriguez was regarded at this unstoppable force until his wrestling deficiencies were exposed by Frankie Edgar. O’Malley displayed a lot of the characteristics that the modern UFC fan hold in high regard: flashing striking, swagger and a silly nickname, “The Sugar Show.” Indeed. Nonetheless there was something epic about the way that O’Malley got his hand raised while on his back.

Cyborg continued her reign of terror and defeated Yana Kunitskaya by first round TKO. I know there is a woman out there, training hard, who can defeat Cris Cyborg, but the question is will the UFC ever find her. Respect to the champ and it’s great to see her in the UFC finally, especially after some of the horrible thing Dana White said about her. Earlier on the main card, Ketlen Vieira made her mark by defeating veteran Cat Zingano who looked flat and rusty after having been away from fighting for over a year. Nonetheless, Vieira made some legitimate moves with respect to fan visibility.

It remains to be seen how viable some of these younger fighters are with respect to title aspirations, but it sure seemed like a subtle changing of the guard was happening this past weekend. We are definitely turning a corner. The Anderson Silvas and Shogun Ruas of the world have been forced out to the margins to make way for the young lions.


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