The UFC is barreling toward the finish line of 2017 with its ninth card in eight weeks. If you're feeling a bit woozy in light of this schedule (and last weekend's blockbuster UFC 218), that's understandable. But if you're still game for face-punching, you can do a lot worse than UFC Fight Night 123.
Saturday's main event is a pretty sure thing. Featherweight violence master Cub Swanson takes on exciting and harrowing youngster Brian Ortega. The winner will be the proud owner of a five-fight win streak and a solid case to be the first non-Frankie Edgar individual to challenge Max Holloway after the champ's UFC 218 masterwork over Jose Aldo.
That's a can't-miss fight for certain, but where are some hidden gems on the card? Here are three bouts to look for in Fresno, California.
Cub Swanson (25-7) vs. Brian Ortega (12-0)
Odds (courtesy of OddsShark): Swanson +100 (bet $100 to win $100), Ortega -120 (bet $120 to win $100)
Airs on: Fox Sports 1
They took it easy on Swanson. For one fight. After outstriking an overmatched Artem Lobov, Swanson is now back in the fire against the hottest new contender in the division.
People think of Cub as a banger and Ortega as a grappler, but both are capable strikers and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts.
The odds are nearly a push because of this evenness. To put a finer point on that, each man is good at hunting and finding submissions (13 between them), and both excel in the scramble. Each man is capable of finding the knockout, even if Swanson is the more technical kickboxer.
T-City earned lots of attention for four—count them, four—consecutive stoppages earned in the third and final round. It leads to admiration and questions. Is he outlasting these opponents with cardio? Outfoxing them with last-minute surges? Does he have a horseshoe stashed in a dark region that allows him to connect on Hail Mary after Hail Mary?
This bout will separate truth from reality. These are two action fighters. Each has a certain advantage, if not a huge advantage, over the other. Each is willing to pressure an opponent to force them to break. Swanson is the best opponent Ortega has ever faced and has a lot more experience. With feints and deception to cover his shots, he's hard to decipher. On the other hand, he takes risks in the ground game, as evidenced by the fact that five of his seven pro losses have come by submission.
Give the nod to Swanson, who should expose a game Ortega on the feet and keep out of danger if the action hits the ground.
Swanson, unanimous decision
Aljamain Sterling (14-2) vs. Marlon Moraes (19-5-1)
Odds: Moraes -150, Sterling +130
Airs on: Fox Sports 1
Fans and pundits hailed Michael Bisping for his warrior spirit or whatever when he took a bout less than a month after a choke-out loss to Georges St-Pierre. Then they tsk-tskd the decision when Kelvin Gastelum knocked him out.
He's not as well known, but Marlon Moraes is walking a similar line. A month after taking a close split decision from John Dodson, the Brazilian replaces Rani Yahya on short notice against the dangerous Aljamain Sterling.
We'll see if Moraes fares better than the Brit. To do so, he'll need to use his signature muay thai, most notably the leg kicks that will take the starch out of Sterling's takedown attempts. Moraes is a good grappler, but collegiate wrestler Sterling is on another level. If Dodson can take Moraes down, so can Sterling. The New Yorker has stifling top control and python-like submissions, so if he gets you horizontal, you're going to have a bad time.
Sterling's striking is getting better, though, so he's no one-trick pony. He lost some stream with two close losses, but one of those losses came to divisional elite Raphael Assuncao and probably shouldn't count too heavily against him.
Moraes didn't take as much punishment against Dodson as Bisping did against St-Pierre, but there's still a cautionary tale there. Moraes gives up one inch of height and 4.5 inches of reach to Sterling, so the size differential that existed against Dodson won't be present here. Add in Sterling's punishing power-submission game and this short turnaround may wind up as another mistake.
Sterling, unanimous decision
Eryk Anders (9-0) vs. Markus Perez (9-0)
Odds: Anders -280, Perez +240
Airs on: Fox Sports 1
This is a surefire rock 'em, sock 'em matchup between two new additions to the UFC middleweight division.
Last month Perez sprang up from Legacy Fighting Alliance, where he was middleweight champion, to this, his UFC debut. He has UFC talent on his victims list in Ildemar Alcantara and Paulo Thiago.
He can hold his own in any phase, with creative, high-octane stand-up and a ground game that values scrambles and submission-hunting.
Anders is a little more methodical, but he's no less dangerous. Ask Rafael Natal, the man Anders flattened in his UFC debut in July. The national champion linebacker from Alabama can crack with anyone and can bring it to bear on the feet or on the ground. He has good takedowns and will almost certainly be seeking to test Perez on that front.
These two will want to hurt each other throughout, whether the action is up or down. Anders should take this with ground-and-pound after a fun scrap.
Anders, TKO, Rd. 2