This weekend sees the penultimate UFC pay-per-view of 2018, as UFC 231 comes to us live from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. We’ve got two title fights on tap for the show as well as a card full of other intriguing bouts, and while it doesn’t look as strong a card overall as UFC 229, it’s certainly up there with the most loaded of the year.
Interestingly, the last time the UFC visited Toronto was almost exactly two years ago for UFC 206. That show saw Max Holloway capture the interim UFC Featherweight title in the main event, and of course, this weekend will see him defend the full title against top contender Brian Ortega.
With high-action fighters such as Thiago Santos, Alex Oliveira and Kyle Bochniak on the undercard, hopefully this should be a fantastic show to watch.
Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC 231: Holloway vs. Ortega
#1 Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega
A fight that has been brewing for most of 2018, the Featherweight title match between champion Max Holloway and challenger Brian Ortega is arguably the most highly anticipated title fight of the year, particularly from the perspective of hardcore fans. Both men have been on absolutely fantastic runs and it’s honestly hard to envision anything other than an instant classic on Saturday.
Of course, the Holloway/Ortega fight was initially booked for July’s UFC 226, but was cancelled when Holloway displayed “concussion-like symptoms” during the build for the fight, most notably in a televised interview with Michael Bisping that saw him slurring his words and appear to be dazed and confused. It was perhaps the strangest interview since Chuck Liddell’s infamous appearance on Good Morning Texas back in 2007.
That issue was highly worrying given Holloway’s penchant over the years for taking punishing shots from his opponents – and somehow soaking them up with a granite chin – but supposedly, the Hawaiian is now fit and healthy again. Still, the fact that we’re only five months removed from this incident is still hard to overlook.
Prior to 2018 – an injury-filled year that also saw ‘Blessed’ drop out of a planned March fight with Frankie Edgar due to a foot injury, and then an April meeting with Khabib Nurmagomedov due to weight-cutting issues – Holloway was looking like a potential pound-for-pound great.
Ever since his loss to Conor McGregor back in August 2013, Holloway has been perfect inside the Octagon – winning an insane 12 fights in a row including two complete beatdowns of arguably the greatest Featherweight in the sport’s history, Jose Aldo.
Holloway’s style is interesting – he uses his reach to pressure his opponent with incredible kickboxing combinations at a rapid pace, and he’s extremely fond of using wicked body shots to sap his foe’s cardio. Despite being a skilled striker, the Hawaiian loves to trade blows too – and usually comes out on top due to that iron chin.
On the ground he’s no joke either – he’s not the greatest wrestler, but in the scramble, he’s phenomenal and has displayed an extremely nasty guillotine choke. Essentially, when Holloway is at his best, he doesn’t really have any notable weaknesses to his game.
Challenger Ortega meanwhile appears to have plenty of weaknesses in his game; he tends to start his fights relatively slowly, he appears to be hittable in striking exchanges and while he’s a genuine world-class black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he’s also worryingly happy to work from his back, which often doesn’t impress the judges.
So why is he in this spot? To be quite frank, Ortega is simply a winner and a finisher, too. He’s unbeaten at 14-0 – 7-0 in the UFC – and he’s never gone the distance since arriving in the UFC in mid-2014. You could even make an argument that he was behind in literally all of his fights before pulling out the victory.
It’s this style that arguably makes Ortega so dangerous. He’s clearly willing to give up positions and take wild risks because he believes in his finishing instincts so much. Prior to 2018 it looked like it was his grappling that was by far the most dangerous weapon in his arsenal – but that was before he managed to become the first fighter to knock Frankie Edgar unconscious in their fight in March.
And while Holloway has become a tricky proposition on the ground, he isn’t quite on Ortega’s level. The way ‘T-City’ was able to latch onto a guillotine to finish Cub Swanson last December was unbelievable – something very few fighters could pull off. But then Ortega isn’t your usual fighter.
Assuming Holloway is healthy, you’d have to make him the favourite in this fight. He’s beaten tougher opposition – though not by a large margin – and he’s more consistent in his offense, to the point where I could see him piecing Ortega up on the feet with his combinations while not allowing the fight to hit the ground. But to predict that would mean Ortega’s unbelievable penchant for seizing an opportunity from nowhere is counted out.
This will be a massively tough fight for ‘T-City’ as Holloway will likely pressure him like he’s never been pressured before, but unless ‘Blessed’ can take the Californian out early, I find it almost impossible to envision a 25-minute fight that doesn’t see Ortega get at least one chance to grab onto Holloway’s neck or land a clean shot. Throw in the worries around Holloway’s health, and I’m taking Ortega to find another miraculous finish.
The Pick: Ortega via fourth round submission