UFC Fight Night 123 on Saturday marked the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first-ever event in Fresno, California, and gave rise to a number of exciting fights, saw new blood entering the ranks of the elite and bore witness to an instant “Knockout of the Year” contender. With those highlights as the backdrop, it seems safe to assume this will not be the last time the UFC visits the Central Valley. In the headliner, Brian Ortega walked in as a promising up-and-comer and walked out as a full-fledged title contender in a division filled with bona fide killers.
A Future Star Shines Brightest
The main event between Ortega and Cub Swanson was a high-stakes confrontation for both men. Swanson went into the match having won four fights in a row and made it a point to declare he was looking to secure a title shot with a win over “T-City.” To make matters even dicier, it was the final fight on Swanson’s contract. He felt confident letting it all play out before entering into negotiations with the UFC. Known as an exciting finisher throughout his career, Swanson wanted to let his performance in the cage do the talking.
Ortega entered his first UFC main event on a four-fight winning streak of his own, having finished all four of his opponents along the way. He was looking to prove he could contend with the elite fighters at 145 pounds. Ortega passed his toughest test to date, as he submitted Swanson with a second-round guillotine choke that had the crowd at the Save Mart Center in an absolute uproar.
The first round played out favorably for Swanson. He stood on the outside, using his speed and experience to mix strikes to the head and body, all while avoiding the clinch and staying out of Ortega’s preferred range. Out of nowhere, Ortega clamped down on the Jackson-Wink MMA vet’s neck and rolled into a brabo choke. Only the bell saved Swanson from being submitted.
The second round started much like the first, with Swanson utilizing smart and economical strikes to stay on the outside and pepper the former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion with straight shots and quick leg kicks. Ortega eventually pushed Swanson to the fence and traded knees before snapping down on an arm-in guillotine. Swanson remained standing and attempted to shake off the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu black belt, but Ortega defied gravity, readjusted his grip and forced the tap.
The result moved Ortega one step closer to the top of the UFC featherweight division and sent Swanson into free agency with a little less confidence.
Violence in the Valley
Gabriel Benitez and Jason Knight went into their featherweight co-main event on the rebound from recent losses. Benitez proved to be a step ahead throughout, frustrating “Hick Diaz” with cleaner, more consistent standup. The American Kickboxing Academy rep excelled with his boxing, scored from a distance and stuffed all but one of Knight’s attempted takedowns. Knight was deducted a point in the first round after he bit Benitez’s finger while clinching against the cage. He never looked the same after the penalty and became more and more frustrated as the fight wore on. Benitez improved to 4-2 in the UFC with the unanimous decision.
Meanwhile, Marlon Moraes stepped into the Octagon for the second time in 28 days to take on fellow top-10 bantamweight Aljamain Sterling on short notice. The opportunity worked in Moraes’ favor, as he knocked out Sterling with a brutal knee strike that seems sure to contend for “Knockout of the Year” honors. Afterward, the former World Series of Fighting champion remained humble in victory, wishing Sterling well as he was carried out on a stretcher. The win moved Moraes to 2-1 in the UFC and allowed him to create further distance between himself and a controversial loss to Raphael Assuncao in his organizational debut.
Elsewhere, Scott Holtzman picked up his second straight win and took home a gritty unanimous decision over Darrell Horcher at 155 pounds. Holtzman’s grappling prowess proved to be his safety net, as he took down Horcher with well-timed trips, controlled the action by landing hard shots from guard and refused to let the onetime Cage Fury Fighting Championships titleholder escape to his feet. Horcher found moments of success while standing, but Holtzman’s chin weathered the storms and allowed him to get back to his comfort zone on the ground.
Former University of Alabama linebacker Eryk Anders kept his undefeated record intact, as he took a lopsided decision over UFC newcomer Markus Perez. Anders showed more layers to his game, dominating the fight with crushing ground-and-pound ... Benito Lopez picked up his first UFC win after graduating from Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender series, leaving the cage with a unanimous verdict against Albert Morales. Lopez dropped Morales with a flying knee early in the first round and snatched a mounted guillotine, but he was unable to finish. The remainder of the fight played out on the feet, where Lopez stayed a step ahead ... Alexis Davis was awarded a split decision over Liz Carmouche in a back-and-forth brawl at 125 pounds. Davis leaned into her experience on the mat, nearly locking in an armbar at the end of the first round ... Andre Soukhamthath recorded his first UFC victory by taking out Luke Sanders in a first-round technical knockout. Soukhamthath landed a crushing right hook during a wild exchange that sent his counterpart crashing to the canvas. There, Sanders was met with ferocious ground-and-pound until referee Josh Rosenthal stepped in and called off the fight.