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UFC Fresno preview and predictions

UFC 199: Rockhold v Bisping 2 Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back on television this Saturday night (Dec. 9, 2017) with the UFC Fight Night 123 mixed martial arts (MMA) event on FOX Sports 1, which features a featherweight main event between Cub Swanson and Brian Ortega, who battle for a spot in the 145-pound title chase.

Elsewhere on the card, held inside Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., Marlon Moraes and Aljamain Sterling throw hands for bantamweight bragging rights, while Jason Knight tries to get back into the win column at the expense of featherweight bruiser Gabriel Benitez.

Before we deconstruct the six-fight main card, let’s take a look at what’s doing on the UFC Fight Night 123 preliminary card, spread across FOX Sports 1 and UFC Fight Pass, by clicking here and here. For the UFC Fresno odds and betting lines click here.

Let’s get busy.

145 lbs.: Cub Swanson (25-7) vs. Brian “T-City” Ortega (12-0, 1 NC)

Nostradumbass predicts: Cub Swanson will assume headlining duties for the fourth time since crossing over from the ranks of World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) in what will be the third time he’s been given top billing. Competing since 2004, Swanson epitomizes the blue-collar fighter by showing up for work every day, putting in a solid effort, then going home when the whistle blows.

When’s the last time you saw a Cub Swanson headline that didn’t involve an upcoming fight?

The 34-year old striker is unremarkable in a lot of ways. which sounds like a harsh critique for a combatant who is 10-2 dating back to his Octagon debut. It’s certainly not intended to be. But Swanson has not finished a fight in over four years and got crushed by Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar, who rest comfortably atop the 145-pound food chain.

You kind of know what to expect in a Cub Swanson fight, and that’s a good thing, which is why he’s back in the FOX Sports 1 main event. He comes to bang, never gets tired, and will always be looking for the knockout. In this day and age, it’s hard to ask for much else from a veteran fighter.

Will that be enough to defeat Brian Ortega? The process is expected to be compelling enough to warrant a headlining spot, based on what “T-City” has been able to do over the past couple of years. While Swanson was knocking guys around and winning on points, Ortega was racking up five straight finishes.

There were questions about what Ortega was capable of when he wasn’t using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), and after his drug-test suspension in late 2014, the Californian proved he was relying on talent, not drostanolone, to blast his way into the win column. His level of competition has been nothing to write home about, but it’s congruent with what Swanson has been dealing with across the same stretch.

Ortega is not going to outbox Swanson and if he tries to stand and bang across five rounds of action, he’s going to lose this fight. The only time Swanson has been stopped by strikes is when Jose Aldo landed that flying knee back in 2009. That said, Swanson has registered six of his seven losses by way of submission, so clearly there is a gaping hole in ground defense, something that will undoubtedly come into play on fight night.

At just 26, Ortega is eight years younger than Swanson and has been finishing fights convincingly. While Swanson has five rounds to land the knockout punch, Ortega also has that same amount of time to get this fight to the floor. Expect a new contender to emerge in Fresno.

Final prediction: Ortega def. Swanson by submission

145 lbs.: Gabriel “Moggly” Benitez (19-6) vs. Jason “The Kid” Knight (20-3)

Nostradumbass predicts: Gabriel Benitez found his way to American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) after his stint on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): “Latin America,” the promotion’s half-hearted attempt to break into the Hispanic market.

“Moggly” — who got his nickname from The Jungle Book -- was bounced from the combat sports reality show in his second fight but was called back anyway. He’s 3-2 in five trips to the Octagon and recently went down on points to Enrique Barzola.

Opposing him will be Jason Knight, who was in cruise control over his last four bouts until the promotion fed him to former division No. 1 contender Ricardo Lamas, a fight that ended by way of technical knockout and left “The Kid” at 4-2 inside the Octagon.

And if you're wondering, he got that nickname by kicking off his MMA career at age 14.

Combined, these two have a staggering 32 finishes between them, which not only lessens the chance of going to the scorecards, but practically guarantees we get an entertaining fight. Submissions are the name of the game for both combatants (10 vs. 13) and this could come down to whose cardio holds up the best.

My money’s on the younger, more consistent featherweight.

Final prediction: Knight def. Benitez by submission

135 lbs.: “Magic” Marlon Moraes (19-5-1) vs. Aljamain “Funk Master” Sterling (14-2)

Nostradumbass predicts: Marlon Moraes crossed over from the ranks of World Series of Fighting (WSOF) with a ton of hype, which was not without merit, but suffered a temporary setback when the judges scored in favor of Rafael Assuncao at UFC 212 back in June.

“Magic” quickly righted the ship by outpointing the speedy John Dodson at UFC Fight Night 120 just last month, and here he sits opposing yet another top-10 bantamweight in the form of Aljamain Sterling.

Like his Brazilian counterpart, “Funk Master” is good, but not exceptional, in all facets of MMA. He’s quick, has serviceable hands, and shines on the ground. But Sterling has fought to a decision in four straight fights after racking up eight finishes in 12 previous contests.

That tells me that Sterling has, and may continue to struggle against the upper echelon of the division. Moraes is guilty as well, getting judged in both fights under the UFC umbrella after four consecutive finishes for WSOF.

That said, I think this will be another fight that lasts for 15 minutes, simply because Moraes and Sterling are likely to cancel each other out both on the feet and on the ground. Deciding the winner will all come down to aggression, as well as a few well-timed takedowns.

Final prediction: Sterling def. Moraes by split decision

155 lbs.: Scott “Hot Sauce” Holtzman (10-2) vs. Darrell “The Saint” Horcher (13-2)

Nostradumbass predicts: Whenever I go to the track, I always bet on the horse with the most appealing nickname. I’m tempted to follow that formula here, as I love hot sauce and by proxy must also love Scott Holtzman.

Admittedly, there hasn’t been much to love about his UFC run, which started at 7-0 and currently sits at 10-2. Holtzman is racing against the clock at age 34 and to go from undefeated on the regionals to just 3-2 for UFC — against ho-hum competition — does not bode well for his title aspirations.

In what appears to be a theme for UFC Fresno, “Hot Sauce” is yet another fighter who is struggling to finish fights, having gone to the judges in four straight bouts. It’s a bit surprising when you consider his competency in both striking and grappling.

Like Holtzman, Darrell Horcher is also a regional import with an impressive record and is perhaps best known for his role as “warm body” against Khabib Nurmagomedov, back when Tony Ferguson had blood in his lungs and withdrew from UFC on FOX 19.

Doing the job for “The Eagle” got the 30-year old “Saint” a UFC contract and he’s only been able to squeeze one fight from it, a split-decision win over the unheralded Devin Powell at UFC Fight Night 112 last June.

Horcher is better on his feet than he is on the ground though Holtzman, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) purple belt, isn’t exactly Marcelo Garcia. This feels like one of those “Let me bang, bro” match ups, but that doesn’t mean we’re likely to get a finish.

Final prediction: Holtzman def. Horcher by unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Eryk “Frankenstein” Anders (9-0) vs. Markus “Maluko” Perez (9-0)

Nostradumbass predicts: Eryk Anders is an exciting middleweight prospect who you probably never heard of and if you did, it’s because “Frankenstein” planished longtime veteran Rafael Natal at UFC on FOX 25 back in July.

Undefeated at 9-0 with a 5-0 record on the amateur circuit, Anders has finished seven of his nine wins — violently — and could find his way into the division top 10 if he keeps up this torrid pace.

It won’t be easy, as he’s tasked with turning away Markus Perez who is new to UFC but certainly not new to kicking ass. They chewed some of the same dirt as combatants under the Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) banner and were bound to run into one another at some point in their respective careers.

“Maluko” (crazy) has also registered an impressive number of finishes (six) but is a more patient, calculated fighter than his American counterpart. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, depending on the opponent, but he may not have time to play “wait and see” in Fresno.

Anders was a standout athlete in college and has heavy hands to complement his Golden Gloves boxing. His jiu-jitsu purple belt will neutralize his opponent’s vaunted grappling and I just don’t see how Perez, despite his proficiency in Muay Thai, handles the incoming blitzkrieg, especially after taking this bout on short notice.

Final prediction: Anders def. Perez by knockout

135 lbs.: Benito “Golden Boy” Lopez (8-0) vs. Albert “The Warrior” Morales (7-2-1)

Nostradumbass predicts: After an undefeated run on the amateur circuit, Benito Lopez turned pro and made a mockery of the regional scene, which includes three straight knockout wins for King of the Cage (KOTC). That was enough to earn him a spot on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, which is the longest and most annoying name in the industry.

From there, “Golden Boy” — who got his nickname by scoring gold medals in grappling competitions — picked up yet another “W” to earn a UFC contract and his first opponent will be Albert Morales, who picked up wins for WSOF and Bellator MMA before making his Octagon debut in late 2016. He hasn’t done much with the opportunity, going from undefeated to 1-2-1 in four trips to the Octagon.

Morales has the benefit of UFC experience and has faced much tougher competition, but “The Warrior” doesn’t seem to be making the kind of progress you would expect at this stage of his career. Both fighters are equally talented both on the feet and on the floor, but I like the confidence and aggression Lopez has shown to date, and I think his hunger carries him to a violent, first-round victory.

Final prediction: Lopez def. Morales by technical knockout

There you have it. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 123 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the UFC Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online at 6:30 p.m. ET, followed by the FOX Sports 1 "Prelims" bouts at 8 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 10 p.m. ET, also on FOX Sports 1.

For much more on UFC Fight Night 123 click here.

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