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UFC Vegas 60: Sandhagen vs. Song preview: Can Aspen Ladd rediscover herself?

Get the scoop on the preliminary action out of UFC Vegas 60, featuring former women’s bantamweight darling Aspen Ladd looking to right her ship against former Olympic wrestler, Sara McMann.

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Aspen Ladd punching Raquel Pennington at UFC 273
Aspen Ladd punching Raquel Pennington at UFC 273
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

I’m a bit down on the UFC Vegas 60 Fight Night event this weekend, but not for the reason you might think. While I admit it isn’t the deepest card, it does have some very well made fights that have me second guessing my picks plenty. No, I’m bummed about this card returning the action to the Apex; this card isn’t being held in front of a wide audience. Just like the fans, fighters have been anxious to be in front of crowds and their performances have indicated that. It’s hardly a guarantee that the fights won’t be as good, but following the recent trends indicates it isn’t follish to expect that.

Aspen Ladd vs. Sara McMann, Women’s Bantamweight: UPDATE BOUT CANCELLED DUE TO LADD MISSING WEIGHT

At first glance, it would appear the decline of Ladd came about quite suddenly. Looking deeper into the matter, it’s clear it was far more gradual. Ladd’s 16 second loss to Germaine de Randamie appears to have cracked her confidence. Completely blowing out her knee shattered it. The fact the knee injury put a total of 22 months in between fights is what is deceptive in making it appear her descent has come rapidly. At 27, she’s still young enough that she should be able to rebound, but that’s also far from a guarantee. Hell, that isn’t even referencing her history of disastrous weight cuts.

In Ladd’s last two contests, she has been reluctant to shoot for takedowns, a surprise given her grappling and GnP are considered to be her biggest strengths. Is it due to her knee? Her movement has been janky, but that isn’t necessarily a surprise as she has never exhibited great movement. She hasn’t gone for enough takedowns for me to feel comfortable saying she has lost explosion in her shots. It’s plausible to say it’s likely, but it’s also plausible to say it’s a matter of confidence.

Regardless, if she is going to return to her ground roots, she’s picking a hell of an opponent to do so given McMann is a former Olympic silver medalist. Granted, McCann hasn’t been very effective at stopping the takedowns of her opponents, but it’ll be hard to take McCann down if she puts Ladd on her back first. McCann has improved her ability to get and hold her opponents down, having heavily hit the grappling circuit to brush up on her defensive holes. That, despite her now being 41. That’s a testament to McMann’s work ethic as she could rest on her laurels. Much like Ladd, McMann’s GnP is probably her strongest aspect.

Even if McMann has brushed up her grappling, there‘s still concerns about her stamina, perhaps allowing her opponents find her back or transition into the top position for a submission late in the fight. She’s still a fish out of water if she finds herself on her back, no surprise given she came up a wrestler. Part of it is also due to McMann being stiff in her movement. She’s a powerful athlete, but not a particularly fluid one, the biggest reason why she has been limited in her powerful striking.

Even with her knee issues, Ladd is the more fluid striker, which could ultimately be the factor that leads to her securing a victory. Plus, McMann could fall off a cliff at any time given her age. Even with that said, Ladd hasn’t been spectacular at preventing takedowns, nor has she been the most active striker. There’s a good chance she’ll have to put McMann away... and doing that with strikes is a tall order. It’s a tough contest to pick, but not knowing if Ladd has made any serious changes, I’ve got to go with McMann. McMann via decision

  • One of the more underrated up-and-comers in the organization, Pat Sabatini has been mowing his opponents down with minimal resistance. The issue has been the UFC’s reluctance to give him a decent step up in competition. The funny thing is, his opponent, Damon Jackson, has had an equally difficult time securing an opponent ahead of him on the ladder. In that sense, I suppose it makes sense to pit them against one another. Jackson is a major risk taker. Given he is a minus athlete, it makes sense that he would have to. However, it’s not like he’s a reckless with his risks. Jackson is calculated about when to launch a bevy of punches at his opponent or go for a submission without having the proper positioning. Sabatini is far more about the nuts and bolts of the sport. In fact, he’s all about minimizing risk, securing takedowns and smothering his opponents on the mat. That isn’t to say he won’t expose a hole if his opponent provides him one, but much like Jackson, Sabatini isn’t anything special in terms of his physical tools, meaning it’s difficult for him to be too creative. Given Jackson relies on opponents to make mistakes — or even just gas out – he’s going to have a hard time exposing Sabatini. Throw in the fact that Jackson struggled with a short notice opponent who typically fights at bantamweight and there’s signs he could be slowing. I think Sabatini can do just enough with the holes Jackson exposes to get a very close decision. Sabatini via decision
UFC Vegas 60, UFC Fight Night, Cory Sandhagen vs Yadong Song, UFC FIght Poster,

Live! Stream UFC Vegas 60 on ESPN+

BANTAMWEIGHT BASH! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., Sept. 17, 2022, with a meaningful 135-pound showdown between No. 4-ranked division contender, Cory ‘The Sandman’ Sandhagen (14-4), looking to blunt the rise of surging prospect, No. 10-ranked, Yadong ‘The Kung Fu Kid’ Song (19-6). In UFC Vegas 60’s co-main event, hard-hitting Middleweight strikers, Chidi Njokuani and Gregory Rodrigues, will hook ‘em up in a potential “Fight of the Night” contender. Tune-in for a stacked 13-bout solid Fight Night card...

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

  • After his older brother Orion fell in his UFC debut, only to rebound in his sophomore effort, Louis Cosce is hoping to follow in his footsteps. Louis is damn near a carbon copy of his brother, squat for welterweight, bout possessing explosive power in both his punches and his takedowns. However, he was also heavily reliant on his physical skills on the regional scene, running over questionable competition with minimal attention to technique. That’s what led to his downfall in his debut, swinging wildly and gassing himself before succumbing more to exhaustion than anything else. Trevin Giles has his own issues, but cardio isn’t one of them. The streaky Giles has suffered from mental miscues more than anything, having given away fights due to his foolhardiness. When he’s right, Giles is a solid athlete with a fantastic jab and reasonable wrestling. The anticipation is that his wrestling should improve now that he’s making welterweight his home, but that is also with the idea the weight cut goes well. Giles did look alright in his debut there, but it’s fair to question if dehydration is going to be an issue given he was KO’d in his first fight there. Given Cosce’s power, there is reason to pause in selecting Giles to win, but he is the more measured and all-around talented fighter. Giles via TKO of RD3
  • Given recency bias is a very real thing, I got a feeling many are going to be jumping on the Denise Gomes train... at least for this contest. The pint-sized Brazilian had an impressive showing on DWCS, nearly doubling up the output of her opponent and doing so in an entertaining fashion. At 22, she has her best days well ahead of her too. However, she shouldn’t be sleeping on Loma Lookboonmee. Lookboonmee is one of the more technical strikers on the roster, much less the division. A heavily decorated Muay Thai practitioner before crossing over to MMA, is even smaller than Gomes. However, Lookboonmee is used to being the smaller fighter and has faced a higher level of competition than Gomes. Given Lookboonmee’s biggest issue thus far has been stopping takedowns, Gomes hasn’t shown signs of being a threat to take the fight to the ground on the regular. Perhaps most worrisome is Gomes making the cut back to 115 so quickly. She isn’t big for the division, but back-to-back cuts can be debilitating, especially if she has yet to perfect the science. Throw in that Gomes likes to brawl and I see the clean striking of Lookboonmee having a field day in what should be a fun fight. Lookboonmee via decision
  • The opinions on Daniel Zellhuber are a bit of a mixed bag. Not that anyone is unhappy with his having a spot on the roster, he’s a sound enough prospect that he deserves a shot. Some think he has a high ceiling, others think he could wash out within a few years. Given his youth and questionable competition, it’s a fair question. He’s got the size, length, and a varied attack to be a major problem. The question is whether his defense and overall technique has tightened up. Trey Ogden is the perfect test to figure out where Zellhuber is at. Ogden doesn’t have any special physical qualities, but he’s at least adequate in all areas of the fight game. Where Ogden is at his best is capitalizing on mistakes made in the grappling department, having secured 11 submission victories over the course of his career. He’s also proven difficult to put away, meaning a quick finish for Zellhuber seems unlikely. I likely wouldn’t put money on it, but I’ll go with youth in this contest given Ogden couldn’t beat Jordan Leavitt in a contest that was spent largely on the feet. Zellhuber via decision
  • The best way to describe the inconsistency of Mariya Agapova is to use a basketball analogy. One night she’s going to throw down 30 points, hitting everything she throws up. The next night, she’s going to brick everything and score 2 points in the same amount of time allotted in the other game. Agapova is talented as hell, but has struggled mightily with her fight IQ. If it weren’t for her mental gaffes, picking her would be a near unanimous pick against Gillian Robertson. Not that Robertson is without talent, but she lacks the explosiveness of Agapova and is incredibly stiff on the feet. Credit to Robertson in that she has worked hard to improve her striking and is reasonably technical, but the results haven’t borne fruit. Regardless, Agapova’s tendency to leave gaping holes in her defense is something I can’t get out of my head, particularly in her grappling. To be fair, much of that is attributed to Agapova draining her gas tank with her reckless attack early on, leaving her exhausted after just one round. Robertson is tough, but she’ll have to weather an early storm before I’d expect her to get an opportunity to catch Agapova in something compromising. I like her chances of doing that. Agapova via submission of RD2
  • Opinions are very split on Tony Gravely. Both sides are understandable. Gravely has always been a relentless wrestler with power in his fists that he’s begun to tap in recent fights. However, at 31 with 30 professional fights under his belt, it’s hard to believe there’s a lot of room left in his ceiling for him to grow, especially given there hasn’t been any definitive proof he has found a permanent fix for his stamina issues. That is going to be an issue against Javid Basharat as the Afghani fighter hasn’t shown any problems going the distance while pushing an admirable pace. Of course, Basharat isn’t initiating the wrestling in the manner Gravely typically does, relying on a very technical brand of striking. Basharat doesn’t have the wrestling chops of Gravely, nor does he have the natural power of Gravely, but it isn’t hard to see him picking apart Gravely... when he can keep the fight standing. It’s a difficult contest to pick. If you favor talent, pick Gravely. If you favor fight IQ, Basharat is the better pick. Given Gravely appears to be improving his fight IQ, I’ll lean in his direction. Gravely via decision
  • It’s a mystery how Cameron VanCamp is going to make the lightweight limit. Yes, I understand he has made it before, but that was over four years ago when VanCamp was in his mid-20’s. Now 29, VanCamp has been fighting consistently at 170 since that time. It’s going to be a hell of a chore for him to mold his body back into being conducive to fight at 155. If he can, he’s a slick submission artist with a decent chin, despite having been finished in his UFC debut by Andre Fialho. Of course, Nikolas Motta has proven capable of cracking a chin. The Brazilian striker is too technical a striker to be labeled purely a brawler, but he doesn’t mind when all hell breaks loose. Not that he can’t be disposed of as his chin can be cracked, but his athleticism usually allows him to find his opponent’s chin first. If that’s the fight we get, he should be a strong favorite. If VanCamp is able to wrest Motta to the ground, there’s a good chance he can secure an upset. Motta’s takedown defense has been a question mark in the past. That said, I still favor the more athletic fighter to find a win. Motta via decision