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The main event for UFC 231 does not disappoint in terms of excitement and name value. After vanquishing the division’s longstanding champion, Jose Aldo, the new featherweight kingpin, Max “Blessed” Holloway, looks to cement his legacy against lethal jiu-jitsu player and spectacular finisher, Brian “T-City” Ortega.
The New King in Town
When Holloway entered the UFC as a green 20-year-old, there was no indication of the greatness to come. Defeating lower level competition and losing to good opponents, it was clear Holloway belonged in the UFC - but few thought he would be destined for title contention. After getting outgunned in 2013 by the biggest celebrity in combat sports, Conor Mcgregor, Holloway embarked on a winning streak that would eventually see him defeat the division’s dominant champion, Jose Aldo, in back-to-back fights. During his 12 fight winning rampage, Holloway’s improvements have been awe-inspiring.
Holloway’s relentless pace, iron chin, and devastating striking combinations have been too much for his opponents to deal with. In a case study of expert game planning, Holloway forced Aldo to work at a pace he wasn’t comfortable with, dragging the Brazilian striker into deep water and drowning him with an onslaught in the third round of both fights.
Holloway’s counter-wrestling is excellent. When Ricardo Lamas was deep on a single-leg takedown, Holloway showed remarkable poise to keep the fight standing. Holloway also had no problems stuffing takedowns against a lesser wrestler in Anthony Pettis.
MMA’s Most Remarkable Finisher
When trying to handicap a fight based on skills, styles and the law of averages - everything goes out the window when Brian Ortega is competing. He has the rare ability to lose large periods of fights, yet always rallies to finish his foes. Ortega has finished all 7 of his UFC opponents thus far.
"T-City" is the most deadly opportunist submission artist in the UFC. You are in danger any time you tie up with him, whether on the mat or even in a standing position - as Cub Swanson found out. While his jiu-jitsu is flawless, he’s not a great wrestler, and his striking is a level or two below the elite of the division. On paper, Ortega isn’t the type of fighter you’d expect to be a title challenger in modern MMA - but his record says otherwise.
Can Ortega continue to give rounds away only to score another miracle comeback victory, or will his momentum grind to a halt against the best fighter in the division?
Excellent Fighter vs. Excellent Finisher
Stylistically, Ortega’s paths to victory seem unlikely. Despite being outlanded for the duration of the first round, Ortega finished high-paced wrestle-boxer, Frankie Edgar, with a well-timed elbow followed by a destructive uppercut. Against Cub Swanson, Ortega was also outclassed on the feet before locking in a guillotine during a clinch exchange.
If the fight stays standing, I’m convinced Holloway will dominate. Even if Ortega does land a haymaker, Holloway has an incredible chin. If he can eat a flush uppercut from Jose Aldo without wobbling, I think he can handle anything Ortega dishes out. Swanson was able to rip the body effectively against Ortega and we know that body shots are a part of Holloway’s striking arsenal too.
Holloway is in deep trouble if he ends up on his back, but I don’t think Ortega has the wrestling acumen to put him there. It’s possible Ortega could lock in a submission from a standing position, but I think the Hawaiian will be too savvy to fall for that. Likewise, I can’t see Holloway dropping Ortega and being foolish enough to get caught in a submission while following an injured opponent to the mat.
If you like Ortega, I’d consider playing his submission line because I struggle to envision him winning rounds on the cards or landing a knockout blow. Even though there are concerns surrounding the Hawaiian's health and ability to make weight, my money is still with Max Holloway who I believe will go down as one of the most dominant champions in UFC history.
The ‘Blessed Era’ Continues.
Updated 12/6 at 11:45am EDT
Discussions about Holloway's health have been endless, but he looked fine during fight week and made championship weight on Friday. I also think he looked better than usual on the scales. I'm sticking with my original pick and I believe the Hawaiian will remain victorious on Saturday night. You can check out my other betting predictions for UFC 231 here.
Pick: Max Holloway -110
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