TNT Sports Reload - Episode 11Sep 26
We’ve just about recovered from the madness of UFC 279 last weekend but the show remains in Las Vegas this weekend as the UFC returns to the UFC APEX at the promotion’s HQ for a cracking card featuring two talented bantamweights in a brilliant main event.
They’ll be supported by a stellar cast including a middleweight humdinger between Chidi Njokuani and Gregory Rodrigues, Contender Series standout Joe Pyfer’s promotional debut and a heavyweight firefight when Tanner Boser returns to face Rodrigo Nascimento.
With all that coming your way, here’s why you can’t afford to miss UFC Fight Night: Sandhagen vs Song on BT Sport this Saturday night.
Amid the flurry of recent bantamweight activity over the past few months, there’s one man who may feel a little aggrieved to not be a bigger part of the conversation at 135lb.
Cory Sandhagen has hardly had the rub of the green since his stunning flying knee knockout of Frankie Edgar last February – a result that appeared to pave the way for a maiden attempt at the belt before it was decided he must face the returning TJ Dillashaw in a bantamweight title eliminator.
Never one to turn down a fight, Sandhagen duly accepted and gave the former champion hell over five rounds of war in July 2021; however, judges saw the result differently to most other observers, handing Dillashaw the victory on a razor-thin split decision that appeared to send Sandhagen’s immediate title hopes up in smoke.
I'm not going to just let him walk in and take it from me
- Cory Sandhagen
But when the 135lb champion Aljamain Sterling withdrew from his UFC 267 rematch against Petr Yan less than a month out from the fight, Sandhagen stepped up once again with the lure of an interim belt enough to convince the Denver man to roll the dice on just a few weeks of training being adequate preparation for the biggest opportunity of his life.
Sandhagen was ultimately beaten convincingly over five rounds against Yan on Fight Island last October but his stock arguably rose after a game showing against the Russian given the circumstances.
However, almost 11 months on from that fight, Sandhagen appears to have found himself outside the unofficial grand prix taking place in the upper echelons of the 135lb rankings with the likes of Yan, Chito Vera, Merab Dvalishvili – and maybe even Sean O’Malley – potentially ahead of him in the pecking order for a crack at the belt, depending on what shakes down at UFC 280 in Abu Dhabi next month.
Back-to-back losses, however competitive, seem not to have been palatable enough to permit Sandhagen a crack at another top contender with the Sandman instead being handed a tough assignment against a hungry prospect and seemingly a long road back to the summit.
That could all change on Saturday night however with another explosive reminder of Sandhagen’s championship calibre; an Edgar-style finish against one of the UFC’s most promising young stars would certainly force a rethink in how the next few months could play out across the 135lb landscape.
Speaking to UFC.com this week, Sandhagen, 30, vowed to expose the gulf in class between Song and himself, both in experience and ability.
“I think he's super athletic, and I think that he's a very dangerous guy,” Sandhagen said.
“I think that that experience is good for him, but I don't think that he's ever faced anyone — I know everyone says this s**t every single time, but he literally hasn't faced like anyone in the top five, so I could say that definitively.
“It's just like, ‘I'm not letting this kid take my spot.
“He has plenty of years that he can, but he's not going to take my spot. He hasn't put in the time, and he hasn't put in the work that I've put in, and I'm not going to just let him walk in and take it from me.”
Rising star Song set on top five spot
Chinese sensation Song Yadong could be set for a breakout year in 2022 having already laid the foundations of his rise to prominence during almost five hard-fought years on the roster already.
To have gathered so much experience at the highest level already is a remarkable feat given the Team Alpha MMA charge remains just 24 years old and despite his relative youth, Song looks increasingly assured of becoming a mainstay in the 135lb conversation.
He comes into the bout on a three-fight win streak including back-to-back finishes of battle-tested veterans Julio Arce and Marlon Moraes, the latter of which pocketed Song a fifth career performance bonus.
However, Sandhagen undoubtedly represents the biggest test of Song’s career yet, pitting “The Kung Fu Monkey” against a former title challenger and one of the most relentless men in the division.
I would like to knock him out
- Song Yadong
“What I like about Cory is that he has a very mature style — he uses feints to get his opponent confused, controls with his distance,” he told UFC.com of his American opponent during an interview this week.
“He’s a very mature and experienced fighter and that makes him dangerous.”
Despite a six-year age gap between the two fighters this weekend, both men will be making their 11th Octagon walk on Saturday night and while Song may not yet have fought the same level of competition as his veteran rival, the experience gap between the two men may not play as big a part in the contest as Sandhagen suggested.
Regardless, Song knows this is an opening he cannot afford to let slip if he is to continue his march towards UFC title contention.
“It means I have the chance to get into the top five and challenge the champion,” he continued.
“Fighting into the top five was my goal for this year, so I’m very excited for this fight. It’s a big opportunity for me.
“I don’t have any specific plans for the fight, but I believe that my instincts with my power and speed will tell me what to do at the time.
“Last fight, my coach told me ‘Defense’ in the first round, but I don’t know what happened — I just went and got the knockout.
“Winning this fight is very important and would be one of the highlights of my career.
“I would like to knock him out.”
"Act like Joe Pyfer"
“If you want to get into the UFC and this is where you want to be, act like Joe Pyfer. Be Joe Pyfer. Be excited to be here, be fired up to fight, try to finish the fight, try to win. Be Joe Pyfer and you will get into the UFC.”
Those were the immortal words of UFC boss Dana White in July as he rewarded 25-year-old Pyfer with a well-deserved promotional contract following his highlight reel knockout of Ozzy Diaz at the UFC APEX.
Pyfer was the only fighter to emerge from Week 1 with a contract, leading White to send a stern message to the rest of the hopefuls following in his wake to show up with the same attitude as the man from Pennsylvania.
It was a sweet moment for the man nicknamed “Bodybagz” too, coming almost two years after his last appearance on the Contender Series which ended in a freak traumatic arm injury that saw Pyfer sidelined for more than a year.
“I started the road back to recovery which was some of the most painful rehab that I could imagine people have to go through,” he explained earlier this year of his recovery from a brutal elbow fracture.
“They put weights on your arm and pry on your hand so it feels like your arm is going to snap again.
“I’ve had my life really test me to find out if this is what I want to do, through depression, through anxiety, being sad, feeling alone, not hearing from the same people you do when you’re winning.
“This is still something I’m willing to get up for myself and work every day to get better. It’s a testament to my perseverance as a person.”
Pyfer looks to have been favourably matched on his UFC debut against a fighter who’ll need no second invitation to stand and bang, Alen Amedovski.
However, Amedovski, who had entered the UFC with a perfect eight-fight record of consecutive knockouts, has lost three straight since joining the promotion and looks likely to be in the last chance saloon against Joe Pyfer.
Can Amedovski “be like Joe Pyfer” and seize his moment – or will the real Joe Pyfer prove he belongs with the big boys on his UFC debut?
The man with the finest nickname in all of MMA returns to action this Saturday night as Chidi “Bang Bang” Njokuani takes on Gregory Rodrigues in a fight guaranteed to entertain.
Another alumni from the Contender Series, Njokuani has already piqued the interest of fans in just two fights under the UFC banner having made light work of both Marc-Andre Barriault and Dusko Todorovic in successive first round finishes.
The 33-year-old is an experienced combat campaigner having fought for the likes of Legacy Fighting Alliance and Bellator before joining the UFC – and with 14 of his 22 wins coming by knockout, he’s certainly appointment viewing inside the cage.
But he takes on another man with a similarly ferocious reputation as a fight finisher in Brazil’s Rodrigues.
The 30-year-old destroyed Julian Marquez inside the first round on his last assignment in July, his second knockout in three UFC wins.
However, the man nicknamed “Robocop” is comfortable anywhere the fight goes and may look to use his skills as a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to target Njokuani on the mat.
Whichever way it shakes out on Saturday night, this one has all the making to steal the show at the UFC APEX. Don’t miss it!