Yair Rodriguez could be the only thing standing between Alex Volkanovski and a lightweight title shot, as “The Great” featherweight champion has pretty much cleaned out the 145-pound division. That will require “El Pantera” to beat two-time title challenger Brian Ortega in dominant fashion in the UFC Long Island main event this Sat. afternoon (July 16, 2022) on ESPN and ABC from inside UBS Arena at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York.
Before we preview and predict winners for the main and co-main event, which includes the strawweight collision between Amanda Lemos and Michelle Waterson, check out Patrick Stumberg’s neat and tidy (and deliberately multifarious) breakdowns for the UFC Long Island “Prelims” card here and here. For the latest “Ortega vs. Rodriguez” odds and betting lines courtesy of our fiscal friends over at Draft Kings go here.
Let’s talk shop.
145 lbs.: Brian Ortega vs. Yair Rodriguez
Brian “T-City” Ortega
Record: 15-2, 1 NC | Age: 31 | Betting line: -165
Wins: 3 KO/TKO, 7 SUB, 5 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 5’8“ | Reach: 69” | Stance: Switch
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.15 | Striking accuracy: 38%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 6.69 | Striking Defense: 49%
Takedown Average: 0.87 (24% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 56%
Current Ranking: No. 2 | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Alex Volkanovski
Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez
Record: 13-3, 1 NC | Age: 29 | Betting line: +140
Wins: 4 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 71” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.65 | Striking accuracy: 45%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.09 | Striking Defense: 53%
Takedown Average: 0.86 (28% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 60%
Current Ranking: No. 3 | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Max Holloway
Brian Ortega is the second best featherweight in the world behind Max Holloway, according to the official UFC rankings, which is an interesting statistic when you consider that Ortega has just one victory over an opponent currently ranked in the Top 15. That was his UFC Fight Island 6 win over the No. 7-ranked Chan Sung Jung, a bewildering five-round affair that saw a disengaged “Korean Zombie” attempt zero takedowns while walking forward and blocking punches with his face. That victory was sandwiched between two lopsided losses to Max Holloway and Alexander Volkanovski, leaving “T-City” 0-2 in division title fights and raising more than a few questions about his place among the featherweight elite. The flip side to that argument is that Holloway and Volkanovski fly miles above the rest of the competition and making top contenders look like snot-nosed amateurs is kinda their thing. Maybe ... but it would have been nice to see how Ortega fared against some of the other big names at or around the Top 5, like Josh Emmett (No. 3) and Calvin Kattar (No. 5).
You can make a similar case against Rodriguez, who sits one spot below Ortega at No. 3. Like “T-City,” the flashy “El Pantera” is only here because of his victory over “The Korean Zombie” and outside of that highlight-reel finish, does not hold a win over anyone currently ranked in the Top 15. In addition, Rodriguez did not fight at all in 2020 and registered just one appearance in 2021, a five-round decision loss to Holloway as part of the UFC Vegas 42 card last November. Injuries torpedoed his Zabit Magomedsharipov showdown (twice) which I think would have told us a lot about where the Mexican striker belongs in the 145-pound rankings. Similar to my gripe in the paragraph above, Rodriguez was able to outrank the likes of Emmett and Kattar without ever facing them. Personally, I was hoping for a “striker vs. striker” battle opposite No. 8-ranked Giga Chikadze but that never came to pass, despite a decent amount of back-and-forth trash talk.
Ortega’s striking gets overrated by the starstruck media based on the Frankie Edgar knockout and the “Korean Zombie” drubbing, two performances that have not aged well after watching the 40 year-old “Answer” self destruct in subsequent fights (and Jung flirt with retirement). To be fair, Rodriguez has a tendency to be more style than substance when it comes to fighting on the feet and the key factor for me, at least in terms of trying to predict how this 25-minute affair will play out, is the takedown defense of Rodriguez. “El Pantera” was taken down three out of five times against Holloway and three out of four times against Jeremy Stephens, and it’s not unreasonable to think the Ortega gameplan will follow suit. I believe Rodriguez wins this fight on the feet, the question is how long “T-City” will allow him to stay there.
Prediction: Ortega def. Rodriguez by decision
115 lbs.: Michelle Waterson vs. Amanda Lemos
Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson
Record: 18-9 | Age: 36 | Betting line: +275
Wins: 3 KO/TKO, 9 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 5 DEC
Height: 5’3“ | Reach: 62” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.57 | Striking accuracy: 48%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.13 | Striking Defense: 50%
Takedown Average: 1.40 (32% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 67%
Current Ranking: No. 10 | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Marina Rodriguez
Amanda “Amandinha” Lemos
Record: 11-2-1 | Age: 35 | Betting line: -330
Wins: 7 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 2 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 5’4“ | Reach: 64” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 5.14 | Striking accuracy: 57%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.42 | Striking Defense: 48%
Takedown Average: 1.22 (57% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 88%
Current Ranking: No. 11 | Last fight: Submission loss to Jessica Andrade
The UFC Long Island co-main event features a pair of veteran strawweights who are a couple of years past their respective primes. That said, Michelle Waterson is a fan favorite and always comes to fight, so the promotion will continue to offer prominent roles in the twilight of her combat sports career. “The Karate Hottie” holds a black belt in American Freestyle Karate and when afforded the space, can prove to be a formidable foe on the feet. She’s also got a durable chin, which is one of many reasons why the former Invicta champ has gone to the judges’ scorecards in her last eight fights. Waterson sports a 6-5 record inside the Octagon but it’s important to note that three of those victories have come over opponents who are no longer fighting under the UFC banner. Two of the other three are unranked at 115 pounds, leaving her most impressive win to date coming against the No. 13-ranked Angela Hill, who’s dropped three straight and five of her last six. When you take away her popularity it’s hard to make a case for Waterson as an effective strawweight, which may not come as a surprise for a former atomweight who comfortably tipped the scale at 104.7 pounds for her Jessica Penne title fight back in 2013.
Amanda Lemos is one year younger than Waterson at 35 and like “The Karate Hottie,” has failed to make a statement in the crowded strawweight division. After stumbling in her Octagon debut, a technical knockout loss to the rough-and-tumble Leslie Smith, “Amandinha” rattled off five straight wins. Unfortunately, four of those opponents have since been cut from UFC and the fifth came by split decision over the 37 year-old Angela Hill, who is 12-12 for the promotion and as we mentioned earlier, stuck in a downward spiral. Lemos had a chance to separate herself from the rest of the 115-pound pack at UFC Columbus back in March, but got choked into the loss column by hot-and-cold Brazilian bruiser Jessica Andrade. It’s worth mentioning that Lemos is a former bantamweight who was suspended for two years after testing positive for stanozolol in late 2017. She also enjoys one-inch advantages in both height and reach but to be honest — and I say this with all due respect — I’m not sure she has the striking skills to use them. Lemos is more force than finesse and her bull-in-a-china-shop offense could shut down Waterson’s best weapons. I don’t know if that warrants a bloated -330 betting line, particularly in light of the facts above.
I would be more confident in picking Waterson in a five-round fight because she’s got both the cardio and the grit to keep up a high volume in the final two frames. But with only 15 minutes to work, there’s a much better argument that Lemos bullies her way into the favor of the judges, simply because they’re marks for aggressive movement. With that in mind, don’t be surprised to see Waterson — who sports 15 takedowns in her UFC career — flip the script and steal the last two rounds with her backdoor wrestling.
Prediction: Waterson def. Lemos by decision
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Long Island fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ preliminary card bouts at 11 a.m. ET, followed by the ABC/ESPN+ main card start time at 2 p.m. ET.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC Long Island news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archives here, here, and here. For the updated and finalized “Ortega vs. Rodriguez” fight card and ABC/ESPN/ESPN+ lineup click here.
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