Top-10 bantamweights Cory Sandhagen and Song Yadong share the spotlight in what’s sure to be a thrilling main event battle at UFC Vegas 60 on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The co-headliner at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas is a clash of surging middleweights in Chidi Njokuani and Gregory Rodrigues, while featherweight veterans Andre Fili and Bill Algeo face off.
Plus, the exciting Joe Pyfer makes his UFC debut in a middleweight match-up against Alen Amedovski and a finish is forthcoming when heavyweights Tanner Boser and Rodrigo Nascimento collide.
MAIN CARD (from 1 AM Sunday SA time):
Cory Sandhagen (1.51) v Song Yadong (2.65) (Bantamweight)
A high-level, high-stakes headliner is on deck with Sandhagen (14-4), ranked fourth, brimming to get back to winning ways and 10th-ranked Song (19-6-1) seeking to continue his surge.
Sandhagen has suffered back-to-back defeats, however, it’s important to note those came against former champions TJ Dillashaw and Petr Yan. The Dillashaw fight was razor close, decided by split decision, while his interim title fight against Yan last time out also went the full five rounds. A staple in the 135-pound division’s top five, his only other loss inside the Octagon came against current champion Aljamain Sterling.
An excellent striker with vicious variation and creativity, “The Sandman” attacks from all angles and like his nickname suggests, he has a propensity to put opponents to sleep. Five of his seven wins in the UFC are by knockout including his last two, a spinning wheel kick KO of Marlon Moraes and an all-time great flying knee KO of former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.
Song has momentum on his side. He’s won three on the trot, the last two by knockout, and broke into the top 10 with a first-round finish of Moraes in March to cement himself as one of the fastest-rising bantamweight prospects in the promotion.
Sandhagen is levels above anyone Song’s faced while he also welcomes him to the main event scene, which carries greater pressure and responsibility. The experienced Sandhagen is used to these challenges and has proven he can keep a high pace for five rounds. Song has exclusively fought three-round fights, so his gas tank is untested.
“The Kung Fu Monkey” is the harder straight-up puncher and while he’s no brawler, he’s also some way off the sophisticated striker Sandhagen is. As the younger of the two by six years, you’d expect Song to have a speed advantage but that’s not the case. It’s the 30-year-old American who’s faster and more agile on the feet, which is crucial in what’s set to be a stand-up battle.
In addition, Sandhagen’s the taller man by three inches at 5’11” and will have a three-inch reach advantage, plus he throws significantly more volume. Given Song’s toughness, look to Sandhagen to win by decision.
Chidi Njokuani (1.80) v Gregory Rodrigues (2.05) (Middleweight)
The co-main event is a great piece of matchmaking with Njokuani (22-7) emerging as the slight favourite after opening as the 2.00 underdog. Standing 6’3″, these are two big middleweights who’ve enjoyed a lot of success over the last two years.
Njokuani is on a four-fight knockout streak, including back-to-back first-round finishes to kick-start his UFC career. Rodrigues (12-4), in turn, has won five of his last six and rebounded from a split decision loss to Armen Petrosyan with a brutal beat down of Julian Marquez in June.
A Muay Thai buzzsaw, Njokuani aka “Bang Bang” boasts 14 knockouts. He’s a more layered striker and a better athlete than “Robocop”, who’s no slouch on the feet but he’ll most likely look to take the fight to the ground, where he has four submission wins.
Njokuani is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt in his own right and uses those skills as defensive tools to get back to his feet, where Rodrigues has proved to be a very hittable target. On top of that, Njokuani has a five-inch reach advantage, so I’m expecting him to notch up another KO win.
Andre Fili (1.80) v Bill Algeo (2.05) (Featherweight)
Two veterans on opposite trajectories, Fili (21-9) has won just one of his last five while Algeo (16-6) is coming off consecutive wins.
Their contrasting results against Joanderson Brito earlier this year further show where they’re at at this stage of their careers, Algeo beating the Brazilian by decision before Brito knocked out Fili in just 41 seconds.
Fili’s in a serious funk and doesn’t have one-punch knockout power to surprise Algeo, meaning he’ll have to outwork him. To do so, he’ll likely turn to his wrestling but Algeo will be wise to this.
“Senor Perfecto” is no power puncher either but his output is significantly higher than Fili’s which, along with his momentum makes him a great underdog pick to get his hand raised in a featherweight fight that’ll most likely go the distance.
Joe Pyfer (1.22) v Alen Amedovski (4.50) (Middleweight)
The hype around Pyfer (9-2) hasn’t lost steam since he blew Dana White away with his knockout of LFA middleweight champion Ozzy Diaz on the Contender Series in July to earn his UFC contract and he heads into his promotional debut as the biggest favourite on the main card.
Amedovski (8-3) is winless after three trips to the Octagon, two of which were humiliating losses – being knocked out by John Phillips in 14 seconds and submitted by Joseph Holmes in 64 seconds.
On a high, possessing a more well-rounded skillset and with a big size advantage to boot, bank on Pyfer to finish Amedovski in a hurry.
Tanner Boser (1.58) v Rodrigo Nascimento (2.45) (Heavyweight)
A classic striker versus grappler match-up in the heavyweight division. Boser (20-8) got back on track in a big way in his last fight, stopping former interim light heavyweight title contender Ovince Saint Preux to pick up knockout number 11.
Nascimento (8-1) is coming off a suspension for a banned substance that saw his win over Alan Baudot declared a no contest. The Brazilian has a 100% finish rate with six of his eight wins coming by tapout and his goal will be to put Boser on his back and look for a submission early.
Boser, though, has the strength and technique to stay vertical and clean Nascimento’s clock sooner rather than later.