On Saturday, Jul. 16, the UFC has put together a stacked mid-day fight card. The promotion heads back to the east coast as UFC on ABC: Ortega vs. Rodriguez takes place at the UBS Arena in Elmont, N.Y. on Long Island. Top-three featherweight contenders will look to move one giant step towards a title shot with a win, as two-time title challenger Brian Ortega meets Yair Rodriguez.
The last time fans saw Ortega, he was in a Fight-of-the-Night battle for the title when he came up short in a thriller against Alexander Volkanovski. Despite getting battered on the feet, Ortega came close to submitting the champion on multiple occasions, and he will likely rely on those submission skills to get the win over Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is also coming off a loss in a Fight-of-the-Night slugfest, which came against former featherweight champion Max Holloway. Regardless of the outcome, this fight should be fireworks as soon as the opening bell rings.
The co-main event comes in the women’s strawweight division, as perennial contender Michelle Waterson meets Amanda Lemos. Waterson has had a difficult run recently, but still holds the tenth place in the official UFC rankings. Her opponent, Lemos sits one spot below her at number eleven and will look to crack the top ten with a victory.
Also on the main card is a rescheduled women’s flyweight bout between former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate and Lauren Murphy. This bout was originally slated to take place in May before being moved to the UFC 276 card where it was also scrapped after Murphy tested positive for COVID-19.
The event will air in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 11 a.m. ET. In addition the preliminary card will air live on ESPN at 2 p.m. ET, followed by the main card on ABC at 2 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Both fighters in this weekend’s main event are coming off of losses; which featherweight contender gets back on track by picking up a victory?
Sumian: The main event clash between Yair Rodriguez and Brian Ortega is a perfect example of well-executed matchmaking. Both combatants are top-five contenders at 145 pounds, but have struggled against defeating the elite of the division – Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway. A win for Ortega probably puts him in a position to take part in a title-eliminator bout against Josh Emmett, since his loss to the champion is still relatively fresh. A win for Rodriguez will certainly result in a title shot for the Mexico native and will present a fresh challenge for the unstoppable champion.
Brian Ortega is too tough for his own good. The two-time featherweight title challenger has taken part in two of the most epic featherweight title bouts in UFC history and took considerable damage in both fights. Ortega’s grappling is prolific, while his striking continues to improve with every Octagon performance. Still, the Californian’s ability to achieve victory generally comes by way of his ground work and has compiled seven victories by submission.
Rodriguez has been on the cusp of greatness several times throughout his career. Once a talented prospect that displayed flashy striking, Rodriguez has firmly established himself as an upper-tier fighter capable of taking on the best featherweights in the world. His biggest issue has been staying consistently active, and he has only competed in the UFC four times since Nov. 2018. A win over Ortega puts the always-entertaining Rodriguez as the clear next contender to Volkanovski’s reign.
If this fight stays on the feet and Rodriguez can utilize his kicks and reach, he will win a fairly clear unanimous decision over Ortega. Ortega has vastly improved on the feet but is still margins behind Rodriguez as a striker. Ortega’s path to victory will likely come by way of submission or consistent ground control. We have seen Rodriguez get dominated on the ground by Frankie Edgar in the past, but one can only assume he has improved in the grappling department since 2017. When it is all said and done, Rodriguez will get his hand raised by winning a clear 49-46 decision and likely get the next crack at the champion.
Petela: Like most weeks, my colleague and I agree on a lot of points, except for what the end result will be of this week’s main event. There is no doubt Brian Ortega is too tough for his own good. Even in a sport full of the toughest athletes on the planet, he stands out for his toughness. We also agree that the longer this fight stays standing, the more lopsided the bout will be in Yair Rodriguez’s favor. I simply don’t think Rodriguez will be able to avoid getting trapped in a submission by Brian Ortega for 25 minutes.
Alexander Volkanovski showed that he is a step above every other featherweight on the planet in his dominant win over Max Holloway. At times in his clash with Ortega, even the champion looked like he was in peril and on the verge of being submitted by “T-City.” Those submission threats didn’t come early in the fight, where both men were fresh and close to 100 percent. They came after Ortega had already withstood a barrage of damage.
This weekend will play out in many ways similar to Ortega’s title fight, where he came up short, except, this weekend, Rodriguez won’t be able to escape the submission attempts the way that Volkanovski did. Expect Rodriguez to pick Ortega apart for the first 10 minutes or so, landing long combinations while Ortega catches “El Pantera” sparingly through the first couple rounds. Just when it seems as if Ortega is going to be down on the scorecards to the point where he needs a finish, he will grab a hold of Rodriguez’s neck, and he won’t let go until he forces the tap. Having just lost to the champion, this fight won’t get Ortega another shot at the title, but it will put him one more win away from a second chance to dethrone Volkanovski.
Michelle Waterson has struggled recently, dropping three of her last four bouts; how does the “Karate Hottie” fare in her bout against Amanda Lemos?
Petela: This is a very winnable fight for Michelle Waterson. Out of the two women in this weekend’s co-main event, she has the much greater strength of schedule. And, while she has faltered against some of the most elite fighters, she also has wins over notable fighters, like Angela Hill and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Amanda Lemos also has a win over Hill, but, outside of that contest, the only time she faced upper echelon competition was her last outing against Jessica Andrade when she was submitted in the first round via a standing arm-triangle choke.
While both women have shown that they are very talented fighters, the difference in this bout will be the experience of Waterson. She has fought three times in a main event, whereas Lemos has only one previous main event under her belt. In all of Waterson’s fights that were slated for five rounds, she has gone the distance. As previously noted, Lemos failed to make it out of the first round when she fought in a five-round main event. This fight will be closely tested with both technical strikers landing steadily throughout. Once the bell sounds for the fourth round, the veteran Waterson will have more gas left in the tank and begin to pull away. While Waterson’s title aspirations are all but gone, she remains a worthy challenger for any fighter looking to break into the top of the division.
Sumian: I do agree with my colleague that Waterson certainly holds the experience edge in this fight. However, Amanda Lemos will come out of this bout victorious. Waterson is nowhere near the fighter she once was five years ago when she was a top-ranked contender. She has looked less and less able to compete with the best of the division for several years. Lemos’s strength and physical advantages will be the difference here, and she will score a much-needed victory over a prominent name in Waterson.
Emily Ducote — do we need to know her name?
Sumian: Ducote is an experienced women’s strawweight and most recently won her first Invicta FC strawweight title defense before signing with the UFC. She trains out of American Top Team OKC, holds a black belt in BJJ, and is on a three-fight winning streak coming into her UFC debut. She is certainly an interesting newcomer to keep an eye on, and a win over Jessica Penne will demand attention to her name if executed in impressive fashion.
Petela: Yes, Emily Ducote is the real deal. She struggled when she fought top caliber fighters inside the Bellator cage, but that was largely due to inexperience and a lack of maturity as a fighter. She is coming into her physical prime now at 28 years old and has really rounded out her skill set. Ducote has found a home now in the strawweight division and will be a name to keep an eye on for the next several years.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Dalcha Lungiambula. After storming into the UFC with a TKO victory over Dequan Townsend, the former two-division EFC champion has stumbled a bit. He has lost three of his last four fights, including two in a row. His opponent, Punahele Soriano is also coming into the bout with a two-fight losing streak, so both men have their backs against the ropes. They will stand and trade until one man gets knocked out, and, unfortunately for Lungiambula, he will come up short and find himself without a home inside the UFC.
Sumian: The loser of Dwight Grant and Dustin Stoltzfus is a guaranteed cut from the roster. Both men have been underwhelming throughout their UFC careers, and the loser has no reason to be kept around.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: It is absolutely puzzling why Michelle Waterson and Amanda Lemos are slotted as the co-main event, when this fight card has so many intriguing matchups. Besides the main event, the most enticing matchup on this is the bantamweight clash between Jack Shore and Ricky Simon. Both are top-15 bantamweights with top-10 upside. Shore is an undefeated prospect who looks better with every Octagon performance, while Simon is on a surging four-fight winning streak. This bout deserves co-main event attention and should prove to be one of the best, if not best, fight of the evening.
Petela: Bill Algeo vs. Herbert Burns. These two featherweights are going to bring the heat. Algeo combines the grit of a Philadelphia fighter with the swagger of a superstar, and Burns enters the fight badly needing to regain some momentum after missing weight and being finished in his last outing. These two will put on a show and stand out in an afternoon full of captivating bouts.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Shane Burgos. It seems like each and every time he enters the cage, Burgos is in an all-out barnburner. He has fallen short at times, but this weekend he will wind up on the proper end of a highlight reel. His fight with Charles Jourdain will be exciting as long as it lasts, but, before the judges’ scorecards are needed, Burgos will land a fight-ending punch and earn himself an extra fifty-thousand dollars for his efforts.
Sumian: I love that my colleague chose Shane Burgos, because I will be picking the exact opposite in Charles Jourdain. Many would agree that this is one of the best fights on the card and will be entertaining from start to finish. However, Jourdain has been coming into his own as of late and will deliver the best performance of his career when he sleeps Burgos in the second round. Jourdain is only 26 years old and will quickly establish himself as one of the best prospects in the UFC featherweight division.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: The perfect start to the weekend. This card begins at 8 a.m. PT, but it is loaded from top to bottom with fan friendly fights. The main card fires off at 11 a.m. PT and will be a great way to start the weekend, if time permits. Some late morning breakfast accompanied with Bailey’s and coffee could be the start of a wonderful Saturday morning.
Petela: This is a Bloody Mary fight card. Chocked full of can’t-miss affairs from opening bout to main event, there will be no lack of bloodshed. Make sure you add a good bit of tabasco sauce for this batch of Bloody Marys, because these fights are sure going to be spicy.
Main Card (ABC/ESPN+, 2 p.m. ET)
FW: Brian Ortega vs. Yair Rodriguez
Women’s StrawW: Michelle Waterson vs. Amanda Lemos
WW: Li Jingliang vs. Muslim Salikhov
FlyW: Matt Schnell vs. Sumudaerji
FW: Shane Burgos vs. Charles Jourdain
Women’s FlyW: Lauren Murphy vs. Miesha Tate
Preliminary Card (ESPN/ESPN+, 11 a.m. ET)
MW: Punahele Soriano vs. Dalcha Lungiambula
BW: Ricky Simon vs. Jack Shore
FW: Bill Algeo vs. Herbert Burns
LHW: Dustin Jacoby vs. Da Un Jung
MW: Dwight Grant vs. Dustin Stoltzfus
Women’s StrawW: Jessica Penne vs. Emily Ducote
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