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UFC-Fresno's Brian Ortega relaxed ahead of biggest career test – and just hopes that's a good thing

FRESNO, Calif. – Just days before the biggest fight of his life, undefeated UFC featherweight Brian Ortega says he’s more relaxed than ever – and hopes that’s a good thing.

“I feel like it’s a normal fight, you know?” Ortega asked MMAjunkie. “Actually, it’s a good thing, bad thing, I don’t know – like, I’ve never been this calm in a fight, and it’s the biggest fight of my career, so I feel great. The energy with my friends and my team is amazing, and we’re just going to go in there and do what we do.”

Ortega (12-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) meets Cub Swanson (25-7 MMA, 10-3 UFC) in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 123 at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. The card airs on FS1 following early prelims on UFC Fight Pass.

At just 26, Ortega believes he’s still young in his career. But with four straight stoppage wins in the octagon over a host of tough opponents in Renato Carneiro, Clay Guida, Diego Brandao and Thiago Tavares, Ortega also knows he’s earned the right for a stiff challenge like Swanson.

“I’ve been proving myself,” Ortega said. “I feel like you’ve got to know where you’re at, and if you’re scared of knowing where you’re at, then you don’t belong in here. You’ve really got to test yourself against the best of the best.”

Ortega is currently ranked No. 7 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA featherweight rankings, and Swanson checks in just ahead at No. 6. A win could prove incredibly meaningful for either man, and a loss – well, Ortega, who also was undefeated in 11 unofficial amateur bouts, doesn’t see that certain eventuality as a problem this early in his career.

“Let’s say worse comes to worse: It just shows my weaknesses,” Ortega said. “Let’s say Saturday doesn’t go well for me. I always said if I’m going to lose, I wonder how? I’d rather know now than in the championship.

“I’m young. I feel like I’m very young. I feel like I just got started with my career, so I need to find out now with my weaknesses, that way they don’t get exposed later on in my career, and I really get severely hurt. At least right now, I can bounce back from injuries and get right back to work, versus later if I was maybe later of age and the time kicks in and it wouldn’t be that easy, plus I’m set in my ways where I don’t want to train differently. Right now, I’m like a big sponge, and I’m just absorbing everything.”

Ortega is an incredibly talented grappler, with six submission wins counted among his 12 career professional victories. But he’s also shown a penchant for brawling, as witnessed by his two UFC “Fight of the Night” awards.

His current run is historical, in fact, as the only man in UFC history to score four consecutive third-round finishes. But if there is a criticism to be made, it’s that Ortega has put himself in harm’s way in those victories. Sure, they turned out to be crowd-pleasing efforts, but they weren’t exactly the way you’d lay out a blueprint for a long and successful fighting career.

Ortega admits he’d be just fine with a few less back-and-forth affairs but also said he’s proving his mettle with the efforts.

“Believe me, if I could click a button, and it says, ‘Finish in the first,’ or ‘Finish in the third,’ everyone would be finished in the first, but we’re in a game where these guys are the best in the world; it’s not going to be that easy to figure out,” Ortega said. “These guys are here for a reason.

“The guys I fought are veterans, undefeated, or guys like Tavares who had 15 fights in the game, and I was barely on my second one. These are guys that have been around before me, who have a lot of experience. I’m coming in as a fresh fighter. I’m still learning, and I’m trying to figure them out – and not only figure them out, I’m trying to beat them. I’m trying to finish the fight. I’m not here to score points. I’m here to finish.”

Another finish – whether it comes in round one or round five of his headlining bout – would certainly catapult Ortega up the ranks. “T-City” was already volunteering to face champ Max Holloway before Jose Aldo ultimately stepped in for an injured Frankie Edgar at this past weekend’s UFC 218 event, and he’s certainly not going to back down now.

He readily admits that Swanson is a worthy adversary but plans on coming out with a win, even if he’s not sure just yet exactly how he’ll get it done.

“I haven’t even figured it out yet,” Ortega admitted. “That’s the crazy part. I just go in there, and I just feel that I do what I have to do to win, to get the finish.

“It’s been some wars, and I guess the fans love it, and they’re entertained by it. My face doesn’t appreciate it after, but it is what it is. We’re going to war. This is it. I’m fighting the best of the best.”

To hear more from Ortega, check out the video above.

And for more on UFC Fight Night 123, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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