Brian Ortega has made a career out of choking opponents out. But prior to Saturday night, he had never done so on a stage as big as a UFC main event against one of the sport’s most respected veterans.
Saturday, Ortega scored the most impressive victory of his career, as he submitted Cub Swanson in the second round of his UFC Fresno featherweight main event. The time of the stoppage to a guillotine choke was 3:22 of the second round at Save Mart Center.
“Five finishes, every fight in the UFC I have a finish,” the undefeated Ortega (13-0, 1 NC) said. “I feel like a dark horse, I just have a different approach.”
A competitive first round saw both fighters stick and move. Swanson landed harder shots to the head and body, but Ortega held his own. Late in the round, he foreshadowed the finish with a standing choke he took to the ground, but Swanson survived to the horn.
In the second, it didn’t take as long for the scenario to repeat, as Ortega got a standing guillotine and jumped guard. He also impressively adjusted his grip when he began to slip, and pushed off the cage with a foot to reestablished his momentum Swanson tapped soon thereafter.
The Los Angeles native has won five straight fights, all via finish. Swanson (25-8), who was in the last fight of his UFC contract, had a four-fight win streak snapped.
“He has a big neck, so I wrapped him up and I felt like I was slipping, so I rewrapped and I locked it in,” Ortega said. “My standup gets better and better and I’m able to hang with the best.”
The evening’s co-feature bout between Gabriel Benitez and Jason Knight featured a point deduction for a foul that, if it wasn’t a first in UFC history, was certainly ultra-rare: Knight was deducted a point for biting Benitez in a grappling exchange early in the first round.
Turns out, Benitez didn’t need the extra point. Despite also being on the wrong end of a deep eye poke in the second round by Knight, who had a very bad night, Benitez stayed composed and ran circles around Knight with his kickboxing. The final scores were a pair of 30-26s and a 29-27 for a unanimous decision.
With the win, the Tijuana native improved to 20-6, his second win in his past three fights. Knight (20-4) has dropped two in a row.
“I feel that I proved that I’m learning and improving,” Benitez said. “I just stuck to my game plan and it showed in the result. I showed the fans that I’m the future champion. Jason [Knight] bit my thumb but I give respect to the ref for seeing it. He [the ref] did a good job in the stoppage. I’m pretty sure that I will be in the top-15 now but it doesn’t matter to me, it’s only a number. I just want to show the fans that I am the best.”
Marlon Moraes is rocketing his way up the UFC bantamweight division. Just four weeks after defeating John Dodson, Moraes had an absolutely brutal knockout of Aljamain Sterling. Sterling walked right into a wicked running knee, knocking him cold just 1:07 into the fight.
Sterling was out on the mat for quite some time before waking up and was reportedly taken out of the cage on a stretcher. Later reports had Sterling on his feet in the locker room before being taken to the hospital for precautionary reasons.
Moraes, the former longtime World Series of Fighting champion, is now 20-5-1, with 14 wins in his past 15 fights. Sterling (14-3) is now 2-3 since re-signing with the UFC after a heavily hyped free agency period.
“I want to be next,” Moraes said after his 14th career finish. “I want to be the champion, I want to fight again. I want to wish Aljamain Sterling a speedy recovery we want to fight we want to win, but I don’t want to see my opponent get hurt in here.”
Sometimes, the stats really do tell the story, and that was the case in lightweight Scott Holtzman’s unanimous decision win over Darrell Horcher. Holtzman landed 137 total strikes to Horcher’s 41 and six takedowns to Horcher’s one, a dominant all-around performance in a 30-27, across-the-board unanimous decision win.
About the only drama in the fight involved a curious pair of standup calls by usually solid referee Mike Beltran in the second and third rounds as Holtzman was clearly working from top position.
Holtzman (11-2) has won two straight and three of four. Horcher (13-2) dropped to 1-2 in the UFC.
In a battle of middleweights who entered the evening at 9-0, Eryk Anders emerged victorious over Markus Perez. While Perez, who took the fight as a short-notice replacement after fighting just four weeks ago, proved plenty tough, he needed to be, and Anders dished out a ruthless array of knees and punches. The judges’ scores were 30-26, 30-25, and 29-28 for a unanimous decision as Anders improved to 2-0 in the UFC with the victory.
“I thought the fight went well but I just got off to a slow start,” Anders said. “Pressure beats a lot of that flashy and unorthodox style however he had very good head movement. Some of my knees and elbows missed right past his face. I felt him slow down a little bit late in the second and third.”
In the evening’s main-card opener, a regional rivalry spilled over onto the big stage and delivered plenty of pop.
Benito Lopez was fined $1,000 by the California State Athletic Commission Friday for shoving bantamweight rival Albert Morales during the weigh-ins. Then he went out and started the fight with a bang, kicking off a wild first round with a head kick.
Lopez twice dropped Morales with flying knees and sunk in a choke before Moreales turned things around and got back into the fight. The duo then split a pair of back-and-forth rounds in the second and third.
That was enough to give Lopez the nod via unanimous decision, with a 30-27 and a pair of 29-28s.
“I felt like this win was my destiny,” Lopez said. “I’ve been dreaming of this moment since I was 12 years-old and I really felt like it was meant to be. I love throwing flashy crazy kicks as well as flying knees and elbows. He [Morales] is really really tough and he was a lot stronger than I thought.”
With the win in his UFC debut, the 23-year old Lopez, of Oroville, Calif., is now 9-0. Morales (7-3-1), of Reseda, Calif., lost his second straight fight and is 1-3-1 in the UFC.
The evening’s featured prelim bout was a battle of former bantamweight title challengers who were each making their flyweight debut. In a razor-thin bout which could have gone either way, Alexis Davis scored a split decision over Liz Carmouche, getting two out of three 29-28 scorecards to go her way.
Davis dominated the second round and Carmouche the third. So the result came down to how you scored the first: Carmouche scored takedowns and worked from top control, but Davis got a tight armbar in the round’s final minute.
“We really had to prepare for anything,” Davis said. “I think I utilized a lot more things this second time around. The first time we fought in comparison to this time, she was a totally different fighter and it was like preparing for a completely different fighter.”
The win the second in a row and third in four fights for Davis (19-7), who also defeated Carmouche via decision in 2013. Carmouche (11-6) had a two-fight win streak snapped.
For full UFC Fresno results click here.