These days an effective Fight Night in the UFC is one that brings to public consciousness shiny new intriguelings that have thus far gone unheralded. On Saturday night in Fresno there were at least three on display — Marlon Moraes, the former WSOF bantamweight champion who is still shaking off the association; Jason Knight, a man most promisingly dubbed a southern Diaz brother; and Brian Ortega, an undefeated prospect who looks exactly like Hollywood’s exaggerated idea of a fighter on the rise.
As usual, not all of them delivered, though Knight definitely made his fight memorable when he bit poor Gabriel Benitez’s finger in the first round. We’ve seen a lot of things in MMA — Jason “Mayhem” Miller dished out a noogie, for chrissakes— but even in a sport that skirts the lines of civility so thinly you don’t get all that many feral dogs. Knight was docked a point, which ended up not mattering all that much — he lost every round on every scorecard in an otherwise subpar performance (by his standards).
The other two, though, came through with flying colors. The 29-year old Moraes scored what will have to be considered one of the best knockouts of 2017 with a perfectly timed knee on Aljamain Sterling, just as Aljo was transitioning for a takedown. It was both brutal and beautiful. In fact, I’ll go ahead and coin a term that sums up what Moraes did to Sterling — beautality.
The kind of KO that gives you mixed feelings about what you’re watching.
Sterling fell back as a body no longer supported by thought, one leg stiffly jutting out into the air, one arm descending on his brow as if to dab. He would end up being okay, tweeting that it “sucks to be the nail” later on from the hospital. For Moraes it was one hell of a showcase, just 28 days after scoring a victory over John Dodson.
The UFC’s bantamweight division — already rich with talent — has yet another contender in its ranks.
Not to be outdone, Ortega made the most of his main event against Cub Swanson, in a classic “out with the old, in with the new” swing bout. Swanson was the more familiar name in the feature, given that he was A) riding a four-fight win streak, with an outside chance of stealing a title shot against Max Holloway, and B) fighting out the last bout of his UFC contract, and therefore perhaps competing in his last UFC fight ever.
In the end, it was “T-City” Ortega who ended up stealing the show along with all the narratives. He almost caught Swanson with an anaconda in first round, after getting a front headlock on the feet and twisting Swanson to the canvas. In the second, he snatched Swanson’s neck again while upright — this time with a guillotine — while using the cage walls for leverage, and to give himself time to adjust his arms. It was jarring aggression from a grappling ace, the kind of thing that opens some eyes as to how fast he can change fortunes on somebody who is otherwise fighting a good fight (Swanson was scoring in the exchanges on the feet).
It looked as if he was trying to pull Swanson’s head off, and Swanson himself said afterwards, “I felt like I was going to die.” That’s a fairly ringing endorsement, when it gets right down to it. Swanson, who has faced just about every menace in the vicinity of 145 pounds, had never found himself in a position where somebody was attempting to literally pop his head off his shoulders. It was a kudos to Ortega, who was nothing but a gentleman in victory.
He paid Swanson the kind of respect any fighter with 22 WEC/UFC fights deserves, and then shed some light about himself when asked who he’d like to face next.
“I know Frankie [Edgar] got injured [before UFC 218], and I don’t know how long it’s going to take for him to get patched up again,” he said. “I’m respectful when it comes to the game and I’m respectful of the shot that he’s earned, so hopefully he recovers and goes in there and fights [Max] Holloway. Maybe there’s a chance that I can get the winner of that. If not, I’m just going to do what I keep doing. I’m blessed and I’m happy to be here.”
In the meantime?
“I really want to use this time — this light — to not just have it on me, but use all this time. They invested a lot of money to promote me and now that my name’s getting out there, I want to help people out. That’s my main thing. I love kids. I love helping kids out. I always say I’m not the perfect person, but I have the perfect heart when it comes to helping people out.”
We saw it with Rose Namajunas last month in New York, but it’s not everyday you get a vow to philanthropy on the mic in what is designed to be a selfish moment for opportunists. Yet for as tall as Ortega stood tall in his literal fight, he stood taller in his quest. In a sport of outliers, Ortega made it known he was one of those, as well, yet not in the way we are used to. He was the night’s revelation.
And in that way the perfect headliner for a Fight Night.