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After a 19-month layoff due to shoulder surgery and a disastrous opening round on Saturday, Brian Ortega looked as if his days as an elite featherweight were behind him.

Instead, Ortega relied on his grappling to rally back from the brink to score a dramatic, third-round submission win over Yair Rodriguez in their rematch, which served as the co-main event of UFC Fight Night at Arena CDMX in Mexico City.

Despite a busted nose and an injured right ankle he appeared to badly roll during the pre-fight introductions, the 33-year-old Ortega (16-3, 1 NC) kept pace atop the 145-pound rankings. Not only did he snap a streak of three defeats in four fights against elite foes, Ortega possibly secured a third shot at UFC gold in the form of new featherweight champion Ilia Topuria.

"Right when they were introducing us, I jumped up and I rolled my ankle. I freaked out," Ortega said. "I knew that God is good and God will protect me but in the first round, it didn't feel that way."

Ortega was fighting for the first time since a July 2022 meeting with Rodriguez ended in an abrupt TKO defeat after Ortega injured his shoulder. The opening round of their rematch proved nearly as disastrous for Ortega when clean punches from Rodriguez dropped him twice and caused blood to flow from his nose.

All of the momentum seized by Rodriguez (19-5, 1 NC) proved to be short-lived.

Ortega pushed a frantic pace to open Round 2 and secured an early trip takedown from the clinch that gave the native of Los Angeles top position for the remainder of the round. Ortega was patient but effective on top and he used elbows to open a deep cut under Rodriguez's right eye.

Round 3 produced more of the same as Ortega scored an early takedown and quickly flatted Rodriguez out before securing an arm-triangle choke. Rodriguez tapped out at 58 seconds.

"It's a wrap," Ortega said. "I have been training super hard. I have my life together. I'm not going to be an idiot anymore. I'm walking in a straight line. We trained nonstop for three months. I know that I look beat up right now but those whole three months were horrible."

Rodriguez, 31, dropped his second straight fight following a one-sided title loss to then-champion Alexander Volkanovski last July.