Swanson has been on a tear in his past few trips to the Octagon, including a Fight of the Year performance against Dooho Choi last year. Now Swanson hopes to secure his spot as the No. 1 contender in the division with a win on Saturday night.
Ortega will attempt to stop him while putting himself into a similar position after reeling off four straight wins in the UFC, with all of them ending by way of submission or knockout.
Also on the card, always exciting featherweight contender Jason Knight is back in action against Gabriel Benitez, while top 10-ranked bantamweights Marlon Moraes and Aljamain Sterling face off in a pivotal matchup at 135 pounds. On the preliminary card, a pair of former women's bantamweight title contenders will square off at 125 pounds, as Alexis Davis meets Liz Carmouche.
In today's fantasy preview, we'll examine these fights and several more to see who has the edge going into Saturday night and if somebody might be primed for an upset at UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Ortega.
These are the fights that are just too close to call, but a few minor differences between favorite and underdog could lead one fighter to victory and the other to defeat.
Cub Swanson vs. Brian Ortega
On paper, the main event looks like a classic striker versus grappler matchup, with Cub Swanson being a hard-hitting knockout artist while Brian Ortega comes from an extensive grappling background where he's a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The reality is that this fight goes much deeper than that, but like an onion you have to peel back a few layers to get there.
Ortega has certainly joined the UFC roster with an impressive background in BJJ, but he's also earned a pair of knockouts in his first four wins inside the Octagon. Where Ortega excels on the ground is when he gets caught in a scramble with an opponent or when he hurts someone on the feet and then finishes the fight on the mat. Ortega has barely attempted takedowns during his UFC career, so he's much more dependent on capitalizing on his opponents' mistakes rather than trying to force the action to the ground. That could put Ortega in some danger this weekend because Swanson might be a high-octane striker, but he's not apt to allow many openings, even when throwing his biggest combinations.
Swanson is one of the best strikers in the featherweight division, with a long reach and serious power. Swanson actually averages more than four significant strikes landed per minute, so he's also got volume on his side and he rarely swings and misses, with more than 50 percent of his shots finding a target. Swanson is no slouch on the ground, but it's likely he'll avoid the ground game in this fight outside of dodging any submission attempts that Ortega may throw at him.
Now obviously Swanson has to be careful with some of his powerful punches because that could leave an opening for Ortega to swoop in and drag him to the ground. Ortega's the kind of grappler who is just waiting for that one opening to take advantage, so Swanson has to be careful with everything he throws in this fight. Still, Swanson's power punching and ability to avoid damage is much better than that of Ortega, who absorbs nearly two more strikes per minute than his opponent.
That all adds up to Swanson pouring on the punishment over five rounds, but he can't take his foot off the gas, as Ortega has already proven he can go deep into the fight, with all four of UFC finishes coming in the third round. Swanson just has to stick and move while hitting Ortega with his best punches, and he should be able to do more than enough damage to win this main event fight.
Prediction: Cub Swanson by unanimous decision
Scott Holtzman vs. Darrell Horcher
In a sleeper pick for Fight of the Night, expect Scott Holtzman and Darrell Horcher to put on a show Saturday night.
These two lightweights are both high-volume strikers who can pack a ton of power behind every punch. Thus far in his UFC career, Holtzman has faced some ups and downs with a 3-2 record, but he's definitely shown flashes of brilliance inside the Octagon. As for Horcher, he had the unenviable task of facing Khabib Nurmagomedov on short notice in his debut but then bounced back from a horrific motorcycle accident to defeat Devin Powell in his return fight earlier this year.
As far as this matchup goes, the fight really comes down to output and defense.
Holtzman has been a much more active fighter on his feet, landing more than four significant strikes per minute since joining the UFC roster. He's also landing with nearly 50 percent accuracy through five fights. He's had some problems defensively during his UFC career, which is where he has to be careful because Horcher hits hard and doesn't shy away from biting down on his mouthpiece and swinging for the fences.
Horcher has to be careful not to get drawn into a volume striking game because that's one area he's lacking in when compared to Holtzman. It also doesn't bode well for Horcher that defensively he's taken a ton of punishment through two fights inside the Octagon. That being said, Horcher has been able to take a punch to give a punch and he hits with a lot of power. He'll also enjoy a three-inch reach advantage as well, so keeping Holtzman on the end of his punches could be a great weapon for Horcher during these exchanges.
The key for Holtzman is to really push the pace in this fight and put the pressure on Horcher with his striking attacks as well as mixing in takedowns. If he does both of those things without allowing Horcher to control the distance, Holtzman should be able to outwork him over three rounds to get the win.
Prediction: Scott Holtzman by unanimous decision
Alexis Davis vs. Liz Carmouche
In a rematch from 2013, Alexis Davis and Liz Carmouche meet again as both of them debut in the newly-minted UFC women's flyweight division. The last fight between them took place four years ago so it's tough to compare what happened back then to what's about to go on Saturday night, but there are some lessons to be learned from that three-round battle.
First and foremost, Davis was able to control the pace of the fight with her incredible clinch work as she punished Carmouche and bloodied her early on while pressing the action against the cage repeatedly. Davis is a world-class grappler and, as good as Carmouche can be on the ground, she doesn’t want to just get locked up with her in that position over and over again this time.
Instead, Carmouche would be wise to use her speed and power to counter Davis and perhaps look for a takedown of her own where she could land on top. Davis is a very crafty submission specialist, but Carmouche hits like a truck and if she can be the aggressor and put the fight on the mat, she might be able to do some damage while launching a heavy ground-and-pound attack.
On the flipside, Davis is as tough as they come in the UFC and while she may not have the most technical striking in the world, she has no problem throwing hands when the situation calls for it. That being said, Davis is one of the best grapplers in the world, with high-level takedowns and a control game on the ground that is virtually unmatched. The absolute last place Carmouche wants to be in this fight is on her back with Davis raining down shots from above or looking for a submission from the top.
If that's where Carmouche ends up, she's in a lot of trouble, and considering Davis has already felt her power before in an even bigger weight class, it's likely she'll have no problem getting inside and either winning in the clinch again or putting on a clinic if she can take this fight to the ground.
Prediction: Alexis Davis by unanimous decision
These are the fights that appear to be a little more one-sided, but remember that this is MMA, where anything can - and usually does - happen.
Jason Knight vs. Gabriel Benitez
Scrappy featherweight Jason Knight looks to bounce back from a loss in his last fight as he takes on former Ultimate Fighter Latin America competitor Gabriel Benitez.
Since joining the UFC roster after the reality show, Benitez has definitely shown a ton of improvement, especially working alongside the coaches and fighters at American Kickboxing Academy. Benitez has pulled off a few surprising submissions during his career, including a pair of those inside the Octagon. Benitez is tough as nails but he'll need to be when facing someone as dangerous as Knight.
At his best, Knight is one of the toughest matchups in the featherweight division because he's tall, hits hard and has an incredible grappling game. Knight's attitude inside the Octagon is very much like the Diaz brothers, where he'll step forward with his striking combinations until he forces the fight to the ground, where he's wrapped up a number of slick submissions. Knight is very well rounded, averaging just under four significant strikes per minutes and nearly two takedowns per fight with a very high output on the ground from his submission arsenal.
That's where things get very dangerous for Benitez if he ends up on the ground in a grappling exchange with Knight. Those are the moments with Knight feasts on his opponent and it's tough to pick against him doing the same in this matchup.
Prediction: Jason Knight by submission, Round 2
Luke Sanders vs. Andre Soukhamthath
Luke Sanders attempts to get back in the win column after his first career loss this weekend as he faces late notice replacement Andre Soukhamthath after originally being matched up against Bryan Caraway.
Sanders is a high output athlete with good wrestling and control on the ground while also landing with very good volume on the feet. Sanders is tenacious and doesn't really slow down much from the first round until the last. He's a very versatile fighter who likes to break his opponents with pressure as much as he does with any punch or submission.
Soukhamthath has come out on the wrong end of two split decisions since joining the UFC roster, so he definitely knows how to stick around in fights but he just hasn’t been able to separate himself from the competition just yet. Soukhamthath is definitely a striker first, but he has shown good takedown defense through his first pair of fights in the UFC. Soukhamthath will enjoy a three-inch height and reach advantage in this matchup so he'd be well served to use that weapon to his advantage by trying to keep Sanders at the end of his punches.
Unfortunately for Soukhamthath, that's going to be awfully tough over three rounds as Sanders will likely pursue him around the Octagon, either trying to put together combinations on the feet or digging inside to get the fight to the ground. Either way, Sanders' output over three rounds should be more than enough for him to earn the victory on Saturday night.
Prediction: Luke Sanders by unanimous decision
Eryk Anders vs. Markus Perez
After an impressive UFC debut, former University of Alabama football standout Eryk Anders will look to go 2-0 when he faces fellow undefeated prospect Markus Perez.
Now Perez is no slouch, so he's definitely got a chance to pull off the upset, as he hits hard and has a wide range of submissions under his belt to use in this fight. Perez has also faced some stiff competition outside the UFC including fights against Octagon veterans such as Paulo Thiago and Ildemar Alcantara. Perez is well rounded and definitely seems like a top-rated prospect to join the UFC roster.
Perez may have just drawn the short straw, however, when it came to opponents for his debut, as Anders might be one of the best up and coming talents to join the UFC recently. Anders is an excellent athlete, so he's got a ton of natural ability, but he's also worked hard to become a complete mixed martial artist. Anders was undefeated as an amateur before turning professional, where he's racked up nine straight wins, including a devastating knockout against UFC veteran Rafael Natal in his debut. Anders looks like the kind of fighter who could one day come knocking on the door of the top 10 rankings, and that's what he'll attempt to showcase again this weekend.
Perez won't go away easy but his tendency to get into exchanges with his opponents on the feet might come back to bite him this time around when Anders comes forward, swinging his hammers looking for the knockout.
Prediction: Eryk Anders by knockout, Round 2
Aljamain Sterling vs. Marlon Moraes
Following a recent win over John Dodson, Marlon Moraes stepped into this short notice fight against Aljamain Sterling before being rated as the favorite in this bantamweight showdown.
Of course, Moraes has earned his spot as one of the hardest hitting and most dangerous 135-pound fighters in the world. Moraes is a kickboxing nightmare with incredibly fast hands and feet, and he also hits with precision and power. Moraes definitely has a ground game to match, although he doesn't show that nearly as frequently, but training alongside fighters such as Frankie Edgar every day, he's got wrestling and takedown defense in his back pocket.
On the feet, it definitely seems like Moraes will have the advantage, but there are areas where Sterling could catch him and that's why he remains a solid pick for the upset.
Sterling has worked tirelessly to bring his striking game up to the same level where he's at grappling while coming up under former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra. Sterling actually averages a higher output of shots landed per minute than Moraes and he's shown much better accuracy as well. Sterling will also enjoy a four-inch reach advantage, which could help him to land a few stinging counter shots any time Moraes pushes forward.
Where Sterling also has an advantage is by mixing things up and grabbing on to the clinch or just looking for the takedown during this fight. The threat of taking this fight to the ground could be enough for Sterling to negate Moraes' kicks, which are one of his best and most dangerous weapons. Sterling's ability to keep Moraes guessing is really the key to his victory, but if he can do that with solid, technical striking and a few takedowns as well, he could pull off the victory on Saturday night.
Prediction: Aljamain Sterling by unanimous decision