So it’s natural that Saturday night’s main event at the Save Mart Center has special meaning for both men.
Swanson (25-7-0 MMA, 10-3 UFC) and Ortega (12-0-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) will meet in a five-round featherweight fight on UFC Fight 123, which will air nationally on FS1. It’s first-ever UFC event in Fresno.
“It’s Cali on Cali,” Ortega says.
Swanson, 34, a Palm Springs native, has fought once in California – his UFC debut in Anaheim in 2011. He’s looking forward to the return.
“I have hundreds of people who got tickets coming from my hometown. I’m sure he’s got a lot of people. By the time we come out, the crowd will be crazy.”
Swanson’s UFC contract expires after Saturday’s fight. He’s been good in UFC – his December 2016 unanimous decision over Doo Ho Choi in Toronto earned both men Fight of the Year at the World MMA Awards.
“My biggest thing is putting on good performances for the fans,” Swanson says. “That’s all my eyes are set on right now. Putting on a great fight. I hope right after the fight, I go to Vegas and talk with UFC and work things out. It’s simple as that.”
The 26-year-old Ortega, who is from Los Angeles, says he, too, has a lot to prove.
“The only person that can beat me is me. If I make a mistake, or if I act dumb or silly and do something I’m not supposed to do or that I wasn’t advised by coaches to do, that’s the only way I’m going to lose. Everything goes well, it should be a fun night.”
Swanson is the No. 4-ranked featherweight in UFC, Ortega No. 6. The winner is hoping for a shot at Max Holloway, the champion of the 145-pound class.
Swanson is on a four-fight win streak after losing to Holloway by submission in 2015. His past four fights went the distance and he last scored a knockout (punches) victory in 2013.
“I would love to finish him,” Swanson says. “I think that makes a statement. I haven’t had a finish in a while because I’ve been fighting tough guys and I was also coming back from the Max Holloway fight. My coaches had me working on particular things and specific game plans to get better, and the first couple fights they really didn’t give me free reign of creativeness and let me go in for the kill.”
This will be Ortega’s first five-round scheduled fight in the UFC. His other fights ended early.
“Three’s my number,” he says. “I’m going to take anything I can whenever I can. First round, second round, fifth round, but I’m always going to be in there hunting and looking for the kill. My coach says it the best: ‘There’s always something weird – your eyes change.’ I can’t see it, but I’ve seen a photo … The baby blues turn into killer blues.”
UFC Fight Night 123
Saturday at the Save Mart Center
FS1 main card (starts at 7 p.m.)
Featherweight: Cub Swanson (25-7-0) vs. Brian Ortega (12-0-0)
Featherweight: Jason Knight (20-3-0) vs. Gabriel Benitez (19-7-0)
Bantamweight: Marlon Moraes (19-5-1) vs. Alijamain Sterling (14-2-0)
Lightweight: Scott Holtzman (10-2-0) vs. Darrell Horcher (13-2-0)
Middlweight: Eryk Anders (9-0-0) vs. Markus Perez (9-0-0)
Bantamweight: Albert Morales (7-2-1) vs. Benito Lopez (8-0-0)
FS1 prelims (starts at 5 p.m.)
Flyweight: Alexis Davis (18-7-0) vs. Liz Carmouche (10-5-0)
Bantamweight: Luke Sanders (11-1-0) vs. Andre Soukhamthath (11-5-0)
Bantamweight: Alex Perez (18-4-0) vs. Carls John De Tomas (8-1-0)
Bantamweight: Frankie Saenz (11-5-0) vs. Merab Dvalishvili (7-2-0)
UFC Fight Pass early prelims (starts at 3:30 p.m.)
Bantamweight: Alejandro Perez (19-6-1) vs. Iuri Alcantara (34-8-0, 1 NC)
Lightweight: Chris Gruetzemacher (13-2-0) vs. Davi Ramos (6-2-0)
Middleweight: Antonio Braga Neto (9-2-0) vs. Trevin Giles (10-0-0)
$50-$600, on sale at Save Mart Center box office or ticketmaster.com