FN 123 had a surprising amount of fun fights and vicious finishes. Here are some of the highlights of an interesting card in Fresno:
The Benito Lopez/Morales fight was phenomenal. At first. Lopez opened up the fight with a massive head kick which definitely woke up Morales. Morales followed up with an straight punch that stunned Lopez. Lopez then went crazy with a flurry of flying knees, dropping Morales to the canvas. Lopez tried to lock in a guillotine instead of just pounding him out, which was the decision that led to his undoing (in my eyes). Morales spent the rest of the fight out working Lopez and realistically should have won the decision as he landed the better shots in rounds two and three. Morales was not going for the finish and mainly kept to basic combinations, while Lopez was trying to finish the fight. In the future, Lopez needs to use his flashy attacks more sporadically and stick to more high percentage striking. Great things can come from Benito Lopez as he is very young, but his overall game needs quite a bit of polishing.
The Perez/Anders fight was an entertaining beatdown of a very odd fighter. Perez was landing good shots in round one, but was obliterated in rounds two and three due to his waning cardio, strength disadvantage, and atrocious fighting style. Perez kept ducking into Anders shots and did not fully commit to any punch or takedown, preferring to throw crazy spinning shots that had no chance of landing. It’s almost as if in his mind he thought he was a variation of Dominick Cruz, when in actuality he moved like he was drunk or was an inflatable tube man at a used car lot. Perez is not unskilled, but needs to fight more defensively and conserve his energy. Anders looked pretty good overall and should mainly just work on his boxing accuracy. I do think Anders/Machida would be an interesting fight, but Machida would really need to mind his P’s and Q’s against the powerful Anders.
There is not much to say about the Horcher/Holtzman fight itself as it was pretty boring. Holtzman used his superior strength to just outwrestle Horcher and earn an easy unanimous decision win. Horcher’s corner was about as useful as a heater in the Sahara desert. Phrases like “get up” or “ come on” don’t provide the technical advice needed to get a fighter out of tough situations. You would think Horcher would know he needs to get up after he was taken down. Beltran as a referee was absolutely awful. I have never seen so many bad stand ups, especially out of dominant positions like mount. If he spent less time on his beard and more time understanding positional control, he might be a decent referee.
The knockout of Aljamain Sterling was something of a fluke as Sterling was going for a takedown while Moraes threw a kick, not an intentional knee, but it would not have changed the result had it not happened. Moraes looked extremely sharp as he rocked Sterling early in the fight. Sterling attempted to throw up a few submissions, but Moraes had the jiu jitsu knowledge to avoid those attempts. Sterling was out for several minutes after the knee and was completely decimated by the objectively better fighter. This places Moraes at the very top of the heap and probably one fight away from a title shot. He could fight the Rivera/Lineker winner, but I actually prefer Moraes/Garbrandt. Their exciting stand up styles as boxer and kickboxer respectively could make for a riveting fight that will probably end by knockout. The sky is the limit with Moraes and I am excited to see what happens next. Sterling, however, needs to go back to the drawing board and rectify his stand up flaws. He has plenty of time to do so and has training partners at Serra/Longo who will make him come back stronger.
The Knight/Benitez fight was frustrating to watch from both men. Jason Knight had a terrible performance as it seemed that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. He pulled a Mike Tyson early in the fight by biting Benitez which resulted in a point taken away. This discouraged Knight for the rest of the fight and Benitez really seemed to be milking another foul with eye poke complaints. Knight was baffled by Benitez’s stick and move style and did not know when to pull the trigger. He could not take Benitez down effectively, but he was offensive off of his back on the few occasions they were on the ground using the rubber guard and tenth planet techniques. To top it off, Knight seemed to have issues with his nose during the fight as I noticed him fiddling with it every couple of seconds. Benitez was not creating a fun fight has he completely avoided the finish that he could have gotten against a diminished opponent, opting to dance instead like a featherweight Elias Theodorou. Both men could have done better (especially Knight), but I think they did not match up well with each other and may have more exciting fights with different opponents.
The main event was everything I could have hoped for and then some. The fight showed off the skills of both fighters, but it was T-City who came out on top. Throughout most of the fight, Cub was solidly out-boxing Ortega, landing crisp combinations to the body. However, we saw a more cautious Cub in this fight than in years past, with him abandoning his spinning attacks, leg kicks, and throws. This allowed Ortega to understand Cub’s boxing and he was able to defend well while landing shots of his own. Ortega chose a catch wrestling/snap style of jiu jitsu popularized by Tony Ferguson over your run of the mill double leg and was tremendously close to finishing Swanson in the first round with a sneaky anaconda choke. He eventually got the job done in the second round, snapping Cub’s head down in the clinch and finishing him with a arm-in guillotine in the air. This was impressive for several reasons. One, Cub really didn’t do anything technically wrong. He dipped his head for a fraction of a second, but that’s all the Rener Gracie black belt needed to secure the choke. Swanson is stronger than Ortega and must have known Brian was going to try that move again in the second round, so I was really surprised at Ortega’s grip strength and how he was able to control Swanson in the clinch. The submission itself was almost impossible and should be runner up for Submission of the Year behind Demetrious Johnson’s armbar over Ray Borg. The fact that he was able to adjust while hanging on to Cub like a monkey, letting go of his neck at one point holding on with just his legs, showed how dangerous he is if you are in any sort of grappling situation. I firmly believe he is one of the most talented jiu-jitsu fighters in the UFC, possessing a mastery and intuition about jiu-jitsu that I haven’t seen since Royce Gracie or BJ Penn. Brian Ortega was put on this planet to do jiu-jitsu. I think Ortega should fight one more time before the title against the Korean Zombie, but I believe he would give Max or Frankie a tough fight. He is the cardio and boxing to last against Max and the hazardous guard to negate Frankie’s ground and pound. While the “street guy with a heart of gold” archetype may be cheesy or played out, his positive attitude and exciting fights will make him a fan favorite. Ortega is a breath of fresh air in a sport filled with trash talking fighters (cough, cough, Colby Covington) and I have a feeling he will hold UFC gold one day.