Brian Ortega has played a variety of roles since joining the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster in 2014, steroid cheat and rehabilitated prospect among them. Add featherweight contender to the list.
Ortega submitted longtime Jackson-Wink MMA standout Cub Swanson with a sensational second-round guillotine choke in the UFC Fight Night 123 main event on Saturday at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, California. Swanson conceded defeat 3:22 into Round 2 and watched the equity associated with his four-fight winning streak dwindle to nothing.
Despite disadvantages in the speed and experience departments, Ortega marched ahead like a man with a plan. Swanson was superior in the standup exchanges but not so dominant that it forced “T-City” to alter his course. Ortega nearly sealed the deal with a brabo choke in the closing seconds of the first round. He returned in the second to finish what he started. A Gracie jiu-jitsu black belt with a flair for the dramatic, Ortega has finished each of his last five opponents: Swanson, Renato Carneiro, Clay Guida, Diego Brandao and Thiago Tavares. By beating Swanson and doing so decisively, Ortega removed one of the few remaining obstacles standing between him and reigning featherweight champion Max Holloway -- a pairing that seemed like no better than a longshot a year ago.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Swanson vs. Ortega,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Brian Ortega vs. Ricardo Lamas: Ortega can do little else to improve his stock at 145 pounds, but even he recognizes that the Holloway-Frankie Edgar saga must play out before he moves on a featherweight title shot. Just 26 years old and improving with each outing, the former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion figures to be a handful for anyone who encounters him in the meantime. Lamas will take on Team Alpha Male’s Josh Emmett in the UFC on Fox 26 co-main event on Dec. 16 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Should Lamas emerge victorious, he would provide another significant hurdle for Ortega to clear before setting his sights on UFC gold.
Marlon Moraes vs. Jimmie Rivera-John Lineker winner: A short-notice substitute for the injured Rani Yahya, Moraes was nothing short of electrifying in his third appearance inside the Octagon and needed a little more than a minute to dispose of Aljamain Sterling. The former World Series of Fighting champion cut down Sterling with a hellacious head kick turned knee strike in the first round of their bantamweight showcase. Sterling nosedived into the canvas, rigid and unconscious, a mere 67 seconds into Round 1. Moraes has won 15 of his last 16 fights, a contentious split decision loss to Raphael Assuncao his lone misstep. Rivera and Lineker are scheduled to throw down at UFC 219 on Dec. 30.
Gabriel Benitez vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov: No one saw Benitez coming, least of all Jason Knight. The American Kickboxing Academy representative surprised Knight in the featherweight co-main event, as he claimed a unanimous decision over the Alan Belcher protégé. Benitez was the more active and efficient striker across 15 minutes and benefitted from a bizarre point deduction in the first round, where Knight was disciplined for biting his hand during a failed takedown attempt. “Hick Diaz” was never much of a factor. Benitez, meanwhile, has quietly compiled a 4-2 record since arriving in the UFC in 2014. Magomedsharipov extended his winning streak to 10 fights on Nov. 25, when he submitted Sheymon da Silva Moraes with an anaconda choke.
Eryk Anders vs. Gerald Meerschaert: Anders’ raw physical tools are off the charts, which makes it difficult to get a read on his true potential. The former University of Alabama linebacker improved to 10-0 with his unanimous decision over Markus Perez in a three-round middleweight feature. Anders blew up the Octagon newcomer with searing left hands, thudding knee strikes and damaging ground-and-pound to the tune of a 30-26, 30-25 and 29-28 rout on the scorecards. Perez to his credit survived to see the final bell, but virtually nothing else went his way. Anchored at the Roufusport Academy in Milwaukee, Meerschaert stopped Eric Spicely on a second-round body kick at “The Ultimate Fighter 26” Finale on Dec. 1. It was his eighth win in nine outings.
Cub Swanson vs. Jose Aldo: Swanson’s encounter with Ortega did not go as he had hoped; in fact, it was disastrous. Ortega handed the Palms Springs, California, native his first loss in nearly three years, sitting out on a guillotine choke in the second round. Swanson has now been submitted six times as a professional, with five of those defeats resulting from chokes. Though he has likely begun his descent on the UFC’s featherweight ladder, Swanson still has plenty to offer. He has long sought a rematch with Aldo -- a man who knocked him out in eight seconds under the World Extreme Cagefighting banner in 2009. Following Aldo’s second lopsided loss to the aforementioned Holloway at UFC 218 on Dec. 2, perhaps the time has come.