The road to title contention goes through Texas as top-five bantamweights Marlon Vera and Cory Sandhagen battle it out in what promises to be an action-packed main event showdown at UFC San Antonio on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
MAIN CARD (from 1 AM Sunday SA time):
Marlon Vera (1.60) v Cory Sandhagen (2.40) (Bantamweight)
Vera (22-7-1) has been on a tear in his pursuit of a first title shot. His current four-fight win streak includes knockout wins over two former champions in Frankie Edgar and most recently Dominick Cruz, both of whom he put away with wicked head kicks.
Third-ranked “Chito”, who’s also the only man with a victory over No 1-ranked Sean O’Malley, has come into his own over the last three years, maturing into a well-oiled machine who’s as dangerous on the ground as he is on the feet with eight wins by submission and just as many by knockout.
Fifth-ranked Sandhagen (15-4 with seven knockouts) is a pure striker. Super explosive and unpredictable, “The Sandman” puts opponents to sleep in style. Look no further than his spinning wheel kick knockout of Marlon Moraes and devastating flying knee finish of Edgar as examples of his deadly dynamism.
He’s been on the brink of greatness a few times but has fallen short when it mattered most. He was submitted by Aljamain Sterling in their number-one contender clash in 2020, dropped a decision to former champion TJ Dillashaw and was outpointed by Petr Yan in their interim title fight (both in 2021).
He rebounded from the latter two losses with a TKO win over Song Yadong last September to earn another big fight here. His unpredictability on the feet makes him a live dog, but Vera’s firing on all cylinders and is the more complete fighter.
The Ecuadorian ace’s crisper striking and fluid footwork make him well worth his favourite tag as it should allow him to lead the dance, land with greater accuracy and at a higher volume while he also has a grappling advantage, which should see him dictate terms and win the decision.