Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look ahead to the main event of UFC 231 as Max Holloway takes on undefeated Brian Ortega in a highly anticipated featherweight title fight.
Max Holloway (Record: 19-3, -120 Favorite, Power Ranking: A+)
The Hawaiian born fighter has been on a meteoric rise in the featherweight division. The champion has won twelve consecutive fights in the UFC and has the second longest active winning streak in the promotion trailing just Georges St. Pierre. Holloway unified the featherweight championship when he dropped Aldo in the third round and forced the referee to stop the bout as he unleashed unanswered ground and pound. He followed that up with another knockout win over Aldo to show true command over the division. Holloway has been out for an extended period of time as he suffered from concussion symptoms. This will be his first bout since December 2017.
The 27-year-old Holloway has been on a heck of a run beating two of the best fighters of the first half of this decade in Jose Aldo and Anthony Pettis back to back. Holloway has quickly become one of the best overall fighters in the sport and it’s his approach that makes him a very difficult opponent to beat. Holloway is constantly pressuring opponents and fights at a tremendous pace. Holloway lands 6.20 significant strikes per minute which is one of the highest outputs in the division. Furthermore, he only absorbs 3.90 significant strikes per minute. What sets Holloway apart from other strikers is his combination work. Holloway throws a lot of unorthodox strikes, but follows them up with three, four, five, or even more combination punches. His output is incredible and therefore is very difficult for opponents to contend with. As Holloway has gotten more experienced, his takedown defense has improved dramatically. He hasn’t been taken down by an opponent since 2014 and has a takedown defense percentage of 83% overall. With that said, Holloway has mainly fought strikers in his recent run and hasn’t had to contend with the grappling or submission game of a legitimate opponent. Holloway has forced opponents to fight him on the feet. Holloway is hittable, but has shown to have a granite chin. He’s never been knocked out in a fight and quite honestly hasn’t even been close to being finished by an opponent with strikes. Holloway is a fighter that gets better as a fight continues. While he’s not slow out of the gate, he really excels in his ability to take fights over when his opponents begin to slow down. He’s one of the best mid round finishers in the sport which makes him capable of being a fighter that can have a long title reign.
Brian Ortega (Record: 14-0, +100 Underdog, Fighter Grade: A+)
The 27-year-old California native brings his unblemished record into his first ever UFC title. After beating some fringe top ten fighters he really turned it on in the last year finishing Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar back to back to earn himself an opportunity to take on Max Holloway for the featherweight title.
A black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Rener Gracie, “T-City” began training in martial arts at just five years of age. Ortega is a special submission practitioner when it comes to MMA. While he’s known for his triangle chokes, any type of choke appears to be in his repertoire. Ortega has quickly become one the best submission opportunists in the sport. He’s a threat to submit in any position and will aggressively seek it out. His guillotine submission victory over Cub Swanson is a prime example of what Ortega is capable of. In addition to his submission prowess, Ortega has continued to improve his striking. He’s increased striking output to 3.65 landed per minute. In recent fights, he’s not only been able to threaten with submissions, but he has found striking finishes such as his victories over Frankie Edgar and Clay Guida. Like fellow featherweight Max Holloway, Ortega tends to get better outside of round one. Prior to his first-round knockout of Edgar, Ortega had finished five straight opponents after the opening round. Ortega has shown he’s dynamic finisher and a real threat for the featherweight crown.
In what is seen as one of the greatest featherweight bouts in MMA history, Brian Ortega takes on champion Max Holloway. It’s rare that 27-year olds peaking at the same time can take each other on for a MMA title. Two fighters entering this fight off perhaps their most impressive victories is such a rare thing and rarely does it ever happen for a championship. Holloway’s volume does give him a significant advantage on the feet. There has never been a fighter at featherweight who has been a more complete striker than Holloway. His ability to land in combination will given any opponent fits. Furthermore, he doesn’t give time to his opposition to breathe. He forces the action and once damage accumulates his opponents wear. While Ortega hasn’t shown a sense of slowing down in fights, he just doesn’t have the ability to throw punches at similar ratio and will lose rounds simply on those grounds. With that said, Ortega has the X Factor with his submission expertise. Even when down in rounds and in a fight, Ortega is capable of pulling off a submission to win. He’s quickly become one of the best in the sport of syncing submissions from a variety of angles. It gives Ortega something Holloway will struggle to gameplan for as there is very little to prepare for the opportunistic submission prowess Ortega possesses. Furthermore, Holloway has been away from the Octagon for an extended period of time and there is a question mark surrounding him. All of this makes for a truly compelling fight and one that is hard to call. Given Ortega’s skill set and Holloway’s ability to win rounds, the best opportunity is on Ortega by submission (+220). If Ortega is going to win a five round fight, it’s going to be by finish. Holloway has had a great chin and has never been finished plus with Ortega’s special submission ability it’s the lone way he can win this fight. Ortega by submission (+220) is the best way to bet this bout and is a prop I feel should be priced closer to +150.