Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega headlines UFC 231 this December 8, 2018 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
One sentence summary
David: There’s no blessed flesh in this tormented city.
Phil:That uniquely MMA feeling of excitement, anticipation, and the nagging sensation that you might just be enabling something awful
Record: Max Holloway 19-3 |Brian Ortega 14-0-1 NC
Odds: Max Holloway -110 | Brian Ortega -110
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: The cage life couldn’t be more kind to Max Holloway. At least inside the cage. He’s on an improbable 12-fight winning streak. His last three victories are over Anthony Pettis, Jose Aldo, and Jose Aldo: all by TKO. At 27 years of age, Holloway’s story would normally be one about the rising tide. Instead people are dissecting whether his short notice weight cut and concussion-like symptoms that pulled him out of two fights indicate punch drunkness. It’s a lot of hot air in a sport defined by hot air, but the fact remains: Holloway is 27 years old, and hasn’t been beaten in the cage in 5 years.
Phil: I mentioned this on the latest Heavy Hands, but it’s hard to think of a modern champion (hell, even a fighter) who’s more in love with where they are and what they’re doing than Max Holloway. Witness him coming down to fight Jose Aldo draped in the Hawaiian flag, looking like he’s feeling absolutely none of the pressure of a man in his first title defense, against an all-time great, no less. Watch him get clipped by an Aldo leaping uppercut and nod, and applaud Aldo’s efforts without an ounce of malice. He took one of the toughest possible roads to the belt, and once he won it he tried to go up to fight Khabib on short notice. For courage, guts and sheer joy you don’t get much better than Max Holloway. That is I think why the spectre of those as-yet-unexplained symptoms hangs so heavy. If wiry, indefatigable, it-is-what-it-is Max Holloway can’t make it past his 20s without picking up something life-changing, then what hope for this sport?
David: Brian Ortega’s rise has been steady and a little slow-going (mostly because this is often what happens in his fights). But he’s functionally undefeated and he’s only getting better. Ortega’s been a modest mystery during his UFC tenure. His fights with Brandao, Guida, and Moicano were good but nothing special. Then he just comes out and blitzes Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar. Is he trending up, or does the buck stop here?
Phil: Ortega is a fascinating paradox: both better and worse than he should be. If you look at his resume, it’s tremendously impressive. The Moicano win has aged incredibly well, and Frankie Edgar has proven that he remains an elite fighter. Cub Swanson is still Cub Swanson, and Clay Guida... ok, maybe he’s not quite Clay Guida any more. To not only beat but to finish all these men is truly spectacular. On the other hand, there’s the fact that he wasn’t really winning many of those fights also seems like it has to count for something. Essentially we’ve seen rapid improvement which has almost exactly matched a rising quality of competition. Other than that, he’s another affable, photogenic, confident and athletic young fighter, the kind which the UFC probably wouldn’t be too disappointed to see take the featherweight strap.
What’s at stake?
David: The usual: golden marbles. Except here it’s about more than gold, but whether striking is about more than striking, and grappling about more than grappling.
Phil: Here is my response to that link: aaaaaaaaa.
Where do they want it?
David: One of the things Holloway does so brilliantly that other fighters don’t is knowing when to sustain an attack. Some fighters seem all too willing to play into the archetype people think of them as. A brawler will extend an attack long after the attack is likely to overstay its welcome. A grappler might conceal an attack that is likely to get them punished for being too reactive. And so forth. Holloway sustains offense without getting too exuberant, or too passive. He just chains the damn thing robotically, but effectively. That one-two-one-two finish against Aldo is an all-timer, and a great encapsulation of what his offense is able to do. Most fighters would have reset for bigger bombs, led with a takedown, or admired their work. Holloway just works. It obviously helps that the dude is just tough. You won’t be able to name many fighters who could just eat shots from Conor McGregor all day, but Holloway did (for better or worse).
Phil: Combined with one of the best chins we’ve ever seen in the sport, Holloway has that innate sense of when to bang and when to play the technician; when to fight from the outside and when to crush the opponent against the fence. Since he was a teenager in the UFC, he’s had a game which fit together, with pieces which played off one another: the spinning back kick, the big right overhand and the looping left to the body. In the years since it has cohered into something impressively seamless. Holloway has become one of the best lateral movers in the sport, able to diffuse strikes by taking small angles and then peppering opponents with jabs, one-twos and generous helpings of befuddling feints to draw out return fire. He hasn’t been taken down since he fought Conor McGregor, and hasn’t lost a fight since then either. Within the many gears he’s developed, he can fight as a stance switching dervish who can pound in leg and body kicks, or he can just play the probing, orthodox boxer.
David: So far, Ortega’s best threat has been his grappling. He’s the rare animal that still threatens from the guard like the good ‘ole days. His seven submission wins betray what makes him dangerous though. Yea, I can watch that midflight readjustment of the guillotine he slapped on Cub all day, but Ortega is much more than that. In recent years, his striking has been on full display, and there’s almost AS MUCH to talk about. Like Holloway, Ortega is just highly durable. This is something you simply either have or you don’t. It never occured to me until the Renato Moicano fight. Both guys were just slugging away with bombs, and Ortega never seemed phased or disinteresting in keeping the fight a bloodbath. It’ll be a submission win on his resume, but the real cause was body-head boxing. Ortega is not a crisp puncher (don’t tell Edgar that) per se. He’s just a very percussive one. He thuds away with excellent fundamentals, and quality timing. Needless to say, UFC 231 has the best one-two punch of main event fight acumen we’ve seen in years (and probably for some time).
Phil: Ortega’s durability has really been his most useful weapon. Like Holloway, sheer durability has allowed him to generate a nuanced game relatively early- Ortega is rarely particularly concerned with what is coming back at him, and is almost entirely focused on what he can do to his opponent. He might have been down two rounds to Clay Guida, but he kept Guida’s head dipping with the jab until the wrestler ran right into a jump knee. His eyes for shots are excellent, as are his instincts for how opponents respond to them. In this way, he’s somewhat of an archetype of MMA “tall man” boxing: using the launchpad of the jab to manipulate the opponent into step-knees (Guida), uppercuts (Edgar) and of course the snap down and headlock series that he loves (Swanson). That boxing itself has become far more nuanced over time: you can see him taking smaller steps, parrying shots and slipping return fire, while always attempting to keep himself in position to land his own punches. As fights go on, these tend to become more diverse, and along with Holloway he is one of the premier body punchers in the division.
Insight from past fights
David: Ortega hasn’t had a chance to deal with much in the way of technical strikers. Edgar has great fundamentals, but he’s not dangerous. Moicano is dangerous, but doesn’t have great fundamentals. Holloway is both of those, so it’ll be interesting to see how he deals with offense that isn’t either predictable, or soft. So far my problem with Ortega is that he’s so confident on the feet that he gets drawn into exchanges more than necessary. It’s not the worst thing: he can take a shot, keeps on ticking, and can give it right back. Plus: as good as Holloway’s chin is, he’s hittable, and anyone who’s hittable can still get got. But how will his defense look over a sequenced assault rather than just one punch at a time?
Phil: Ortega’s boxing has improved in many ways, but there is one area which Holloway is sure to test him which few others have, and that is lateral movement. For all Edgar’s constant circling, his approach is traditionally a blitz. This isn’t criticism, as such: it kind of has to cover the distance against titans like Ortega. Holloway is not going to be playing an in-out game as such as he’ll be playing a side-to-side one. Can Ortega plant to throw his combinations while dealing with someone who is constantly drifting off to an angle?
David: I mean, this section is always a joke on stretching logic, and abandoning facts, so with that in mind I don’t think you need a 12 second clip of Holloway experiencing wordbag syndrome for a few seconds to know that chins have a shelf life. Besides, sordbag wyndrome is a perious sroblem. I’ve tad it for rears.
Phil: It’s the only one, and it’s a big one. I suspect both guys aren’t going to be in this division for many years, but both appear to have made weight, so that’s good...?
David: Like the co-main, this fight is hyper-competitive. Holloway shouldn’t have too much trouble avoiding the ground as he has stout takedown defense, and is actively good on the ground anyway. The reason I’m picking against my better judgment (Holloway to win) is that Ortega has gotten exponentially better in areas he’ll benefit from against Holloway. It wasn’t the most creative sequence, but just bombing Edgar out like that is not something he was capable of even just a year ago. I also like Ortega’s durability: especially if he’s able to land body shots throughout the fight. So I’m going with gut instinct on this one. Brian Ortega by Split Decision.
Phil: I feel like this is a fight where Holloway will get to use his weapons more than Ortega can use his. Holloway is traditionally fairly upright, and stays away from the exaggerated slips and rolls of a Swanson, Guida or Edgar, so a lot of Ortega’s snap-down / knee / uppercut tricks will be found wanting. Instead, it should be more like the Moicano fight, but with Holloway more willing to pivot and throw, and open up with his kicks. Ortega’s durability and eye for offense will keep him in the fight, but the Blessed Era will remain in effect. Max Holloway by unanimous decision.