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Brian Ortega is close to reaching critical mass as a UFC featherweight. After all, he’s booked against veteran Cub Swanson for his next bout at UFC Fight Night 123.

Ortega (12-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC), the No. 7 fighter in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA featherweight rankings, has carved out an impressive niche in his octagon career, submitting four consecutive opponents in the third round. He’s earned a test.

The No. 6 Swanson (25-7 MMA, 10-3 UFC), a grizzled veteran who’s come within a step of a title shot, is just that type of opponent. The UFC will either mint a new star or certify an existing one.

Overall, the fight offers more upside for the 26-year-old Ortega, who’s got plenty of time to reset in the event of a setback. Swanson, 33, doesn’t have that luxury.

When the pair meet in the FS1-televised headliner of UFC Fight Night 123 on Dec. 9 at Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif., it will be the final fight on Swanson’s contract.

Calling his choice to test free agency “a power move,” Swanson is making a bet he’ll increase his leverage with the promotion by beating the red-hot Ortega, getting a salary increase through a new contract with the UFC or one with another promotion.

It’s a bet many fighters have taken over the past two years, to mixed results. Swanson figures now is the right time to make his move. He just welcomed his first child and wants to set himself up so he doesn’t need to take physical punishment to make a living.

He chooses to reframe the high stakes as a chance to show off his skills.

“It actually feels good,” Swanson said. “It feels like less pressure. Some people may take more pressure being the favorite, but man, I feel like I’ve worked so hard to be here, and I don’t see somebody coming and taking it from me.

“So whenever a guy that’s the new thing, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is the guy you’re fighting?’ I’m like, ‘He ain’t making a name off of me.’ I’m going to show him why I’m in the spot I’m in, and why I’ve been here so long. I keep getting better. Bring it on.”

Although Swanson believes he’s already a rightful contender for the title, he’s no longer dwelling on opportunities not offered. Ortega is the one in front of him that must be overcome.

“I don’t know exactly how he’s going to come into the fight,” Swanson said. “I know he likes to bang, but I’m sure he’ll try to use his jiu-jitsu, as well. I just see that he’s stylistically a great matchup for me.

“Every fight, I’m chasing the perfect performance and feel like I’m getting closer and closer, and that’s what makes me keep fighting. I feel like this could be it. This could be your perfect performance.”

For more on UFC Fight Night 123, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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