When Brian Ortega finally returns to the Octagon in a UFC Fight Night main event against Chan Sung Jung in October, the former featherweight title challenger doesn't want people to be able to recognize him. That's how much change Ortega has undergone in the past 20 months.
Ortega (14-1) will fight Jung, aka "Korean Zombie," on Oct. 17 at a venue yet to be determined. It will mark his first appearance since he suffered a brutal TKO loss to Max Holloway in a UFC championship bout in December 2018, when Ortega suffered a broken nose and hand.
After the loss, Ortega parted ways with longtime head coach James Luhrsen, and has since surrounded himself with an entirely new team, including management. The only coach left is jiu-jitsu coach Rener Gracie.
"That's my goal -- for everyone to go, 'That's a completely different fighter,'" Ortega said. "And that's a hard time. I've had a lot of years of bad habits. The last two years is basically reprogramming my damn self, to not do the things I like to do. That's the test for me. I really want to change, I really want to grow, but I have to follow it, which is something I'm not used to. I had so much success with everything, it's hard to go back."
Ortega, of Los Angeles, admitted he knew well before his loss to Holloway that his training was lacking. He says he spoke to his team about making changes as far back as 2017, but it was hard to make them given all the success he was having.
"I knew when I fought Renato Moicano back in 2017," Ortega said. "I asked my team for changes, and I never got them. Then I had the whole success of [defeating Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar], it was hard to tell them, 'Hey, I want more.' It's like, 'Look, you're winning, better than ever.' And I was like, 'I know, but I feel it. I need more.' I was craving information.
"And then I technically got picked apart and it was like, 'OK, cool. This is what I've been telling you guys. I need to be more technical.'"
Ortega and Jung were originally scheduled to fight in December 2019 in South Korea, but Ortega was forced off the card with a knee injury. The dynamic of the fight has changed in the time since, particularly when Ortega got into a scuffle with Jung's friend and Korean musician Jay Park at a UFC event in March in Las Vegas.
Ortega, 29, says he was actually ready to return to the Octagon well before October, but the UFC wanted to preserve his matchup with Jung due to the heat between them. Ortega said he's over the incident now.
"I already forgot about it," Ortega said. "It's only when you talk about it, OK, I'll give you my side of the story. It's over, man. It's surprising, we have short-term memory fans. You fight and then two weeks later, they forget who you are. But you do something like this, they don't forget. Let it go and enjoy the show."