Brian Ortega, the Rener Gracie-trained featherweight who emerged as the star of Saturday night's UFC show and as a legitimate undefeated championship contender, has shown two things about his fights.
The first is, if you watch closely, don't believe what you're seeing. The second is, you'd better watch closely.
Ortega (13-0, 1 no-contest) has had six UFC fights. The first, against Mike De La Torre, he appeared to win easily by submission with a choke. Except he didn't, since the win was overturned due to a positive test for the steroid Drostanolone. In his next four fights, he was losing all of them going into the third round. And in every one of them, he won the fight with a late submission or knockout.
On Saturday, Cub Swanson seemed like he was putting on a masters class in destroying the hype of an undefeated prospect in his first test against true title contender competition. With the exception of the final 10 seconds of round one, Swanson was in control of the fight, dominating the striking and Ortega couldn't take him down. It looked like it would be a long five rounds for Ortega. Then he got the guillotine and it was over.
What was a notable premonition of all this was earlier in the show, when Gracie noted that as Ortega faces tougher competition, in one way that doesn't lower his odds of winning. The explanation is that if he's in main events or title matches that gives him 10 more minutes, two more rounds, to have time to find the submission.
He also won points with the viewing audience with his post-match interview. After his biggest career win, he outright said that Frankie Edgar, not himself, deserved the next title shot at champion Max Holloway. He then talked about wanting to use his UFC exposure to help do charity work.
Ortega said that while everyone else was nervous, or in bed, the night before the fight, he noted that he was the last guy left in the hotel lobby, playing dominos.
The UFC's debut in Fresno, Calif., drew 7,605 fans paying $568,290, a figure Dana White called successful considering it was a Fight Night show without any real depth when it came to stars.
"We'll definitely come back," White said after the show.
Let's look at how fortunes changed for five stars from Saturday night's show.
BRIAN ORTEGA - On one hand, Ortega vs. Ricardo Lamas (18-5) looks like a good direction. On the other hand, it doesn't.
Lamas faces Josh Emmett (12-1) this coming Saturday in Winnipeg. If he wins and faces Ortega, it's the kind of risky matchmaking that the UFC usually tries to avoid. If Lamas beats Emmett, and then beats Ortega, the UFC will have lost a key title contender in Ortega, but not gained one in Lamas, who lost a one-sided fight already to Holloway in a manner where there wouldn't be much interest in a rematch.
If Emmett wins, that it becomes a viable fight. Another viable opponent for Ortega would be with Chan Sung Jung (14-4), the Korean Zombie.
CUB SWANSON - Swanson (25-8) remains one of the company's most consistently entertaining fighter to watch. For him, if Lamas loses this coming Saturday, that's a good fight to make. Lamas defeated Swanson via submission, but that was back in 2011. If Jose Aldo (26-4) continues to fight, Swanson would be a good opponent for him, a rematch of a Swanson loss early in his career.
MARLON MORAES - Moraes (20-5-1) couldn't have made more of a statement with his knockout of Aljamain Sterling, a legit bantamweight title contender, in just 1:07. If bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw is being earmarked for Demetrious Johnson next, then Moraes should next face former champion Cody Garbrandt (11-1). That would be a great title eliminator. Depending on how quickly Dominick Cruz (22-2) heals up and can fight again, he'd also be a strong possibility.
ALJAMAIN STERLING - Sterling (14-3) can rebound from his quick loss as the fight that makes the most sense for him would be the loser of the Dec. 30 bout in Las Vegas between Jimmie Rivera (21-1) and John Lineker (30-8). Another possibility is John Dodson (19-9). In any of the cases, Sterling can rebound into the mix with the top contenders with a win.
ALEXIS DAVIS - Davis (19-7) scored a split-decision win over Liz Carmouche (10-6) as both made their debuts in the new women's flyweight (125-pound) division. Given it's a new division, the win by Davis, a former title challenger at bantamweight, established her as a potential opponent for new champion Nicco Montano (4-2). The only negative is that Montano might be sidelined for awhile with her broken foot. Valentina Shevchenko (14-3), another bantamweight contender moving down, would be another possible opponent in a fight that could be pushed as a title eliminator.