A UFC fight card will take place in Elmont, New York, this weekend, as the UFC leaves the comfort of the Apex Facility in Las Vegas, Nevada, to get the show back on the road with UFC on ABC 3 this Saturday night.
It’s the first UFC on ABC fight card this year, with the event set to feature a fantastic featherweight main event and many other well-matched bouts on the main card and preliminary card.
In the main event, it’s former featherweight title challenger Brian Ortega returning to action to face Yair Rodriguez. Ortega hasn’t competed since his unanimous decision loss to current champion Alexander Volkanovski in September. Ortega came close to snatching a victory with two of his renowned submissions but wasn’t able to seal the deal.
Much like Ortega, Rodriguez will enter after being defeated by one of the very best in the division. Rodriguez lost a unanimous decision to Max Holloway in November, and his chance at fighting for the title was soon put on hold.
Now, the two best contenders not named Max Holloway will compete in a fight that will determine who is the #2 ranked featherweight in the UFC.
Brian Ortega will enter this fight as the betting favorite at odds of -170 and an implied probability to win of 63 percent. Rodriguez, the underdog, is available at odds of +140, meaning that a $100 bet on Rodriguez to win would return $240 this weekend if successful.
One of the best fight night main events of 2022, two of the best at 145lbs go at it this weekend when Brian Ortega meets Yair Rodriguez. This is a fascinating matchup when you consider the unique style of striking Rodriguez brings to the table and the specialty in submissions honed by Ortega when few if any other featherweights can rival.
Yair Rodriguez comes from a taekwondo background, which is evident in his use of flashy highlight reel kicks. He will throw himself into kicks without a thought about landing, and will often fall to the ground in order to throw all his weight into them and land with as much impact as possible. This is also due to his wide variety which sees him landing kicks from pretty much any angle possible, making it extraordinarily difficult to time and anticipate him. Unlike many UFC fighters who favor the efficiency of punching and then using kicks to either set up the hands or end combinations, Yair will throw combinations of just kicks and throw a large number of kicks relative to the others.
His punching ability is powerful, and he has great flow to his shots. He will often give ground while dropping his hands to pull his opponents into a chase at which point he will fade away shoulder roll and look to counter with an elbow or a spin. He often drops his hands with the intention of baiting his opponents into walking onto his offense. In general, when Rodriguez is fighting from the orthodox stance he is usually looking to box but when he is fighting southpaw, expect a style more reminiscent of his taekwondo background with the lead leg being the most dominant weapon.
While Brian Ortega is most feared for his black belt level jiu jitsu, he has proven to be a powerful and dangerous striker as evident in his knockouts over such men as Frankie Edgar and his domination over the Korean Zombie. An important thing to note is that Brian Ortega is not exceptionally fast, nor agile, but he is powerful, accurate and difficult to read. This is why against opponents like the champion Alexander Volkanovski he looked a step behind, but against Chan Sung Jung who is typically more flat-footed and on the counter, Ortega was able to look more active by leading. What makes him so difficult to read is the threat of his takedown, most featherweights wouldn’t dare entertain a grappling match with the American, and so once establishing his takedown, he will use feints and leg taps to set up punches upstairs or a nice straight cross to the body.
Otherwise, his most dangerous striking techniques include a nice outside low kick, solid uppercuts and elbows and a deadly knee down the center. However, many of his strikes are especially effective against shorter opponents trying to get on the inside, Ortega’s ability to cut up opponents who slip and roll under his punches is at a very high level but Rodriguez with his rangy kicks and punches does not fall under this category. As a striking specialist however, the threat of the takedown opening up Ortega’s strikes is a massive asset.
Yair Rodriguez is most definitely ahead in the striking department. He is more mobile and has more tools. And although both are technically sound and have power, I think Rodriguez’s speed and mobility put him over the top. However, the deficit in grappling ability is far larger. Rodriguez is exceptional at making establishing top position on him difficult, with immediate upkicks the moment he may touch the mat. He also has great awareness and ability to regard when given space in north south or side control but not particularly great at creating that space himself. He has a somewhat weak half guard and has a bad habit of turning to his side in half guard or mount in order to get to an elbow or cover from strikes. From there he has also shown to give up his back to get to his feet out of desperation. However, when he does have guard he does have a nasty triangle. Although, no one has such a nasty triangle so as to rival Ortega, who’s nickname “T-City” nods to just that.
Ortega does not have a pretty wrestling game, he does not typically change levels and cut angles on takedowns out in the octagon. Instead, he will usually snatch a single leg without committing his base, instead bending at the waist and running his opponent to the cage in order to complete an inside trip or sucking in the double leg on the fence. Few are as quick to snatch onto submissions like Ortega, be it a D’arce, a triangle or anything in between, and few fans can truly appreciate how difficult it is to jump on a mounted guillotine as fast as he did to Volkanovski even if he wasn’t able to do anything else with it.
Ultimately I believe that Ortega can hang with Rodriguez on the feet much better than Rodriguez can hang with Ortega on the mat. Ortega has shown his toughness and fire, wanting to trade with the best strikers but to win he needs to go back to his BJJ roots. That being said, although I think this fight will consist mostly of striking, I think one or two instances where the two hit canvas is all Ortega needs to find the submission.
Pick: Brian Ortega to win (-170 odds at MyBookie)
Brian “T-City” Ortega is like Charles Oliveira Lite. Ortega is hittable on the feet and has basic technique, but he can crack when he lets his hands go. “T-City” has improved wrestling, specifically chest-to-chest grappling, which is advantageous in the octagon given shooting traditional single and double-leg takedowns can leave a fighter vulnerable to getting countered with a heavy knee or uppercut. But, just like the lightweight champ, what makes Ortega so dangerous is his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Ortega is a master grappler on the mat and can end the fight with creative submissions from seemingly any position. His most prolific submission is his triangle choke which is a challenging submission to attempt, yet alone use to find the finish. Ortega, impressively, has finished 4 of his 7 submission wins with this attack. “T-City’s” typical style is to bounce on his feet at range, patiently but athletically waiting for an opening. He’ll throw leg kicks out as range feelers to get a gauge on which path he should take. If an opponent is too far away, Ortega can kickbox well enough to make the fight close against even the highest-level fighters in the division.
As soon as an opponent closes range, Ortega will look to land a heavy overhand into a clinch or takedown. Because of Ortega’s bouncy style, he can easily explode into his punch with extra power coming from his base. Then, he’ll use that momentum to continue forward into a takedown. His biggest obstacle in the octagon has come against guys who are able to scramble to their feet after a takedown and keep Ortega at boxing range where he is too close to use his kicks but too far to grapple.
Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez is a manifestation of a video game striker inside the octagon. He regularly will not only attempt but land strikes that few other fighters are physically even capable of attempting. Rodriguez takes a kickboxing style and adds his own spinning, jumping, and athletic variations to traditional attacks. This results in even some of the best strikers in the division being confused and struggling against the young contender. None is more evident than his last second spinning elbow knockout of the Korean Zombie.
When he lands, which he does at a 45% clip, impressive for his style of striking, he lands with thunderous power in both his kicks and punches. He can strike moving forward, backward, or laterally and uses his bouncy and athletic footwork to keep his opponents guessing as to where he and his volatile strikes will come from. Most fighters with this style are fan favorites but struggle once they get to the top of the division because such creative strikes take an immense amount of energy, and these fighters can often gas out after three rounds.
That was the narrative in Rodriguez’s last fight against Holloway; but, Yair proved me and others wrong. His cardio held up for 5 rounds and his striking output stayed as steady as it did creative. The narrative in this fight is whether Rodriguez can keep the fight standing against an accredited grappler in Ortega. Thus far, Rodriguez has showcased solid defensive grappling, relying successfully on natural strength and athleticism.
The only predictable aspect of this fight is that it should be fireworks. Both men have the ability to end the fight quickly or survive and make it a 5-round war. I anticipate Ortega giving Rodriguez more problems on the feet than many suspect. Ortega will be there to be hit, and Rodriguez will likely land some jaw-dropping shots, but I trust Ortega’s durability and fundamental boxing to return fire with success.
I also expect Ortega to get the fight to the mat at some point. Volkanovski and Holloway are two fighters with elite takedown defense but Ortega landed takedowns against both. Therefore, I expect Ortega to do the same to Rodriguez. Then, once the fight hits the mat, Rodriguez is going to have to fight tooth and nail to avoid the finish. So long as Ortega isn’t cracked and dropped, I like him to find a mid or late round finish.
Pick: Brian Ortega to win by Submission (+160 odds at MyBookie)
Brian Ortega is one of the most slept-on fighters both in terms of skill as well as fan-friendly style. A singular data point is needed to justify him having elite skill, as Ortega put Volkanovksi in the most compromising position of being finished than anyone else has prior. This position was a deep guillotine choke that was moments away from earning Ortega his 8th submission win and securing the featherweight title.
Although the singular point is needed to showcase just how good Ortega is, he does have a plethora of additional skills that make him an extremely dangerous and talented fighter. The best way to articulate his skills is him being good everywhere but has the unique ability to extend his solid skills to having a singular one being great against his opponent’s weakest defense. What I mean by this is that if Ortega’s opponent is predominately a grappler, Ortega is able to keep the fight standing and use his talented strikes – switch stance boxing, knees, and elbows – to exacerbate the talent difference between him and his opponent. Moreover, if his opponent is a natural striker, Ortega’s wrestling will look elite along with his submission game. All in all, I believe Ortega has been shown to sit just shy of Volkanovksi and Holloway in the division but has the skills, fight intelligence, and durability to create an even larger gap between himself and the fighter(s) below him.
Yair Rodriguez is a talented kickboxer with lightning-quick movements in the octagon. His footwork and ability to seamlessly switch stances mid-strike exacerbate his natural quickness, thus making him an extremely difficult test for anyone that elects to stand against him. Continually, he has shown the ability to finish fights via a plethora of different strikes, as he has recorded TKO/KO victories categorized as either punches, kicks, and even has an elbow win. This demonstrated fight-ending ability through a multitude of strikes further showcases he is a fighter who you a) do not want to stand against and b) can finish the fight at a moment’s notice.
Knowing Rodriguez is an elite and dangerous striker, the first thought that comes to mind is if he has the ability to keep the fight standing. The answer to that proposed thought is that he has the footwork, technique, and continual mental wherewithal to halt takedown attempts, but, as demonstrated by his historical 60% success rate (a strong percentage), he eventually can be taken to the mat. Getting taken down is far from what Rodriguez desires, but he does that the skills necessary, particularly with underrated scrambles, to get the fight up off the mat somewhat quickly. In fact, I believe he, similar to other elite-ranked fighters who are known to be strikers, does a better job getting off the canvas than fighters who have a better reputation of being dangerous on the ground. This is because fighters who desire to strike are not content playing jiu-jitsu, thus having the urgency to get back up as quickly as possible. While this is a positive for Rodriguez, he will need to be extremely cautious with the tradeoff of giving one’s back to have a chance of getting back to one’s feet, as Ortega is elite at snagging a submission once the back is presented.
Both fighters are truly elite top 5 contenders. Moreover, Ortega’s striking accompanied by Rodriguez’s grappling are equally underappreciated fight skills, thus making each well-rounded fighters. With that said, I believe Ortega having the unique ability to exacerbate the disparity between his well-rounded game and a skill that is not elite for his opponent lends me backing him in this fight. So, while Ortega may have to wear some damage to get inside and secure a takedown, his repeatably demonstrated ability to have a great chin accompanied by good wrestling makes me trust that he will get the fight to the mat, and once there, his submission game will cause Rodriguez trouble.
Pick: Brian Ortega to win by Submission (+160 odds at MyBookie)
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.
Michael Pounders is a high school English Teacher, a boxer himself, and is a fan who loves, gambles on, and nerds out about all things MMA.