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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group

4 biggest takeaways from UFC Fight Night 237: Is Brian Ortega’s rebirth a title threat?

What mattered most at UFC Fight Night 237 at Mexico City Arena in Mexico? Here are a few post-fight musings …

* * * *

Brandon Moreno stumbled on home soil – again

Brandon Moreno might want to let the call go to voicemail the next time UFC rings him up asking if he wants to fight in Mexico City.

Moreno (21-8-2 MMA, 9-5-2 UFC) is now 0-3 on home soil after suffering a split decision loss to Brandon Royval in their main event rematch, and that’s got to be pretty heartbreaking outcome for “The Assassin Baby.”

Unlike his past two losses in Mexico, too, there was a very strong case for a Moreno win. Two of three judges didn’t agree, and the result is a setback in many ways.

Moreno was probably going to get (another) title shot against Alexandre Pantoja had he won. Instead, he’s now sitting on back-to-back losses and has some people questioning if his best days have already been seen, despite the fact he’s only just turned 30 in December.

Brandon Royval's risk gets the reward

Whether you thought the decision was justified or not, Brandon Royval deserved major credit coming out of this event.

It was just over two months ago that Royval (16-7 MMA, 8-3 UFC) failed in the biggest moment of his competitive life with a decision loss to Pantoja in their UFC 296 title fight. He admits things for a little dark in his life after that, and to pull himself out, he agreed to step in against Moreno on short notice.

Between fighting in hostile territory in Mexico and stepping up against a man who already beat him by first-round injury TKO in November 2020, this was an uphill climb for Royval. He wasn’t looking so good in early parts of the fight, too, but he managed to flip everything in his favor and get the win.

The ultimate reward, too, might be another title shot. Pantoja needs a challenger for UFC 301 on May 4 in Rio de Janeiro, and although Royval has already lost to the current champ twice, he might actually get offered the fight.

Yair Rodriguez fumbles a critical chance

It was all right there for Yair Rodriguez. Despite him getting finished emphatically by then-champ Alexander Volkanovski in their title unification bout this past July, Rodriguez was a co-main event win over Brian Ortega away from getting another crack at gold.

Rodriguez (18-5 MMA, 10-4 UFC) did a fantastic job throughout the week in gaining traction for a fight with new featherweight titleholder Ilia Topuria. There was a genuine interest from the combat sports community to see that, but Rodriguez needed to handle business against Ortega first.

It looked like it was going to be a night to remember for Rodriguez in the first few minutes. He spent much of the opening round battering Ortega around the cage and nearly finishing him, but then he lost all momentum in the second before being submitted with a choke early in the third frame.

With the tap, Rodriguez flushed a title shot in the near future down the toilet. Most agree that Volkanovski deserve an immediate rematch with Topuria, but the storyline with Rodriguez was so rich that he might very well have left UFC with no choice but to make that fight. Instead, Rodriguez has to face the reality of now being on a two-fight losing skid, and further from the belt than he’s been in some time.

Brian Ortega's rebirth starts strong

Brian Ortega once again showed us what a unique entity he is in MMA when he overcame numerous hurdled for his first win since October 2020.

From all the injuries, surgeries and time off, to rolling his ankle during Bruce Buffer’s introduction, to nearly getting put away early in the first round – there were many chances for Ortega (15-4 MMA, 7-4 UFC) to fold and give up on himself.

Ortega was adamant coming in, however, that this moment of resuming his career was a “rebirth.” His wrestling game seemed to be the biggest improvement to his skill set, and that was a key difference maker in getting the job done.

“T-City” still relies a bit too much on heart and durability for my liking. Maybe he will shake some of that off if he can maintain a more active schedule, but it’s not the type of thing you would want to go into a title fight against Topuria boasting about.

It remains to be seen if Ortega’s rebirth will come with further evolution in how he fights. But this was a much-needed first step.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC Fight Night 237.

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