Going into UFC 266 the hype was real. One of my favorite hometown fighters was returning after 6 years being away from MMA. In the main event another of my favorites was in a grueling 5 round championship fight that had highs and lows. Kicking off the Pay-Per-View was a fighter i've grown attached to, and that didn't end well. Simply, after UFC 266 my love and hate relationship for MMA has grown stronger than it's ever been.
When it was reported Nick Diaz would return to MMA my initial reaction was absolute excitement. Nick Diaz is one of my favorite fighters. We share the bond of being from Stockton, California, and the 209. I've had conversations with him at bars, and yes, even Barnes and Noble. The hype was real.
Of course I knew the possibility was there that Nick Diaz would lose. He's been out of the sport for 6 years. A fight against the crafty, mean, ruthless, former UFC champion Robbie Lawler was not going to be easy. In fact, I thought it would be one of the toughest fights in Diaz' career just because of the circumstances involved. Yet I still believed.
All week I hyped myself up for the return of Stockton's Bad Boy. I listened to every interview. I watched all of the pre-fight shows the UFC puts out. I listened to analysis from people I generally don't give a fuck about. I scoured social media to see what people were saying. I was immersed in the return of the legend Nick Diaz. I couldn't get enough.
Then fight day came. I woke up in a great mood. Nothing would bring me down. Not even my dog Gizmo continuously barking at the mailman, the Amazon driver, a cat, the people across the street who he absolutely hates for no gawd damn reason. One of my favorite fighters was fighting later that day and nothing could put a damper on my feelings or the day I was going to have.
UFC 266 kicked off and it was great. The fights were awesome, except one that we will get to later, as usual and it was almost time for Nick Diaz to return. The television cuts to Nick Diaz walking to his locker room and he looked good, in shape and in the moment. Then another legend and former foe, Georges St-Pierre, was there to greet Diaz with likely a good luck handshake. That was fucking awesome.
At that point I was nervous as fuck. It hit me, it was actually happening. Nick Diaz was going to fight after 6 long years without him.
It was finally time for Nick Diaz to make that long awaited walk to the Octagon. 6 years in the making. The hype and excitement, along with nervousness that was building would come to a head. At this point I probably needed a Xanex.
When Bruce Buffer made his legendary introduction, "Fighting out of Stockton, California, he is the former WEC and Strikeforce Welterweight champion, Niick Diiiiaaaazzzz", I just about fucking lost it.
I knew it was happening. Nick Diaz was in Octagon. He was going to fight.
As far as the fight goes, it was good, until it wasn't.
Nick Diaz was his normal fighting self. Hit and get hit. He was throwing a ton of strikes, the volume was there, while his opponent was too. 6 years away and nothing changed. This is why Nick Diaz is loved by so many. Win or lose, he puts on a show.
2 rounds were in the books. Then it happened. Nick Diaz couldn't go anymore. The heartbreak watching him sit on the mat and not have it in him to continue was real.
Those same anxious feelings I had all week, returned. I didn't care that Nick Diaz lost. I just wanted to him to be ok.
In the end, i'm happy I got to see Nick Diaz fight again. Would have I liked it if he won? Of course. But, let's be real, being away for 6 years is almost an eternity in MMA. If we ever see Nick Diaz fight again is unknown. If he does, it can't be in a 5 round fight, because that's just absurd. There was no way Nick Diaz, or anyone else, would be able to go 5 rounds - that's just an unreal and an unfair expectation.
Being from Stockton means a lot to me. Much like MMA, I have a love and hate relationship with the city. It seems Nick Diaz has the same feelings for Stockton and MMA as I do. I understand Nick Diaz. I love what he has done in his career and if that was his final battle, his legacy in MMA is legendary, and I will forever cherish what he has given the fans and the sport.
She might not be from Stockton, but Cynthia Calvillo is from San Jose, which is just over an hour away. So Cynthia Calvillo is still close enough to represent our region every time she fights. The location of Calvillo isn't the only reason I'm a fan, but it adds to why I am.
There is no doubt Cynthia Calvillo has had her ups-and-downs inside and outside of the Octagon. It isn't a secret. She's still just 34 and has only been fighting professionally for 5 years, while beating some fantastic fighters along the way; Joanne Calderwood, Jessica Eye, Pearl Gonzalez, Montana De La Rosa, Gillian Robertson, amongst others.
Leading up to the fight at UFC 266, against former UFC Strawweight champion Jéssica Andrade, I thought Cynthia Calvillo had a shot to win if she used her fantastic wrestling. Of course that's easier said than done when the opponent is a former champion that has fought some of the best in women's MMA.
Unfortunately not a lot happened in the way of offense for Calvillo. As usual, Andrade was the bull that dictated where the fight would go. Then, literal seconds until the bell rang for round 1 to end, Andrade put it on Calvillo so heavy that the fight had to be stopped.
Enter the first of many heartbreaks and feelings of hate for MMA.
This obviously wasn't the way Cynthia Calvillo wanted the fight to go. Fighters don't go in thinking they're going to lose, instead they put together a plan on how to they will win. Sometimes the opponent is just too tough, too good, or a former champion - which was the case in this fight. It just wasn't Cynthia Calvillo's day.
As a fan, there isn't a doubt in my mind that Cynthia Calvillo won't bounce back from this loss. She should see this as a learning experience, as any fight lost should be, but especially since this was against such a tough opponent.
The upside is Cynthia Calvillo's ranked 5th in the UFC Flyweight rankings. That could change, but if she drops, it shouldn't be too far down given the loss was against a former champion. Above her in the rankings are 3 fighters who have fought and lost to champion Valentina Shevchenko. Below her, but still in the top 10, are a couple fighters she's already beat. There are some fun matchups for Cynthia Calvillo despite a quick, heartbreaking loss at UFC 266.
This loss will hurt, but Cynthia Calvillo will be back to represent her city, Northern California, and most importantly, herself. As always, I look forward to seeing her back in the Octagon, no matter who the opponent is. Cynthia Calvillo is still and forever will be one of favorites to watch fight whether she wins or loses.
Of the 3 fights on the UFC 266 card that I was heavily invested in, this one hurt the most. I'm a bigger fan of Nick Diaz than I am of Brian Ortega for obvious reasons, but damn it, this one was tough.
Brian "T-City" Ortega, or as I call him "Pretty Eyez", was so close to finally winning the UFC Featherweight championship. Literally seconds away from hearing Bruce Buffer say "And New". But, champion Alexander Volkanovski was not having it.
Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega put on a helluva show in the headlining title bout of a massive UFC Pay-Per-View. They traded strikes on the feet and on the ground for 5 rounds, they bled and they both damn near got finished at some point during the fight. This will go down as one of the best fights of 2021. It was a fantastic title fight that proved both champion and contender are worthy of the biggest stage in the sport.
The 3rd round was something of fairytales. There might not be a better round in a title fight than what Volkanovski and Ortega put forth in round 3. The way Brian Ortega was able to get champion Alexander Volkanovski in 2 different submission attempts in the same round was special. How Volkanovski got out of both a guillotine and triangle put on by one of the best jiu-jitsu practitioners in MMA is unbelievable and remarkable. Ortega said he heard the champion gurgling at one point, meaning he was almost put to sleep. But, Volkanovski dug deep and found a way to get out, then recover, and continue pushing to keep the fight going. Round 3 was one of my favorite rounds I've ever watched.
As a fan of Brian Ortega, and not-so-much of Alexander Volkanovski prior to this fight, I'm now a bigger fan of Ortega and am now a fan of Volkanovski. My fandom for "Pretty Eyez" will never disappear, win or lose. I now have immense respect for the champion. And I feel it's going to be incredibly difficult to top the fight Volkanovski and Ortega put on.
Leading up to the fight there was a ton of shit talk between the 2 fighters. They clearly didn't care for each other and didn't even try to hide it. The dislike for each other, along with being 2 of the best Featherweights ever was a perfect recipe for a great championship fight, with kick ass moments and one of the best rounds in the history of MMA. This isn't recency bias, the fight was fucking amazing and will be elected to the UFC Hall of Fame. These are pure facts.
With that said, I'm still sad, but in awe of Brian Ortega. He showed the heart of a champion regardless of losing. Ortega willed his way to not being finished and nearly putting the champion to sleep twice. We hear a lot about fighters having the heart of champions or a lion, and Brian Ortega unquestionably has that type of heart. There isn't a give up gene in Brian Ortega and that makes me love him that much more.
Brian Ortega has now been in 2 title fights and although he lost both, his stock is at an all time high coming out of the UFC 266 banger. The losses to former champion Max Holloway and current champion Alexander Volkanovski are tough, but they're 2 of the greatest Featherweights in the history of MMA. Ortega showed that he can be on the grandest stage of them all and do well.
Now, the question is if Brian Ortega will make it to a 3rd championship fight. I believe he does. "Pretty Eyez" is just 30 years old and in the best shape of his life. He's made changes to his team and the way he lives his everyday life. Simply, he's growing up and maturing.
Also maturing is the way Ortega fights. He isn't just a grappler anymore. He can now hang in the standup and hurt his opponent, which was once the biggest hole in his game. Ortega's ground game is elite and that will never change, he's just going to keep getting better in that area, and that's scary. Brian Ortega has evolved into a well rounded fighter and can no longer be seen as just a jiu-jitsu practitioner. The growth and evolution of Brian Ortega continues to be seen in every fight. This is now a very scary Brian Ortega and I am here for it and absolutely love watching him do work whether he wins or loses.
UFC 266 might not have gone the way I wanted it to for the 3 fighters I love to watch fight, but it was still an incredible event. The highs and lows of Nick Diaz returning to fighting was insane and intense. Cynthia Calvillo fighting a former champion was awesome, even if she did lose in the 1st round. Brian Ortega putting on a fantastic fight and nearly finishing the champion, while giving us the round of the year was incredible. There was so much anticipation that my heart and head could have exploded with joy or sadness, depending on the moment.
There are 5 fighters (Nick and Nate Diaz, Mauricio Rua, Ronda Rousey and Fedor Emelianenko) that do this to me and I just can't help or explain it, Brian Ortega is likely to be included on that list. This will forever be the situation whether I like it or not. So I deal with it, sometimes medicated or intoxicated, sometimes not.
The love and hate relationship for me and MMA is ongoing. If you love a fighter as much as I love Nick Diaz, Brian Ortega and Cynthia Calvillo, i'm sure you understand. If you're like me, you wouldn't trade those feelings for anything, because the fighters we choose to love are the reason why we watch MMA, a sport we will forever have a love and hate relationship with, and I wouldn't want it to be any other way.