Another week, another UFC event. Fight Night 123 takes the UFC to Fresno, California, this Saturday (December 9th) and offers a handful of enticing matchups. The marquee fight is a clash between Brian Ortega, a rising star in the featherweight division, and Cub Swanson, a battle-tested veteran. Also on offer is a bantamweight fight between Marlon Moraes and Aljamain Sterling, two fighters ranked in the top ten.
The odds for the fights skew a little from book to book. We’ve used the numbers from Bovada, below.
Cub Swanson (-115) vs Brian Ortega (-115)
For young featherweight prospects, Cub Swanson (25-7) has become something of a gatekeeper in the division. A 23-year-old Max Holloway defeated him in 2015, starting him on the path to the championship belt, and when the UFC wanted to build up Doo Ho Choi, a young Korean prodigy, they threw him in against Swanson. Next up is Brian Ortega (12-0), an undefeated jiu-jitsu specialist with a ton of potential.
Swanson views himself as a title contender rather than a division gatekeeper, and for good reason. He’s the fourth-ranked fighter in the division with a four-fight win streak. A win against Ortega, who is currently sixth in the official rankings, could finally lead to the title shot he is so desperately seeking.
Ortega has fought five times in the UFC and has stopped his opponent each time. His UFC debut was later ruled a “No Contest” after he tested positive, which resulted in a nine-month ban, but he returned to win his next four fights. His recent fights have all followed a similar pattern: down on the scorecards in the third round when he suddenly stops his opponent.
Ortega’s bout with Swanson creates an interesting stylistic match-up. Swanson is an extremely entertaining and unorthodox striker, capable of overwhelming his opponents with constant pressure and sheer aggression. However, his ground game is severely lacking. Ortega is exactly the opposite. His striking is nothing special but his Jiu-Jitsu is world-class.
Five of Swanson’s seven losses have been by submission, and his last three defeats all concluded with him tapping out. If Ortega manages to take Swanson to the ground, he should be able to get the job done. If the fight remains upright, Swanson will have the edge.
Fighters with such an aggressive style typically do not age very well, and the 34-year-old Swanson apparently broke his hand for the tenth time during his last fight. He’s a well-worn fighter who is easily submitted, and he’s been paired with a young fighter who specialises in making opponents tap. The UFC have a very marketable future star in Brian Ortega, and it’s in their best interest to have him thrive. I believe he’ll do just that.
Pick: Brian Ortega (-110)
Marlon Moraes (-170) vs Aljamain Sterling (+140)
Aljamain Sterling (14-2) was initially scheduled to fight Rani Yahya for what would have been a pretty dull affair, but things got a lot more interesting when Yahya pulled out due to injury and was replaced by Marlon Moraes (19-5-1). Now, we’ve got a fight between two top-ten bantamweight contenders.
It’s a little worrying seeing Moraes re-enter the octagon just a month after his last fight. The former WSOF bantamweight champ signed with the UFC this year and lost his promotional debut against Raphael Assunção. He went on to fight John Dodson and was awarded a close split-decision victory. It was a grueling fight and Moraes should really be taking more time to recover.
Sterling also suffered a split-decision loss to Assunção earlier this year. He rebounded nicely, though, beating Augusto Mendes and former bantamweight champ Renan Barão in his next two fights. His upcoming fight against Moraes will be his fourth of the year.
Moraes is a former Muay Thai national champion who relies heavily on his striking, specifically his leg kicks, while Sterling stems from a collegiate wrestling and is usually eager to take the fight to the ground.
Sterling’s two losses have come from split decisions to top-ten fighters. He’s coming off a huge win against a former champ and has had plenty of time to prepare for this fight. Moraes took this fight on short notice and with very little time to recover from his last fight. Sterling at +140 is the value pick here.
Pick: Aljamain Sterling (+140)