The UFC bantamweight picture is no clearer after UFC Vegas 60 than before the event. But on a positive note, the battle at the top of the promotion’s 135-pound weight class didn’t get murkier on Saturday night.
In the headlining bout of UFC Vegas 60, Cory Sandhagen, who entered the event as the No. 4 ranked fighter in the official UFC bantamweight rankings, defeated No. 10 Song Yadong via doctor stoppage. With the win, Sandhagen, who was on a two-fight losing skid, is likely to hold onto his spot in the rankings and perhaps land himself a title eliminator in his next outing.
In the co-main event, Gregory Rodrigues overcame having a chasm blasted into his forehead compliments of a well-timed knee of Chidi Njokuani to win that middleweight contest via TKO.
Cory Sandhagen: Cory Sandhagen’s focus heading into UFC Vegas 60 was to end his two-fight losing skid and hold onto his No. 4 spot in the official UFC rankings. He did that with an excellent performance against a future star in Song Yadong.
Sandhagen used volume, varied strikes, unorthodox attacks, meanness and stellar cardio to get the win via doctor stoppage at the end of the fourth stanza. The fight was close, two judges had it tied going into the fifth and the other had Sandhagen ahead. With that, it was Sandhagen’s ability to do damage and then exploit that damage that won him the fight.
With the win, Sandhagen remains in the mix at the top of a crowded division with several fighters vying for a shot at the winner of the UFC 280 fight between current 135-pound champion Aljamain Sterling and former champ T.J. Dillashaw.
Song Yadong: Song Yadong doesn’t turn 25 until December 2. With that, expect to find him hanging around the top of the bantamweight division for years to come. My criticism of Yadong entering this fight was that he throws everything with maximum effort. My concern was that he would leave himself open to counters and fade as the contest went into the later rounds.
I still think Yadong needs to mix up his striking and he often bit on movements his opponent, Cory Sandhagen, made during the fight. But his toughness, resiliency and takedown defense were all off the charts on Saturday night.
Yadong and Team Alpha Male should look at UFC Vegas 60 as a learning experiment and make adjustments focusing on incremental improvement. Yadong does not need a total retooling, but some minor tweaks will make him a better and more successful fighter.
Gregory Rodrigues: After his win over Chidi Njokuani, Gregory Rodrigues stood in the middle of the octagon with his forehead split wide open and told UFC commentator Daniel Cormier that he is “built for this.”
That’s a phrase we often hear in combat sports. However, after witnessing what Rodrigues did during the co-main event of UFC Vegas 60, one has no choice but to believe his assertion.
Rodrigues took the hellacious knee that opened that cut in the early going of the fight and never faltered, coming back to finish Njokuani in the second stanza.
Andre Fili vs. Bill Algeo: Andre Fili and Bill Algeo had themselves a spirited featherweight battle. Fili’s striking was on point and he spent a fair amount of time in the third round looking for a submission. However, Algeo made things close thanks to his refusal to quit.
Joseph Pyfer: Joseph Pyfer earned a UFC contract with a memorable knockout on a July Dana White Contender Series card. The UFC was impressed enough with that finish that they put Pyfer on the UFC Vegas 60 main card. Pyfer made the most of that opportunity, scoring a highlight reel knockout over Alen Amedovski in the first round.
Anthony Hernandez: Anthony Hernandez made a statement at UFC Vegas 60, beating up Marc-Andre Barriault in just about every way possible. He had a 65 percent significant striking rate, eight takedowns, two submission attempts and 8:45 of control time in a fight that ended at 1:53 of the third round via technical submission.
Hernandez’s performance at UFC Vegas 60 was his third straight win and probably his finest performance under the UFC banner.
Damon Jackson: Damon Jackson hurt Pat Sabatini early and then went for the finish with some nasty and effective ground strikes. Those blows brought a verbal submission from Sabatini at the 1:09 mark of the first round.
The win came just a week after Jackson’s brother died. Moments after he earned the victory, the emotions Jackson kept inside during fight week poured out.
With the victory, Jackson is now on a four-fight winning streak.
Trey Ogden: Everything Trey Ogden did against Daniel Zellhuber was effective and impressive. Ogden and his coach, James Krause, created — and executed — a perfect game plan to end the winning streak of the favored Daniel Zellhuber at UFC Vegas 60.
Ogden’s defense, counters, mix of techniques and speed were all noteworthy in his decision victory.
Gillian Robertson: I’m torn on Gillian Robertson. On the one hand, Robertson lost the first round because of her focus on putting Mariya Agapova to the mat. In that round, Agapova landed 82 strikes to Robertson’s two. Stat keepers deemed 37 of those blows “significant.” On the other hand, Robertson’s grappling and the choke she used to end the fight were top-notch.
Javid Basharat: Javid Basharat moved to 13-0 with a decision win over Tony Gravely. What I really liked about Basharat’s game in this bantamweight contest was how he mixed up his striking targets and techniques. The 27-year-old’s striking attack prevented Gravely from getting a read on what was coming and where it was coming from.
Basharat gets some bonus points for keeping his cool — at least during the fight — after a couple of head clashes during the action.
Nikolas Motta: Nikolas Motta did not have to wait long to find his opening against Cameron VanCamp. Motta gave up a lot of height and reach to his opponent, but VanCamp seemed to believe that his advantages would make him untouchable. They didn’t, as Motta used his speed and countering ability to find VanCamp’s off button at the 3:49 mark of Round 1.
The knockout win was a solid rebound performance for the 29-year-old, who opened his UFC career win a knockout loss to Jim Miller in February.
Rodrigo Nascimento: After his decision win over Tanner Boser, Rodrigo Nascimento had a request. While many fighters take their time on the mic after a win to ask the UFC for a $50,000 fight-night bonus, Nascimento requested tickets for the trilogy fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. Hey, at least it was different.
NSAC cageside doctor: Cageside doctors have a tough job. When they work combat sports, these men and women often have to go against their training. The role of a cageside doctor, in the case of a cut, is to assess if the fighter can see or if there is a risk of permanent nerve damage. They don’t — or shouldn’t — consider the cosmetic outcome of the damage. With that in mind, the doctor on Saturday did an outstanding job making the calls he did in the co-main event and main event.
Pat Sabatini: Damon Jackson never gave Pat Sabatini a chance to get into their featherweight contest. Sabatini verbally submitted to strikes early in the first round. The loss ended Sabatini’s three-fight UFC winning streak and his overall run of six straight victories.
Sabatini’s next fight will be critical regarding his trajectory with the promotion.
Daniel Zellhuber: One of the things Daniel Zellhuber spoke about in the lead-up to his UFC debut was that before he moved to Xtreme Couture a few months ago, he had difficulty getting high-level training. That showed in his loss to Trey Ogden. He seemed unable to adjust during the fight and looked as if he was frustrated with his inability to make anything happen.
It’s far too early to write off Zellhuber, who is just 23, after his first career loss, but we need to see a lot of progress from the young man in his next fight. The time he spends with head coach Erick Nicksick will be critical.
Mariya Agapova: Mariya Agapova should have tapped. Fighters don’t get a “toughness” bonus. Gillian Robertson had the choke locked in and Agapova wasn’t fighting it in any way that would have allowed her to escape the technique.
Cameron VanCamp: Cameron VanCamp learned the lesson that many fighters discover when they step up in competition. That lesson? Length and reach are not a substitute for a strong defensive striking guard.
Sara McMann: Sara McMann has not fought since March. The UFC had booked her to face Aspen Ladd in August, but that fight fell through after Ladd contracted COVID-19.
The promotion rebooked McMann vs. Ladd for UFC Vegas 60. However, with Ladd missing weight on Friday and the fight being scratched, Ladd prevented McMann from competing inside the octagon.
McMann said the UFC took “very good care’ of her, which is great, but with no fight, everything she put into training camp — physical and monetary — was for naught. The lack of a fight also prevents McMann from moving to the next level of her UFC contract because, with no win, there will be no movement in that regard.
Aspen Ladd: Aspen Ladd has missed weight three times in her UFC career and had a frightening moment on the scale in 2019, where she made weight, but not without some questions about her health. She also failed to make weight once under the Invicta banner. Ladd’s weight misses with the UFC have cost her opponents — Sara McMann, Macy Chiasson and Leslie Smith the opportunity to perform on UFC cards.
The UFC is reluctant to force fighters to move weight divisions, but Ladd has shown a pattern. If the UFC wants to be health and safety first, it needs to tell Ladd from now on, she must fight at 145 pounds.
UFC Fighters: In the early moments of the UFC Vegas 60 broadcast, the commentary team mentioned that 13 Dana White Contender Series alum were competing on the card.
While the DWCS has provided plenty of fighters with UFC contracts, it has done that at a lower starting pay for most of those fighters. From what we have seen from the commissions that still reveal fighter salaries, all indications are that DWCS alum start their careers with $10,000 UFC contracts.
The DWCS seems to have been designed with the idea that it would provide the UFC and ESPN with cheap content creators. It has succeeded in doing that.
A high number of DWCS alum on a fight card is not much of a positive if you care about fighter pay.
UFC: After his win, Joe Pyfer said, “Thank you to Dana White. That man gave me cash on the side and a place to live for the next year.”
In a just world, UFC athletes would earn enough money that housing would not be a concern, but if you were unaware, Pyfer’s “feel good” story was another reminder that the UFC is a dirty business, folks.