The UFC 231 main event is one of the most anticipated fights of the year for fight aficionados -- perhaps even more so after what happened in July.
On paper, this 145-pound title fight figures to be worth the wait. Who takes it? ESPN spoke to some of the brightest minds in the game for their take.
Editor's Note: These breakdowns and predictions were collected prior to UFC 226 in July.
John Kavanagh, SBG Ireland
Max is a great fighter. Brian is a great technician. Max has great takedown defense, but I think there are holes in his grappling game -- as seen in the Conor McGregor fight [April 2013]. Brian will expose that. I'm predicting Brian with the submission late in the fight.
Duane Ludwig, Ludwig MMA
You can't count either of them out. Ortega has proven time and again he's the new star. His composure is what is setting him apart. He takes that extra half-second and finds openings, whether it's submissions or strikes. Max Holloway, I love that kid. I can't really call it.
What Brian does on the feet is feel his opponent's rhythm and energy. Frankie Edgar is very unpredictable -- but his rhythm is the same. And that's a hard thing to break after you've programmed it for so long. Anderson Silva used to do that in the first round, pick up an opponent's rhythm. Conor McGregor does it. Brian finds that rhythm and then he literally leads the dance. Max's beat is unpredictable though, so it's going to be hard for Ortega to do that.
Danny Castillo, Team Alpha Male
It's kind of hard to bet against Ortega after what he did to Frankie Edgar. Each fight he wins, I'm more of an Ortega fan. I think Holloway's length is a problem, though. Even though Ortega is long, I don't think he uses his length as well as Max does. And Max's experience -- he has this crazy confidence going. I don't know anyone who is more confident than Max right now.
Max is going to be too much for him. It's not like Ortega has a great takedown. It's kind of like, get against the cage and fall into one. Some of those he's landed weren't even takedowns, they were submissions that basically landed takedowns. He doesn't need to necessarily pull guard, but he needs to get into the clinch, wrap Max up against the cage and fall down into an ankle. Play it that way. Don't necessarily work a trip or double leg, just keep him close and work off that -- because he is like quicksand when he gets you down.
I'm going TKO, Max. Third round.
Mark Henry, New Jersey striking coach
Ortega is a tough kid, but I think -- maybe fourth round -- Max stops him, standing. I just think Max has the range to hit him and not have to worry about his elbows. Max is so smart, man. He's thinking a couple moves ahead and he kind of throws where your head is going to be, before it goes there.
He has the size -- he's talked about how tough it is for him to make 145 pounds. He mixes it up well. Confidence. You add all that together, with his range -- people asked me about him when he was going to fight Jose Aldo, and I said Max had the range to win that fight. Same here. Just stay on the outside, use kicks. Switch righty, lefty. Max is a phenomenal boxer and he's phenomenal brawler. He can do both.
Javier Mendez, American Kickboxing Academy
You've got Max Holloway, who is arguably trending as one of the greats right now. And you've got a young kid in Ortega, who is super strong, super confident and improving all the time.
I'd say on the ground, I favor Ortega. And the standup, obviously, Holloway. But look at what happened with Frankie Edgar. I thought he was the far better striker, but he got clipped by one hit and look what happened. It could happen to Holloway, too, for sure. Ortega is strong. As good as the Ortega was we saw against Frankie, we'll see a better one against Holloway.
I favor Holloway slightly, but I do not put nothing past Ortega. His relaxation, his angles, his killer instinct when he has you hurt -- he's the complete package. Cardio to go along with it all. He's a machine.
Firas Zahabi, Tristar MMA
Great, great fight. I just can't go against Holloway right now, only because he's on fire. He's the best he's ever going to be. He's at his peak. Two years ago, he wasn't half of what he is right now. I just don't think he loses. It comes down to the fact he can take it and give it at a higher pace than Ortega can.
I really like Ortega. He's a phenomenal fighter -- a technically brilliant fighter. However, he's fighting a guy who is in his prime, who can take and give more punches per second than he can. I think Ortega will eventually fall back throughout the fight.
Duke Roufus, Roufusport
Max is really big. I just see Max picking him apart. One of the things Brian did well against a boxer-type like Frankie Edgar was he used his full Muay Thai arsenal. Well, that's Max's wheelhouse. Max is better at what Brian does best on the feet.
I like how Brian mixed it up with a counter elbow that caught Frankie, but when you talk about a fighting mentality, Max is old school. He's as Hawaiian as the day is long. He's scrapping every day in his training and I think he's a very hard force to beat right now. He's focused on out-fighting every one of his opponents and his training mentality is based on that. He's just great at beating people up.
Jimmy Gifford, Las Vegas striking coach
Everybody is on Ortega right now, he's the hot thing. He's the Kool Aid, and everyone is drinking. He's never tasted defeat. Holloway is better now than he's ever been. I think Ortega is the bigger, stronger guy and he has sufficient enough striking to give Holloway trouble.
Max is a f---ing warrior, though. He's a lot like the Diaz brothers, where you see that arm punching, that long stuff, and you think, 'There can't be a lot of power in that,' -- but he can crack. I think Ortega can win the fight, but I'll tell you, people forget that before he got caught, Frankie Edgar was giving him trouble with speed, movement and angles. I think Max will try to duplicate that. Max likes to stand and trade in the pocket and I don't think that would suit him with a guy like Ortega. He's going to have to use his movement and long range. If he stands in the pocket, I think Ortega is powerful enough to hurt him.
Mike Brown, American Top Team
Ortega keeps on surprising me. He's one of those guys you say, 'Where is his ceiling?' We don't know, because no one has beat him. I'm going to go with Holloway because superior footwork and length will beat him. I also picked Frankie Edgar to beat Ortega, so I was wrong on that one.
Holloway just has the length to keep him at the end of his punches. Reach advantage is huge when someone knows how to move their feet well. Guys aren't standing in the pocket, trading anymore. They're on their toes. Always moving and staying just outside range, so they can hit their opponent but not be hit. Holloway is one of the longest guys at the weight. And it doesn't just matter in striking, it matters in your ability to defend takedowns. It's becoming more important all the time.
Izzy Martinez, Izzy Style Wrestling
Ortega hasn't been there. Holloway has. Holloway is still hungry and huge for the weight class. I think the size and reach is a huge factor. Holloway's jiu-jitsu game is very strong and I think he could actually take Ortega down and neutralize his jiu-jitsu game. I think Holloway is going to come out with the victory in third or fourth round.
If you're Ortega, you have to make sure to close that distance and force Max into doing something he doesn't want to do. Get into that Muay Thai clinch area. The guy does impress me. You look at his film from six months ago and Brian Ortega is a completely different animal. His grappling is so dominant, but if you neutralize that, you force him to look for something else. And I think Holloway will do that.