Main Event: Swanson (-110) vs Ortega (-120)
While many fight fans may write off Brian Ortega as an unworthy opponent for the veteran contender Cub Swanson, there is more nuance to this matchup than meets the eye. Cub Swanson is known for his wild fighting style, incorporating spinning attacks with slick judo slams. He is a fan favorite who is riding high on a four fight win streak, including a Fight of the Year with Doo Ho Choi. However, undefeated prospect Brian Ortega is the only thing stopping him from his long-awaited title shot. Ortega has crisp boxing and looks for the finish in all of his fights, winning his last four fights by stoppage. He is a legitimate BJJ black belt under the venerable Gracie family and holds the clear advantage on the ground over Cub, who has lost by submission five times out of seven. That being said, Cub is a black belt as well who has enough skill to survive on the ground. If Cub wants to execute his flamboyant slams, he must use impeccable technique to avoid being sucked into a submission by Ortega. On the feet, Swanson must diversify his strikes, confusing Ortega by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at him. Swanson has shown lapses in his striking against Holloway and Lobov, but will most likely hold the advantage on the feet. Ortega is always game to scrap, but must stay composed against Cub and not to let Cub rattle him like Renato Moicano did during round two of their UFC 214 fight (which Ortega won by submission). As Ortega is very young and always improving, he will come in with new weapons and a stronger mental state. Ortega needs to recognize when things are not going his way with pure boxing and put the pressure on Swanson, threatening with knees and level change takedowns. Ultimately, the odds accurately reflect how the fight may play out as this is anybody’s game. Because Cub has more experience and will execute his gameplan, I would lean towards him, but don’t be surprised if Ortega pulls out another highlight to add to his reel.
Jason Knight (-315) vs Gabriel Benitez (+245)
Jason Knight is opening up as a sizable favorite over Gabriel Benitez. Both fighters are coming off losses and will be hungry to get back into the win category. Knight is coming off a TKO loss to well established Ricardo Lamas in a fight that displayed his toughness and heart, taking a massive beating before eventually succumbing to punches. The young gun from Mississippi has a very strong ground game, winning fights by Von Flue, gogoplata, and omoplata, and has shown nice striking performances against the likes of Chas Skelly and Dan Hooker. Gabriel Benitez is a striker looking to unseat Jason Knight and enter the top fifteen. Benitez is coming off a loss where he was outworked by Enrique Barzola. Benitez often finds himself with his back to the cage and has weak takedown defense. As an AKA team member he will have solid foundational striking, but I believe the pressure and grappling, both wrestling and BJJ, of Knight will be too much for Benitez to handle. This is a solid bet to take and I am very sure Knight will get the win.
Marlon Moraes (-150) vs. Aljamain Sterling (+120)
Marlon Moraes attempts to become the bantamweight Donald Cerrone as he takes on Serra-Longo standout Aljamain Sterling just one month after fighting in Virginia. Sterling is coming off a convincing win over former champ Renan Barao in what was mostly a display of his elite ground skills. His only losses are split decisions to the most skilled at 135, Assuncao and Caraway. Marlon Moraes won a razor close decision against John Dodson last month, arguably tapping out Dodson with a fluid guillotine choke at the end of the fight. Moraes was dominant in WSOF as defending bantamweight champ, with two of his title defenses ending by some sort of kick. Moraes is a more brisk striker with whiplike kicks, but Aljamain Sterling most likely has an advantage on the ground. While Moraes did not take all that much damage in his fight with Dodson, I don’t know what state his body will be in after fighting just one month later. Sterling is weak against pressure wrestlers like Caraway, which is not Moraes’s style , but I think the ground skills are comparable enough to give Moraes the nod. However, this fight really could go either way, so bet in low amounts, on Sterling (bigger reward for close fight), or not at all.
Scott Holtzman (-125) vs Darrell Horcher (-105)
An under the radar fight is happening between two relatively unknown fighters, Scott Holtzman and Darrell Horcher. Holtzman is a strong, well-rounded fighter who has gone 2-2 in the Octagon. Darrell Horcher is making the walk for the third time and is most famous for being beaten like a cheap drum against Russian predator Khabib Nurmagomedov. Horcher is a tough, wrestler type who likes to grind people up against the fence. Interestingly, this exact style cost Holtzman the fight against Josh Emmett. Holtzman will look to stay on the outside and outstrike Horcher. I would actually bet on Holtzman in this fight (not that anyone will bet on this filler fight at all) as he is the slight underdog with an equal chance to win.
Eryk Anders (-300) vs. Markus Perez (+230)
Knockout artist and former pro football player Eryk “Ya Boi” Anders will take on Markus Perez, who is making his promotional debut. Eryk Anders is riding high off a nuclear knockout of Rafael Natal, effectively retiring the Brazilian. Markus Perez is a small but crafty middleweight who won his UFC contract with a rare arm triangle choke from the guard. It is hard to say how these guys will match up as they are both new to this game, but the oddsmakers seem to favor Anders, so it makes sense for me to follow suit and pick him for the win.
Albert Morales (-115) vs Benito Lopez (-115)
This is a fight that is definitely going to be a barnburner, particularly because of the wild striker Benito Lopez. Benito Lopez drew attention for his unbelievable war during Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Lopez’s flying knees were like he had a jetpack on and he was swinging until the very end. His performance left Dana awestruck and Lopez was praised by his Team Alpha Male teammates Cody Garbrandt, Danny Castillo, and Urijah Faber. Albert Morales is a high level BJJ fighter under Carlson Gracie, but has experienced a rocky start to his UFC career, going 1-2-1 in the UFC. Morales can’t seem to put it together and is probably on the verge of being cut. His weaknesses play into Lopez’s strengths, so I would make a tentative bet on Lopez.