05 Dec - 
UFC 231 main event breakdown: Masterful builders Max Holloway, Brian Ortega make for tough call

MMAjunkie Radio co-host and MMAjunkie contributor Dan Tom breaks down UFC 231’s top bouts, and today, we look at the main event.

UFC 231 takes place Saturday at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

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Max Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’11” Age: 27 Weight: 145 lbs. Reach: 69″
  • Last fight: TKO win over Jose Aldo (Dec. 2, 2017)
  • Camp: Hawaii Elite MMA (Hawaii)
  • Stance/striking style: Switch-stance/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Excellent

Supplemental info:

+ UFC featherweight champion
+ Regional MMA titles
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt
+ 9 KO victories
+ 2 submission wins
+ 3 first-round finishes
+ Building pace and pressure
+ Superb feints and footwork
^ Attacks off angles/manages distance well
+ Excellent variety of shot selection
+ Improved wrestling ability
^ 83 percent takedown defense rate
+ Deceptively counters clinches/grappling
^ Strikes well off of the breaks
+ Underrated ground game
^ Slick submissions in transition

Brian Ortega (14-0 MMA, 6-0 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’8″ Age: 27 Weight: 145 lbs. Reach: 69″
  • Last fight: Knockout win over Frankie Edgar (March 3, 2018)
  • Camp: Black House MMA (California)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:

+ RFA featherweight title
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ 3 KO victories
+ 7 submission wins
+ 3 first-round finishes
+ Consistent pace and pressure
+ Improved footwork
^ Will switch stances
+ Busy and building striker
^ Puts together punches well
+ Strong inside the clinch
+ Accurate knees
+ Excellent transitional grappler
^ Superb submission chains
+ Dangerous guard game
^ Active hips and deceptive strikes

Point of interest: Battle of builders

The featherweight title fight in Toronto features a fantastic pairing of two fighters who have been laying down the groundwork for success, but doing so in different ways.

Displaying solid striking and footwork fundamentals since storming onto the UFC scene (as one of the promotion’s youngest signees, no less), Max Holloway, who was already improving from fight-to-fight, turned a dramatic corner when encountering Cub Swanson.

Since then, we have seen a technical evolution unfold from the Hawaiian, who embraces his creativity and range with a diverse arsenal of attack. Whether Holloway is shifting his stance mid-combination or adjusting his timing on the fly, the current featherweight king makes for a hard read on the feet.

When feeling in stride, the 27-year-old looks to pay off his previous bodywork by punctuating his presence with everything from spinning sidekicks to digging left hooks to the liver. Coupled with his ability to counter effectively from either stance, Holloway can hypothetically take a fight in many different directions.

That all said, it is the building nature of the champion’s game that makes him stand out from the rest of the featherweight stable.

Embodying a fighter archetype that I like to refer to as “a builder,” Holloway will not only build in his output, but his understanding of the fight’s traffic will also increase as he intelligently takes tools from his opponent and incorporates into his game. For example, against Ricardo Lamas, Holloway ate a healthy dose of leg kicks throughout their battle. However, in looking closer at the exchanges, you will see Holloway steadily get a read on the attacks – evading, checking and countering the kicks by the end of the contest.

What makes this matchup so interesting is that Brian Ortega is also a builder, but in a different, more unorthodox sort of way.

In a similar style to the legendary baseball slugger Babe Ruth, every strike or shortcoming ultimately brings Ortega closer to hitting his target. And with the 27-year-old fighter arguably losing nine of his16 completed UFC rounds and still somehow staying undefeated, it’s hard not to see where the comparisons come from, nor is it easy to deny that Ortega always seems to be building toward something.

Despite being known for his dangerous ground game, Ortega has continually shown measurable strides in his striking. Consistently keeping light on his toes, the eight-year pro is ready to throw or move with his opposition, steadily setting the temperature to apply his pressuring approach.

Working behind a healthy dose of feints, Ortega will flick out jabs from either stance, almost like a flint lighter for the fires that he is attempting to start. And once Ortega gets going, he puts his punches together nicely, variating well to the body while punctuating his presence with accurate uppercuts and knees.

Still, defense is not Ortega’s strong suit, showing to be almost twice as liable to strikes than Holloway on paper. With that in mind, I will be curious to see how much Ortega has been able to shore up defensively, as well as how much of these perceived openings he will use to curry favor toward his over-arching gameplan.

Next point of interest: Protect your neck