Cory Sandhagen is laying it on the line at UFC Vegas 60.
Coming off of a failed bid to become interim UFC bantamweight champion this past October, the top five contender is staring down a possible three-fight losing streak that could make another title shot a remote possibility. Sandhagen gave the UFC an excellent job by fighting Petr Yan in less than one month. However, all the positive will around the UFC pales when compared to the fact that he has racked up Ws. He’s chasing his first since February 2021.
Song Yadong has now won three consecutive fights and is the current No. 14 spot in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings. Overall, Song is 8-1-1 in the UFC with signature wins over Marlon Moraes, Casey Kenney, and Marlon Vera. Adding Sandhagen to that list would all but guarantee Song a future title opportunity. Song doesn’t turn 25 until December and while he has plenty of time to gain experience and build his resume, a big win on Saturday could dramatically accelerate the process.
In the main card action, middleweights Chidi Najokuani (and Gregory Rodrigues) face off in what is sure to please. Featherweight veteran Andre Fili faces Bill Algeo in what will be an entertaining fight. Recent Contender Series sign Joe Pyfer takes on Alen Amedovski at middleweight. Heavyweights Tanner Boser throws down and Rodrigo Nascimento goes head-to-head. Middleweight grappling expert Anthony Hernandez meets Marc-Andre Barriault.
What: UFC Vegas 60
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Cory Sandhagen (4) vs. Song Yadong (14)
In the past, I’ve either been too quick to announce a fighter’s arrival or way too late to hop on the bandwagon and when it comes to Song Yadong, I’m definitely at risk of being the latter once again.
My brain tells me that Cory Sandhagen is the better fighter, a certified top five bantamweight who has only lost to the best of the best at 135 pounds. Song is not included in that list. Yet.
The truth is that the 24-year-old Song has improved by leaps and bounds with every fight. He already sports an 8-1-1 record and while one could argue that he should have a couple more losses on there were it not for some suspect judging, the fact is that he’s rarely embarrassed himself in his first 10 octagon appearances. He’s already one of the top standups in a Division filled with talented strikers, and is really beginning to get his final touch. All of this makes him a serious contender.
I still lean towards Sandhagen. He has shown that he is capable of hanging with the top of the best. Sandhagen took a round from Petr Yan, and was arguably deserving of a decision against T.J. Dillashaw. He has a size advantage over most bantamweights and he knows how to use it, combining slick Dominick Cruz-esque movement with creative and unpredictable techniques. Simply put, he’s the toughest challenge that Song has faced yet.
Picking Song to overcome that challenge and assert himself as the next big thing is more than reasonable, but I don’t think he has the experience to get past Sandhagen yet. His time will come, it just won’t be on Saturday.
Chidi Njokuani vs. Gregory Rodrigues
Will we finally see the highly vaunted jiu-jitsu of Gregory Rodrigues in the UFC? Most likely not. And that’s what worries me.
“Robocop” shouldn’t think twice about following Jorge Gurgel’s footsteps, who was a grappling champion and fell in love standing and banging. But it would be great to see Rodrigues rekindle the skills that made him a dancer. Because on the ground, Chidi Njokuani doesn’t stand a chance.
Njokuani, a true dynamic striker with sharp kicks and knees and extensive experience, is the epitome of this. If Rodrigues tries to just brute force his way through Njokuani’s offense, he’s going to end up on Njokuani’s highlight reel.
Based on what we’ve seen in Rodrigues in his recent fights, I just don’t have a lot of faith in him breaking this current headhunting habit. This might be a good thing, considering he’s a lot of fun on his feet. But he’s playing with a lot of fire if he decides to ignore the ground game completely.
Andre Fili vs. Bill Algeo
Andre Fili, one of the UFC featherweight division’s most veteran fighters, is a wounded animal heading into this fight and that could be to his benefit. The longtime Team Alpha Male representative has just one win since 2019, a split call over Charles Jourdain, and it feels like he’s consistently being beaten to the punch more often than not.
The matchmakers aren’t doing Fili any favors pairing him up with Bill Algeo, an equally rangy featherweight who is adept at mixing the martial arts. If Algeo can’t get his striking going, he’s more than happy to close the distance, work from the clinch, and fight for takedowns. Fili has a well-rounded game as well, but I don’t trust him to recover when he’s down on the scorecards anymore. Fili favors a quick start. If the fight continues into the second or third round, Algeo will lose.
Fili has the misfortune of fighting in one of MMA’s deepest divisions and while he probably still has a few good years ahead of him, Algeo is one of the names I expect to leapfrog over him.
Joe Pyfer vs. Alen Amedovski
There’s a lot of buzz around Joe Pyfer following an impressive Dana White Contender’s Series performance and for good reason. He will quickly win fans with his high-octane offense style.
Credit to Alen Amedovski hanging in there after an 0-3 start to his UFC career that has seen few highlights, but he’s a big underdog here for a reason. Macedonian fighter Alen Amedovski is a hard hitting man who loves to swing and likes to power through any opponent he encounters. Unfortunately, that has not worked out well for him and his aggression has led to his last two losses taking a combined 81 seconds.
Unless Amedovski sees the light and changes dramatically his approach, Amedovski will either walk straight into Pyfer’s heavy hands or find himself lying on Pyfer’s back, Pyfer beating away at him.
My opinion is that Pyfer has a good chance here, and Amedovski doesn’t have a great chance of reaching the next round.
Tanner Boser vs. Rodrigo Nascimento
Is the world ready to have a meaner, leaner Tanner Boser?
The Canadian heavyweight came in at 229 pounds at the official weigh-ins, 32 pounds lighter than Brazilian big man Rodrigo Nascimento. How much this will actually benefit Boser on fight night is debatable, but Boser has always been on the smaller side when it comes to the heavyweight division, so being quicker and more explosive certainly can’t hurt.
Boser’s athleticism will help him open his offensive. He’s most effective when he is aggressive. He should stick to his game against Nascimento who is a strong-arm striker and has great submission skills. Nascimento can waste too much energy trying to capture and keep down Boser. So don’t be surprised that this will be primarily a standup thing.
Nascimento will be a threat to finish for the three rounds. But he won’t have an easy time keeping up with Boser. Boser should win this round on the scorecards, or find a late finish.
Anthony Hernandez vs. Marc-Andre Barriault
Anthony Hernandez is going to put Marc-Andre Barriault’s takedown defense to the test.
“Fluffy” specializes in non-stop takedowns and relentless grappling, which doesn’t bode well for Barriault considering that he’d rather keep his fights standing. The former two-division TKO champion has shown improved wrestling, but staying upright against Hernandez for three rounds has proven to be difficult for better grapplers than Barriault.
Barriault is most likely to try to complete this challenge early but will be defeated by Hernandez’s prompt takedowns. Hernandez’s feet have shown some courage, and this could result in a friendly exchange, but Hernandez will be the one who brings the entertainment. Hernandez should also work out on the mat.
Barriault can avoid submission, expect Hernandez to make a smooth decision.
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