UFC Vegas 60: Sandhagen and Song Looking to Return to the Front of the Table

Cory Sandhagen and Song Yadong, UFC Vegas 60
Cory Sandhagen and Song Yadong, UFC Vegas 60 weigh-in Credit: Getty/UFC

With the bantamweight division arguably enjoying its best moment ever, Cory Sandhagen and Song Yadong are looking to get back into the title conversation with a victory at UFC Vegas 60.

It felt almost like poetic justice last October.  After coming up just short in a hyper-competitive fight against TJ Dillashaw, Cory Sandhagen stepped in for the reigning champion on six weeks notice against Petr Yan with interim gold on the line.  “The Sandman” gave the former champion all he could handle in the opening rounds before Yan rallied back to take over the fight and take the decision.  Sandhagen, after his second straight five-round effort, was now pushed out of the rankings and back to the drawing board as the division surged forward without him.

It was a difficult stretch considering Sandhagen had notched back-to-back finishes to return to title contention after losing to current champion Aljamain Sterling back in 2020.  One of the most talented fighters in the loaded bantamweight division, Sandhagen has sat out most of the year following a surgery on his foot and taking time to heal properly.  At a time when up-and-comers such as Marlon “Chito” Vera, Sean O’Malley, and Merab Dvalishvili now comprise the title picture, a return to form on Saturday for Sandhagen is more critical than ever if he is to force his way back into the title picture.

For the past several years, Yadong Song has been one of the top prospects in the entire sport of mixed martial arts.  Since joining the UFC in 2017 as one of the youngest members of the roster ever at 19 years-old, Song has built up an impressive 8-1-1 record that has seen him develop into one of the division’s most competitive talents.  He also enters his first UFC main event with significant momentum as he rides a three fight win-streak and back-to-back finishes.  At least on paper, he has as much going for him as a prospect can have if they are looking to upset a dangerous veteran like Sandhagen.

While his run in the UFC on paper is respectable, there is more than meets the eye.  His 2020 victory against Marlon “Chito” Vera was a decision that most did not score Song’s way.  Song followed that bout with his first UFC loss, against Kyler Philips, and went to the wire once again as he prevailed in a split-decision against Casey Kenney in 2021.  He has looked more the part of future contender in finishes over Julio Arce and Marlon Moraes, but the latter was considered an opponent on the tail-end of his career and not the serious title threat he once was.  This makes the leap in competition to Sandhagen a huge one for the Chinese upstart and a true test of just where his abilities stand.  Should he triumph, Song would enter the title conversation with a full head of steam at the perfect time as several big name contenders all seek bouts in early 2023.

Stylistically, Sandhagen’s multi-faceted arsenal presents several problems for the more compact Song across five rounds.  “The Sandman” utilizes a highly unorthodox attack that compliments his height and reach, and he is also a strong grappler in his own right.  Song will need to close the distance or is expected to find himself struggling from the outside with Sandhagen.  A full assault with strikes to the legs and body and the threat of takedowns will be key to setting the tempo early and taking momentum away from the former title challenger.  For Sandhagen, a well-paced attack is key for him to stay ahead of Song for potentially 25 minutes.

The next fight for the winner may not be decided until after UFC 280 where two key bantamweight bouts, including the title fight, take place.  With names such as Dvalishvili, Vera, José Aldo, and others all seeking fights in 2023, both Sandhagen and Song should expect to wait how everything shakes out going into next spring.