Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight talents Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen will square off this Saturday (June 6, 2020) at UFC 250 from inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
This is the best fight on the entire UFC 250 card (see it), and it should probably be five-round match for the vacant 135-pound title.
Getting stopped violently by Marlon Moraes proved a wake-up call for Sterling, who was already really damn good. Since that loss at the end of 2017, Sterling’s kickboxing has grown leaps-and-bounds, which has allowed his wrestling and grappling skill to grow even more effective. Sandhagen is perfect through five UFC bouts in less than two years. His first trio of quick stoppages earned him major steps up in competition against John Lineker and Raphael Assuncao, but “Sandman” kept rolling through his opponents to force his way into the title picture.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Pedro Munhoz (UFC 238), Jimmie Rivera (UFC on ESPN 1), Renan Barao (UFC 214), Cody Stamann (UFC 238)
Key Losses: Marlon Moraes (UFC Fight Night 123), Raphael Assuncao (UFC on FOX 23), Bryan Caraway (UFC Fight Night 88)
Keys to Victory: Sterling is one of those wrestlers with such long arms that it’s difficult to deny his double leg along the fence. He’s also excellent at taking the back and wrapping up strangulations, and Sterling’s rangy kickboxing has become hugely more effective in the last two years.
Against Sandhagen, Sterling definitely wants a wrestling match. However, that does not mean he cannot strike with the veteran kickboxer at first. Sandhagen really isn’t a one-punch threat, and Sterling has the range and volume to keep up with his opponent.
Ring craft will be very important for Sterling. He tends to like moving around the outside, but he doesn’t want to wind up stuck on the fence, absorbing hooks to the liver. As Sandhagen pursues, Sterling should be looking to pivot or roll under a strike, as he could quickly shift positions to having Sandhagen in a disadvantageous position.
Sandhagen is not a fighter who just uses strong hips to deny takedown attempts with ease. He tends to roll and scramble instead. While he does that very well, that likely means Sterling can complete takedowns and gather top control time, which is exceptionally valuable if the stand up remains close.
Key Wins: Raphael Assuncao (UFC 241), John Lineker (UFC Fight Night 150), Yuri Alcantara (UFC Fight Night 135)
Key Losses: Jammal Emmers (LFA 5)
Keys to Victory: Sandhagen is really a kickboxer and fighter with great finesse. He doesn’t force anything: Sandhagen jabs and controls range masterfully to set up more powerful strikes and rip the body. He rarely powers anything on the mat either, relying on craft to cause scrambles and land in top position.
Over a long enough timeline, artful craft usually defeats volume. However, Sandhagen doesn’t have such a luxury, as this is only a 15-minute fight. The threat of losing two rounds due to top control — even if it’s not dominant work — is a very real threat to Sandhagen’s potential victory.
As such, it’s imperative that Sandhagen pushes the pace. Sterling throws at a high-volume, but it’s one that has tired him in the past. Sandhagen must accelerate that process with his beautiful body shot setups, and by pushing forward whenever Sterling looks to reset. If the two are wrestling, Sandhagen must be constantly threatening reversals to exhaust the gas tank further.
Finally, Sterling throws a lot of non-round kicks. He’ll sidekick or snap kick often, trusting his length to keep him fairly safe. Most opponents let him get away with these, which helps him build a lead. Sandhagen has the kickboxing experience and range himself to punish those kicks, so catching/blocking and countering should be a major focus.
This is a fantastic fight.
As mentioned in the intro, it’s my opinion that this is the ideal 135-pound title fight given the current circumstances. Since that obviously isn’t happening, this bout should at least determine the next title contender. Whoever wins between Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo should face Saturday night’s winner — it’s pretty cut and dry.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’ll work out that way.
With a title shot likely on the line, the stakes are definitely high. There’s a bit of additional pressure on “Aljo,” however. He’s experienced setbacks previously and rallied back, but the 30-year-old is likely in the heart of his prime right now. Sandhagen, on the other hand, is such a new face to UFC’s Bantamweight division that there’s a bit more wiggle room for his title aspirations.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 250 fight card this weekend right here, starting with the ESPN+/Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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At UFC 250, Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen will go to war in a pivotal Bantamweight clash. Which man will earn the victory?