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 did the UFC a solid by fighting Petr Yan on less than a month’s notice, but at the end of the day all of the good will in the world pales in comparison to racking up Ws. He’s chasing his first since February 2021.
None of that means a thing to the surging Song Yadong, who has won three straight fights to secure the 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 other main card action, middleweights Chidi Njokuani and Gregory Rodrigues in what’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser, featherweight veteran Andre Fili seeks a much-needed win against Bill Algeo, recent Contender Series signing Joe Pyfer fights Alen Amedovski in a middleweight contest, heavyweights Tanner Boser and Rodrigo Nascimento throw down, and middleweight grappling specialist Anthony Hernandez takes on Marc-Andre Barriault.
What: UFC Vegas 60
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
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. Theoretically, that list doesn’t include Song. 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. His standup is already among the best of a division filled with dangerous strikers and he’s really starting to find his finishing touch. Add that all up and you’ve got a legitimate contender.
Still, I’m leaning towards the more proven property in Sandhagen, who has proven that he can hang with the aforementioned best of the best, taking a round off of Petr Yan and arguably deserving 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? Probably not. And that’s what worries me.
“Robocop” shouldn’t have any second thoughts about following in the footsteps of Jorge Gurgel, a fellow grappling ace who fell in love with standing and banging, but it would be nice to see Rodrigues at least consider tapping back into the skills that brought him to the dance. Because on the ground, Chidi Njokuani doesn’t stand a chance.
Njokuani is the definition of a dynamic striker, with sharp kicks, knees, and elbows, and a ton of experience to tie it all together. 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. Which might not be the worst thing given that he is a ton of fun to watch on the feet. But he’s playing with a lot of fire if he decides to ignore the ground game completely.
Njokuani by knockout.
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. A fast start favors Fili; should the fight extend into the second and third rounds, it’s Algeo’s to lose if only because he has more ways to win.
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. His high-octane offensive style is going to both win him fans and end his UFC debut quickly.
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. The hard-hitting Macedonian loves to come out swinging and charges forward with the intention of just powering through whatever his opponents throw at him. 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 has seen the light and dramatically changes his approach, he’s going to walk right into Pyfer’s heavy hands or immediately find himself on his back with Pyfer pounding away at him.
Suffice to say, I like Pyfer’s chances here and I don’t like Amedovski’s chances of making it past the second round.
Tanner Boser vs. Rodrigo Nascimento
Is the world ready for a leaner, meaner 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.
Hopefully for Boser, an athleticism advantage will allow him to open up his offense as he’s at his best when he’s aggressive. His game plan should be to stick and move against the hulking Nascimento, a long-armed striker who also has excellent submission skills. However, Nascimento could waste a lot of energy trying to catch and hold down the elusive Boser, so don’t be surprised if this is primarily a standup affair.
Nascimento as a finishing threat for three rounds, no question, but he’s going to have a difficult time matching Boser’s pace. Look for Boser to take this one on the scorecards or find a finish late.
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.
Most likely, Barriault will look to finish this one early, but fall prey to Hernandez’s timely takedowns. Hernandez has shown some adventurousness on the feet, which could lead to a fun exchange here or there, but the real entertainment value will come from Hernandez going to work on the mat.
Barriault is capable enough to avoid being submitted, but look for Hernandez to ride out a comfortable decision in this matchup.