Brian Ortega can no longer be considered a dark horse in the Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight division.
The unbeaten Ortega submitted perennial contender Cub Swanson with a guillotine choke in the second round of their UFC Fight Night 123 headliner on Saturday at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California. His neck hopelessly caught in a vice, Swanson (25-8, 10-4 UFC) bowed out 3:22 into Round 2.
Ortega (13-0, 5-0 UFC) held his own in the standup exchanges despite a significant disparity in speed and experience. Swanson cut loose with body-head combinations, mixing in leg kicks whenever possible. Late in the first round, Ortega bit down on a brabo choke while standing, rolled to a more manageable position on the mat and had the Jackson-Wink MMA mainstay in legitimate trouble when the horn sounded. The action followed much the same narrative in the second round -- until Ortega bullied his way into the clinch. A knee strike to the body on the break had Swanson bending over ever so slightly and gave “T-City” the only opening he needed. He latched onto the guillotine, readjusted his grip mid-choke in a brilliant piece of technical grappling and forced the tapout.
Ortega, 26, has recorded five straight wins, all of them finishes.
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Underdog Benitez Handles Knight
American Kickboxing Academy featherweight Gabriel Benitez picked apart the favored Jason Knight for the better part of three rounds, as he walked away with a clear-cut unanimous decision in the co-main event. Scores were 30-26, 30-26 and 29-27, all for Benitez (20-6, 4-2 UFC).
Knight (20-4, 4-3 UFC) did not put forth a good effort. In addition to being undisciplined in standup exchanges, the 34-year-old Mississippi native was docked a point in the first round after he bit Benitez on the hand while driving for a takedown. His situation did not improve from there. Benitez countered effectively, punched in combination and sent a few head kicks careening off the Alan Belcher protégé’s head. Needing a finish, there was none to be found in the third round. Benitez pressed forward with straight punches -- his piercing straight left was his weapon of choice -- and even climbed to full mount in the closing seconds.
Benitez has won six times in eight appearances.
Moraes Knee Devastates Sterling
Former World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes laid waste to Aljamain Sterling with a nuclear head kick turned knee strike in the first round of their bantamweight feature. A short-notice fill-in for the injured Rani Yahya, Moraes (20-5-1, 2-1 UFC) closed out the Serra-Longo Fight team standout 67 seconds into Round 1.
Sterling (14-3, 6-3 UFC) was never afforded the opportunity to establish a foothold. Moraes drove him to the mat with a clubbing left hand, swooped into top position and extricated himself from an attempted armbar. The Brazilian then invited Sterling to stand. Moments later, Moraes clobbered the onetime Cage Fury Fighting Championships and Ring of Combat titleholder with a knee to the face. Sterling nosedived to the canvas stiff and unconscious, finished for the first time in his 17-fight career.
Moraes has posted 15 wins across his past 16 outings.
Grind-Minded Holtzman Sinks Horcher
Repeated takedowns, positional dominance and steady ground-and-pound carried MMA Lab export Scott Holtzman to a unanimous decision over Darrell Horcher in a featured confrontation at 155 pounds. All three judges scored it 30-27 for Holtzman (11-2, 4-2 UFC).
Horcher (13-3, 1-2 UFC) did what he could -- he staggered the Tennessee native with stout left hands on more than one occasion -- to counteract his opponent’s advances but could not stay upright long enough to turn the tide in his favor. Holtzman was relentless with his pursuits, as he punched into the clinch and executed one inside trip takedown after another. Frustration grew with Horcher and his team, the dire reality of their situation slowly but surely setting in.
Holtzman, 34, has won three of his past four bouts.
Anders Overpowers Replacement Perez
Onetime Legacy Fighting Alliance champion Eryk Anders leaned on thunderous left hands, wind-zapping knee strikes and powerful ground-and-pound, as he took a unanimous decision from Markus Perez in their middleweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it for Anders (10-0, 2-0 UFC): 30-26, 30-25 and 29-28.
A replacement for the injured John Phillips, Perez (9-1, 0-1 UFC) had issues with the former University of Alabama linebacker’s strength and athleticism. Anders marched down the Brazilian with punches and piled up points with ground-and-pound whenever he found himself in top position. Fatigue took more and more out of Perez the deeper the fight went -- a fact which only enhanced Anders’ physical and technical advantages.
Unbeaten Lopez Downs Morales
Team Alpha Male prospect Benito Lopez made a successful promotional debut and remained undefeated in the process, as he captured a unanimous decision over Albert Morales in a crackling three-round bantamweight feature where little was left to chance. Lopez (9-0, 1-0 UFC) swept the scorecards with 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 marks from the judges.
Morales (7-3-1, 1-3-1 UFC) lacked the firepower he needed to expose his counterpart’s weaknesses. Lopez set the tone with a strong first round, where he twice floored the Bellator MMA veteran with jumping knees and had him in serious trouble with a one-arm guillotine. Morales threw the cleaner, straighter strikes but could not combat the high-velocity offense with which he was confronted. Lopez more than once buzzed the tower with shin-to-skill contact and zeroed in on the liver with repeated kicks to the body.
The 26-year-old Morales has lost three of his last four fights.
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