Our Cory Sandhagen vs. Song Yadong staff picks are in, and all agree that the underdog is the better play for this weekend’s main event.
Sandhagen returns after his unanimous decision loss to Petr Yan in October last year. The 30-year-old failed to win the Interim UFC Bantamweight Championship on that night but earned “Fight of the Night” honors for the five-round bout. It marked Sandhagen’s second defeat in a row following his split decision loss to TJ Dillashaw earlier last year.
Yadong enters the bout on an impressive three-fight win streak with victories against Marlon Moraes, Julio Arce, and Casey Kenney. His first-round knockout of Moraes saw him walk away with a “Performance of the Night” award.
Read on for our staff picks, breakdowns, and predictions for Sandhagen vs. Yadong at UFC Fight Night 210.
Cory Sandhagen enters as a moderate betting favorite before UFC Fight Night 210 this weekend. Yadong is a +160 underdog for the main event bout.
This is an extremely fun fight. Many who are speculating on the result have been pointing out that Cory Sandhagen is the more mature fighter, both with age and the level of competition he has met in the UFC. He has been floating among the top of the division for the past few years with c couple setbacks along with big wins, having come as close as an interim title shot. Song on the other hand has had a much more gradual but consistent rise, with only one setback in his UFC career. He is yet to fight top 5 contenders however. While Song is much younger it’s important to note that the two actually have an equal 10 fights in the UFC and Song has actually more pro fights in total due to an extremely active young career in China. Therefore in fight years, the two actually have a pretty comparable level of experience.
Song Yadong is an exceptional talent. He is very heavy handed and utilizes a sharp and tight kickboxing style that has been polished on top of his base roots in Sanda. We do still see flashes of this background in bursts and his fast side and head kicks but lately we see him cut deep with the fundamentals. His straight punches, hooks and uppercuts show little telegraph and are thrown with little fat on them. Although he does have attacks from the outside in his kicks, he does ultimately want to breach the pocket and intercept his opponents counters with superior speed.
This will be especially difficult against someone like Sandhagen. If Song cannot trap him between the fence, Sandhagen is the very best in the division at playing with space. He constantly drifts in and out utilizing his reach and switching stance to escape on any angle necessary whilst hiding his own attacks and entries. As aggressive a fighter as Song is, Sandhagen actually prefers to fight on the backfoot often because he can give up the space he needs and still land long shots down the pipe or draw his opponents into knees.
Song is probably the better offensive wrestler although this is never his primary approach. He is particularly good in scrambles which can be attributed to his time at Team Alpha Male, but this ability to constantly adjust will be important if he finds himself on top. Sandhagen does not have the same one punch KO power as Song but his knockout rate is similar because he throws high risk high reward attacks like jumping knees and spinning kicks. The drawback to these is if he misses those opportunities for Song to end up in a top position are opened and Song more than anyone capitalizes on moments of imbalance and quick reactions. That being said he has to stay disciplined if he chooses to attack any takedowns because Sandhagen is extremely quick to latch onto a submission threat at the cost of takedown defense so Song has to be wary of his neck at all times.
Ultimately I see a very closely contested fight, the five round format is relatively unknown to Song except for a single fight outside the UFC. On the flipside, while Sandhagen has more experience there, he has been somewhat unsuccessful over 25 minutes so far in the UFC. I see Sandhagen being elusive and how Song reacts will have major bearing on the outcome. If he stays disciplined and chooses his moments to explode while mixing up his attack I can see Song putting Sandhagen on his back and clipping him in short transitions in between Sandhagen working from the outside.
Pick: Song Yadong to win (+160 odds at BetUS)
#4 ranked bantamweight, Cory “Sandman” Sandhagen is yet again in a main event that could serve as a title fight eliminator. Sandhagen, much like the old saying “always a bridesmaid, never the bride,” seems to be perpetually highly ranked but unable to grasp UFC gold. He lost a narrow fight, which also won Fight of the Night honors, for the interim title in his most recent bout. Sandhagen is a complex and highly skilled mixed martial artist with all the skills needed to be a champion, he just happens to be in one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC. On the feet, Sandhagen is tall and long, standing 5’11. He is a high output striker who is adept at maintaining distance where his long kicks and sharp jab and be most effective. He is able to maintain a constant striking volume without slowing down for a full 25 minutes and does so while also incorporating unique and tricky footwork. Sandhagen moves awkwardly but fluidly, switching stances, bouncing in and out, and staying on his bike, very similarly to Dominick Cruz. His movement is designed to allow him to strike when he’s in his range, avoid counter shots when his opponent closes distance, and keep the fight in perpetual motion. Because of the awkward style, opponents often struggle to time his movement in the early rounds and Sandhagen can take advantage, often winning rounds 1 and 2. Then, with a lead, Sandhagen becomes even more mobile and defensively aware but never overly passive. His elite cardio allows him to continue moving and striking without concern for slowing down. While he often has the edge in striking technique, variety, and output, Sandhagen is also an adept wrestler if he needs to threaten with a new approach. Much like his striking, his takedowns are untelegraphed and well-timed. When Sandhagen is at his best, he tends to move on the outside of the cage, picking his shots carefully, then he’ll start to pressure forward, mix in some takedown feints, force his opponent to the cage and piece them up with a combination. While Sandhagen does not have notable power, he does have the ability to finish fights through an accumulation of damage over the course of 5 rounds. To put in perspective just how talented Sandhagen is, he’s only lost to 3 fighters in the UFC: the champ, the current challenger, and the former champ.
Song “Kung Fu Monkey” Yadong seems to have an anti-aging potion available only to him. The once super prospect has quickly turned into a legitimate contender and is ranked #10 in the division at only 24 years old. Yadong’s rise to and through the rankings is largely to do how elite of a striker he is. He is an incredibly fast and versatile striker who mixes up kicks, knees, and punches effortlessly. Like his opponent, Yadong fights with good volume and rarely throws a single shot at a time. In fact, most recently, Yadong seems to throw at least a 3-strike combination each time he engages. Throwing in combination often creates opportunities to catch an opponent cleanly. Yadong has the fundamentals, hand speed, combination variety, and power to not just catch and opponent cleanly but catch and drop them cold. He typically will feint his way into range, throw his multi-piece combination, and either exit the pocket or fake the exit. When Yadong fakes an exit, his opponent can over pursue a counter, which is exactly what Yadong wants, then Yadong with cut a quick angle and land another lightning quick combination. Between his hand speed, power, striking IQ, and high level footwork, it seems impossible that Yadong is only 24. In situations where an opponent pressures him, though, Yadong has shown his inexperience a bit. He is willing to stand and trade, blow for blow, rather than use his footwork to exit the pocket against pressure. In these situations, Yadong, while the fire fight is ill-advised, still has the advantage in power, speed, and toughness. He’s only been knocked out once in a fight outside of the UFC in 2016. In the UFC, Yadong has proven to have a reliable chin and an ability to win blow for blow brawls.
Both of these fighters are super high level and this fight is likely going to be razor thin and fan friendly. Sandhagen has the edge in experience, strike variety, footwork, and proven 5 round cardio. Yadong has the edge in speed, power, and youth. Each time Yadong has stepped into the octagon he has shown a significant improvement or development to his game. I expect Saturday to be no different. If the Yadong who beat Marlon Moraes in March is the Yadong that shows up, I still like him at underdog odds. But, considering he has improved each and every time we’ve seen him, I’m expecting to see an even better Yadong against Sandhagen. It’s going to be close, it’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be a fight you don’t want to miss, but, give me Yadong at plus money to edge out a win on the back of speed and power.
Cory Sandhagen is one of the UFC roster’s most slept-on, dangerous fighters. The reasoning for his lack of widespread popularity is difficult to ascertain, but, the reasoning behind him being an extremely dangerous fighter in the bantamweight division is quite easily deduced after watching just about any of his previous fights.
As a bantamweight, Sandhagen standing 5’11” tall is an inherent challenge for any opposition he goes against. Often, we see height being a tool that is often not capitalized on for fighters of lesser skill, but for Sandhagen, he does an impeccable job maximizing the value of his natural frame advantage. Particularly, he uses elite footwork and a strong jab to keep his distance and fight at a range that creates the most advantageous situation for himself to win. Moreover, once the opposition eventually rushes in to cut the distance, Sandhagen throws dangerous knees and elbows to land against the fighter who foregoes defense in an attempt to fight at a closer range. This ability, to have the footwork and jab to fight at distance, and then, have the close-range attacks needed to find quick success when the opposition rushes in is what makes Sandhagen such an elite contender in the extremely tough bantamweight division.
Beyond having highly technical ability on the feet, Sandhagen has extremely underrated grappling with an elite gas tank. The former, of having underrated grappling, is important to state given he, having been submitted quickly by the current champion, Aljamain Sterling, may be perceived as a subpar grappler among casual fans. But, this perception would be greatly flawed in reality, as Sandhagen, similarly to his striking, does an impeccable job leveraging his large frame to pose difficulty in taking him to the mat, and in fact, has the technical skillset to offensively get the fight to the ground if he elects to do so – he took Petr Yan down in his last bout.
This grappling ability parlayed with an elite gas tank and impressive striking makes Sandhagen an elite contender; but, the facet of MMA that perhaps explains why he is on an 0-2 fight losing streak is that while he is able to fight any bantamweight extremely closely, he has difficulty separating himself from his opponent – in those two previous bouts, both were razor thin, with many believing he should be 1-1, and some seeing the fights as 2-0 in his direction. Lacking the ability to separate in the eyes of the judges is a legitimate flaw in Sandhagen’s fight-game, and is one he will need to figure out if he seeks to beat the elite challenger he is facing in this bout, and then, beat an elite challenger in his next (potentially fighting for the belt).
The immense accolades I gave to Cory Sandhagen will be seen once more when breaking down Song Yadong. This is because Yadong possesses high-end, elite skills wherever the fight takes place; and, when this is added to the fact that he is just 24 years old, results in my belief that he will fight for the belt in his UFC tenure, and if it isn’t against Umar, I believe he will eventually become champion. Projecting championship status for Yadong may seem lofty, particularly when knowing just how elite the bantamweight division is, but, his skills are simply that good, and the scary thing is they are seemingly improving fight over fight.
The specific fight skills that make Yadong elite are a combination of speed and power on the feet with very good wrestling. The former skill-set is far more interesting given he often favors striking in his fights, but it is important to reiterate that his wrestling is very strong, which comes as less of a surprise once the knowledge of his training taking place at Team Alpha Male – Uriah Faber’s gym – is known.
So, expanding on the striking of Yadong being lightning fast and powerful, he does an incredible job throwing strikes in a combined fashion. Often, it seems as if Yadong always throws in a 3-strike duration, and, the 3-strike combo will be to all levels of the body – he does an impeccable job working the body, and then, ending on a hook that lands powerful and aids in his defensive movement post-combination. Having output that is rooted in frequency, power, and speed makes Yadong a problem for the division as he has a unique skill-set that makes him extremely dangerous, particularly when the addition of having an elite chin is input. So, Yadong is able to use speed to land in and out strikes, but also, when he wants to throw in a flurry of exchanges, he can confidently do so because he will possess the greater power and will have the greater – or equal – durability with wearing strikes.
Cory Sandhagen’s elite footwork, the frequent output of strikes, elite cardio, and underrated grappling gives him every opportunity to win this fight. On the other end of the spectrum, Yadong’s elite combination of speed and power, good wrestling, strong chin, and an overall propensity to improve gives him every opportunity to win. What is interesting is that if Sandhagen loses, I do believe a drastic change to his style is needed – needs to find ways to separate beyond razor-thin margins – but if Yadong loses, I do not believe anything drastic will need to change given he is so young and still improving.
While I do not believe the absolute best version of Yadong has been seen nor will be seen here – meaning I don’t believe this is his peak – I do ultimately believe he has the necessary skills to get the win in this fight. This belief is largely due to forecasting each round being razor thin, but I believe Yadong has the power/damage advantage to notch him above Sandhagen on the judges’ scorecards given damage is the most important criterion when scoring the round.
Pick: Song Yadong to win (+160 odds at BetUS)