The logjam at the top of the bantamweight division is ridiculous. Aljamain Sterling is defending his title next month at UFC 280 against TJ Dillashaw. Petr Yan fights Sean O’Malley on that same card. Marlon Vera is waiting in the wings. So is Merab Dvalishvili. The only reason no one mentions Sandhagen is he has lost to Sterling, Yan, and Dillashaw, but he also proved his mettle in those contests. A few more wins and he could be right back in that mix. As for Yadong Song, most have him sitting on the outside looking in, not quite ready for prime time. A win over Sandhagen will change those minds.
Cory Sandhagen vs. Yadong Song, Bantamweight
It’s been impossible not to sing the praises of Sandhagen since he arrived in the UFC. Possessing a uniquely lanky frame for 135, Sandhagen throws a bevy of jabs and kicks to keep his opponents on the outside. You’d think being as big as he is would create issues with him maintaining his attack over the course of three rounds. Nope. In fact, Sandhagen has proven he can go hard for five rounds, much less three. Plus, he’s got a knack for the flashy. His flying knee KO of Frankie Edgar was one of the highlights of 2021. He’s even shown a slick submission game.
However, it’s obvious he isn’t impervious given the three losses that were mentioned in the opening paragraph have come in his last five contests. One of those issues appears to be overconfidence, thinking he’s talented to overcome whatever his opponent opts to throw at him. Thus, he takes a LOT of unnecessary risks. Lots of spinning attacks. Throw in some leaping strikes and a willingness to operate off his back an it ultimately isn’t a big surprise he has fallen short against three of the last four champions of the division.
Perhaps the back-to-back losses he has experienced will be humbling for him, return him to a greater focus on fundamentals. After all, it doesn’t take a long time of listening to Sandhagen to determine he’s an intelligent individual. Then again, fight IQ doesn’t always correlate with general intelligence. What Sandhagen might want to look to do is look to win rounds as opposed to immediately winning the fight.
On the flip side, Song has gradually been maturing into the contender many saw in him when he first touched down in the UFC. His power and explosion has always been apparent, so it all came down to Song developing a better feel for the fight game, something that he and his camp would hope would come with experience. In the process, Song has tightened things up immensely. He entered the UFC as a powerful brawler who could hit the occasional takedown. Many expected his wrestling to emerge as the backbone of his attack given he began training at Team Alpha Male. Nope. In fact, Song hasn’t landed a takedown in his last seven contests....
Song has developed into a well-rounded striker. Though things typically revolve around his jab, it’s the powerful boxing combinations that are the heart of his attack. When his hooks land, his opponents feel it. Well, sometimes they don’t feel it until they wake up, but you get the idea. In his last few contests, Song has been more consistently adding low kicks to his attack. However, while he’s probably the superior athlete to Sandhagen, there’s no guarantee he’ll be slick enough to deal with the length of Sandhagen, provided the fight stays on the outside.
Perhaps Song will find the most success if he can close the distance, perhaps nailing some takedowns and/or pressing Sandhagen against the fence. Then again, Sandhagen isn’t bad in the clinch and Song tends to avoid the clinch. It’s not like he’s proven to be porous from there in the limited extended engagements he’s had there, but it’s a big turn for him to take that approach from what he has been doing as of late. Of course, even with Sandhagen’s creative and dynamic striking, Song landing a heavy hook would appear most likely to end the fight. That said, Sandhagen’s chin has proven to be tough to crack and he’s not so deep in his career that I’d expect it to begin showing signs of wear quite yet. Sandhagen should be able to outwork the young Chinese representative, perhaps even get a late stoppage. Sandhagen via decision
- Anyone else get the feeling Chidi Njokuani would have developed into one of those guys who is synonymous with Bellator had he opted to fight at 185 for the entirety of his run there? The skilled striker has really come into his own after he gave his body ample time to adjust to dealing with larger opposition and he still has an advantage in size over most of his opponents anyway. The biggest difference is now he doesn’t have to conserve his gas tank to the extreme, allowing him to let loose with his hands with greater frequency. Hell, he might even be willing to go for the occasional takedown, though it would be foolish to expect that against Gregory Rodrigues. Rodrigues is not only one of the few middleweights on the roster who is bigger than Njokuani, he’s assuredly the better ground fighter. In fact, Rodrigues may have the most impressive grappling credentials in the division this side of Rodolfo Vieira. Given the brawls he has engaged in, it might be a surprise to many to hear that. Rodrigues may have more natural power than Njokuani, but he isn’t quite as technical. I might look to who is more chinny between the two and that’s impossible to know given both have had their lights turned out. Thus, with very little confidence, I’ll go with Rodrigues possessing the more varied attack to give him a slight edge. Rodrigues via submission of RD3
- Even as he maintained his reputation as one of the most inconsistent members of the roster, Andre Fili was making strides in the right direction for years. Given his inconsistency, it’s been hard to know if he was simply having an off-night or if he’s been in decline. After several subpar performances, most would agree he’s in decline, or stagnated at the very least. Even if it is the case that Fili has peaked, he’s still skilled enough to secure a win over someone who is definitively ahead of him in the standings. Whether Bill Algeo is could certainly be debated, but no one doubts that Algeo is the more consistent fighter of the two. Exceptionally durable with an endless gas tank, Algeo gains steam as his opponents peter out. The question is whether Fili will be able to outpoint Algeo in the first two rounds. Then again, stamina has never been an issue for Fili. If you’re a believer in Fili, he has the power, boxing, and wrestling to be a problematic matchup for Algeo. After all, while Algeo is a talented grappler, he’s always had problems stopping takedowns. However, does anyone feel confident in trusting Fili? Algeo may be older by a year, but Fili has far more wear on his body having fought a higher level of competition over the years, often times not working too hard to avoid damage. There will be zero surprise if Fili pulls it off, but Algeo is the pick here. Algeo via submission of RD2
- It’s a great mystery how Alen Amedovski still has employment within the UFC. However, given no one cares enough about Amedovski, it’s a mystery no one has bothered to try and figure out. A heavy-handed striker, Amedovski is undersized for the middleweight division and can’t stop a takedown for the life of him. That alone should be enough for anyone who knows a modicum about Joe Pyfer to pick the DWCS alum to secure victory. Pyfer may have secured his contract on the back of a highlight reel KO, but he has made his bones on the back of his wrestling prowess. Given Amedovski hasn’t been remotely competitive in his three UFC appearances coupled with his struggles in wrestling, it doesn’t take a hell of a lot of analysis in this contest to figure out Amedovski’s road to victory is only on the puncher’s chance, something I wouldn’t ever put money on. Pyfer via submission of RD2
- Given it’s been over a year since Tanner Boser stepped into the Octagon, he’s become very much a forgotten man. Part of that is due to Boser’s lack of physical tools. He’s not a great athlete and he isn’t a built like a brickhouse. Despite that, Boser does possess one of the deeper gas tanks in the division and has added power to his volume punching. Throw in his solid chin and it isn’t difficult to figure out why Boser tends to pick up more than his fair share of wins. However, he isn’t the only one coming off a long layoff and Rodrigo Nascimento has a much higher ceiling. Nascimento is easily the superior athlete, has more natural power, and is a slick submission artist. However, his fight IQ doesn’t appear to have caught up with his physical tools quite yet. It is possible he has matured in the year plus he’s been away, but a victory isn’t guaranteed even if he has. Nascimento’s best path to victory is through the ground and while there’s a first time for everything, Boser has never been submitted. It doesn’t help that Nascimento’s wrestling may be the aspect of his game that is still very much a work in progress, though he does have trips in close quarters. The issue there is Boser’s movement will make him hard to entangle. With steady development, I’d probably pick Nascimento if this fight were to take place in two years. As it is, I’m going with Boser to secure a decision. Boser via decision
- Anthony Hernandez appears to be gaining some consistency to his career. Given he has suffered a couple of losses, thus losing his air of invincibility, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise. Not that Hernandez has lost much in terms of aggression, but there is a maturity to his controlled chaos that wasn’t present when he first came into the UFC. Now, rather than looking to hit home runs, he’s picking small battles to win – such as takedowns – and taking the openings his opponents give him. That’s bad news for Marc-Andre Barriault. The bulky Canadian has always struggled with pressure and takedowns and Hernandez is going to bring both of those in spades. To be fair to Barriault, his takedown defense has strengthened throughout his UFC run and he’s usually been the fresher fighter at the end of his contests. If Barriault can turn Hernandez’s aggression against him and bully the younger fighter against the cage, a W is in reach for him. Barriault may be the better overall fighter, but what Hernandez does well matches up so well with what Barriault struggles with. Regardless, it should be a competitive contest. Hernandez via decision