An unofficial bantamweight Grand Prix makes its next stop at the UFC Apex on Saturday night. Cory Sandhagen vs. Song Yadong headlines a UFC Fight Night card with the intention of sorting out the bantamweight elite.
Sandhagen (14-4) was pivotal in elevating the 135-pound division as one of the most deeply competitive and fiercely exciting in the sport. An exhilarating blend of creative strikes and offensive grappling has earned him three performance bonuses in his last four fights. Highlight reel knockouts of Frankie Edgar and Marlon Moraes are often celebrated, but Sandhagen has struggled at the very top of the division. Losses to Petr Yan, T.J. Dillashaw and Aljamain Sterling have cast doubt over his ceiling. Sandhagen, who fought three times last year, took an 11-month hiatus from competition in search of a necessary puzzle piece.
“It was a great time away,” Sandhagen told reporters at Wednesday’s fight week media day. “It was definitely needed. I just wanted to develop some of the skills that I needed to develop that I feel that I really need in order to be a champ. Lost a couple of close ones recently, so got kind of sick of that, so wanted to fix that. It was good time away. I really needed it in order to become an actual champion.
“I do think [Yadong] is good, and he brings a danger that it’s easy for me to wake up for and get up in the mornings.”
Yadong (19-6-1, 1 NC) has been pining for an opportunity like this for a long time. A prized pupil of UFC Hall of Famer Urijah Faber, Yadong is known for his ferocious knockout power. Recent stoppages of Marlon Moraes and Julio Arce suggest that Yadong is becoming more adept at finding those fight-ending shots at the UFC level. A win over Sandhagen likely elevates the Chinese fighter from No. 10 to a top five spot and puts him within striking range of a UFC bantamweight title shot.
“I think if I finish Cory, I think I got the title fight,” Yadong told reporters on Wednesday. “If not, one more. Just one more… He lost two fights in a row, but he’s still dangerous. He’s lost to top fighters. He’s still good.”
Here’s the fight card for UFC Fight Night with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook.
UFC Fight Night card, odds Cory Sandahgen -195
Yadong Song +165
BantamweightChidi Njokuani -115
Gregory Rodrigues -105
Andre Fili -120
Bill Algeo +100
FeatherweightJoe Pyfer -450
Alen Amedovski +350
MiddleweightTanner Boser -175Rodrigo Nascimento Ferreira +150
HeavyweightAnthony Hernandez -175
Marc-Andre Barriault +150
UFC Fight Night viewing information
Date: Sept. 17 | Start time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: UFC Apex — Las Vegas
TV channel: ESPN+
Cory Sandhagen vs. Yadong Song: This is really solid matchmaking. Sandhagen needs reinvention away from the bantamweight top five and Yadong is overdue for an opportunity like this. Yadong appears to have cracked the code for translating his wicked power to UFC-level competition. Sandhagen has a durable chin that not even former champion Yan has managed to put down. Sandhagen’s dynamic style leaves him vulnerable to absorbing strikes. It has cost him rounds even if his chin holds up. Sandhagen is 2-2 inside the Octagon when fights go the distance and has one split decision on both ends. Yadong has often ended up on the good side of the judges, but this event marks the first five-round fight of his professional career. Both men employ diverse gameplans safeguarded by durable chins. Sandhagen’s experience fighting tougher opposition should give him the edge he needs but expect Yadong to shave off a round or two. Sandhagen via UD