The bantamweight division continues to stand out among UFC's most exciting weight classes with fights like Marlon Vera vs. Cory Sandhagen. Their last six combined wins include finishes via flying knee, spinning wheel kick, front kick and head kick. Both intend to add to their violent catalogue in the main event of UFC Fight Night in San Antonio on Saturday.
Vera (20-7-1) is beginning to establish himself as an undeniable force at 135 pounds with four consecutive wins against the likes of Dominick Cruz, Rob Font and Frankie Edgar. Still, there is work left to do among the crowded bantamweight elite with Henry Cejudo challenging for the title, plus Sean O'Malley and Merab Dvalishvili on standby. Vera rejects the politics at play and remains focused on Sandhagen with deadly precision.
"You've got O'Malley at No. 1 after he beat [Petr] Yan. Now you've got Merab at No. 1 after he beat him," Vera told reporters at Wednesday's media day. "Yan wasn't at No. 1 after his last fight, but you beat the guy then you go to No. 1? So it really doesn't f---ing matter. You can be No. 10 and fight for the title. It's whatever the f--- UFC wants to do at this point. I'm OK with that.
"I wake up every morning thinking there's a lot of jobs to get done. It doesn't matter who is in front of me. I just focus on getting better, and I've been showing that fight to fight."
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Sandhagen (15-4) was burdened by lofty expectations from fans and analysts who dubbed him a future world champion. His dynamic performances over Marlon Moraes, Edgar and, most recently, Song Yadong continue to inspire confidence from his supporters, but he has fallen short repeatedly against the very best. Looking to build his own case for a title shot, Sandhagen thinks he knows exactly how to exploit Vera.
"He's a very grounded fighter. He doesn't rely on his footwork to win and that's fine. That's great," Sandhagen told CBS Sports. "I rely on my footwork to win. So I think that's probably the biggest difference there. You saw it against [Dominick] Cruz. Cruz was giving him some trouble. Cruz doesn't really have the greatest guard in the world. His hands don't really come back to his face much. So there's that mistake. I do think that I'm a much better defensive fighter. Maybe I won't say much better, but I'm a better defensive fighter than Cruz I think just because I have better hand positioning and a better guard.
"I think 'Chito' is going to pressure me. He's going to try to make it kind of an ugly fight. I think he's going to try to do his best to wear on me. He's going to try to do his best to make me move my feet so that I run out of energy. I'm going to do my best to not let any of those things happen. I'm ready to take the fight wherever the fight needs to go. I'm a quiet, humble kind of guy. So I don't really get to show the dog that's inside me sometimes. In my last couple [of fights], I kind of have. But if that's what I got to do to win, that's what I'll do to win. So I'm ready for however ugly or however beautiful Saturday night it is. I'm ready for both of them."
Check out the full interview with Cory Sandhagen below.
Vera vs. Sandhagen was originally set to headline a limited-capacity event at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas; meanwhile, Raquel Pennington vs. Irene Aldana was rumored to headline the San Antonio card. There was a considerable online backlash to the idea of dynamic fighters Vera and Sandhagen fighting without a full house. The bantamweight tilt was soon after promoted to the San Antonio main event.
"I thought that that was so awesome and I honestly think it had a big deal to do with why they moved it to San Antonio," Sandhagen said. "The UFC listened to them. I get flattered by that, man. I have a horrible sense of public image. I don't who's hot or who's not. I just know that my algorithm is my algorithm. But I think that it tells me that I must be doing something right as far as being a badass fighter so that people want to watch me be a main event in an arena so that they can actually come. So I was flattered, man. I think it's happening against a really great opponent for it. I'm really flattered and really grateful for that."
Below is the rest of the fight card for Saturday night with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before we get to a prediction and pick on the main event.
UFC Fight Night card, odds
|Cory Sandhagen -170||Marlon Vera +145||Bantamweight|
|Holly Holm -240||Yana Santos +200||Women's bantamweight|
|Nate Landwehr -200||Austin Lingo +170||Featherweight|
|Maycee Barber -270||Andrea Lee +220||Women's flyweight|
|Manel Kape -180||Alex Perez +155||Flyweight|
|Chidi Njokuani -155||Albert Duraev +130||Middleweight|
UFC Fight Night viewing information
Date: March 25 | Start time: 7 p.m. ET (main card)
Location: AT&T Center - San Antonio, Texas
TV channel: ESPN | Live stream: fuboTV (Try for free)
Marlon Vera vs. Cory Sandhagen: Sandhagen's five rounds with Yan should serve him well on Saturday. Both Vera and Yan are slow starters who need time to make reads on opponents before finding the timing and angles to land with fight-changing power. Sandhagen is supremely durable, well-conditioned and dynamic as a stand-up and ground fighter. His quick first-round submission loss to Aljamain Sterling was very concerning, but it remains an outlier as far as Sandhagen getting run over. Vera is a ferocious fighter with eight knockouts and eight submissions on his record. The problem Vera faces is that he doesn't have reliable takedowns to set up those submissions. He lands an average of 0.68 takedowns per 15 minutes with an accuracy rate of 68%. Sandhagen's less-than-stellar 63% takedown defense may encourage Vera to shoot, but the reality is neither fighter is particularly effective at wrestling. If Sandhagen can bank the first three rounds, his stamina and toughness should carry him through Vera's late storms. Sandhagen via UD