Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight strikers Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen will collide this weekend (Sat., Oct. 30, 2021) at UFC 267 inside Etihad Arena on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Sometimes, everything works out in the end.
Sure, it kind of sucks that UFC 267 will feature only a single undisputed title fight, whereas this gold belt will be named interim. At the same time, there’s a pretty significant portion of fight fans who see Yan as the real champion. I’m not defending that viewpoint necessarily — he blatantly cheated — but I can certainly see “No Mercy” looked very much like the best Bantamweight alive on the night he lost his title. Meanwhile, Cory Sandhagen very arguably deserved the nod in his title eliminator versus T.J. Dillashaw. Both men have faced setbacks recently, but those obstacles have not really made them less worthy of title fight.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Jose Aldo (UFC 251), Jimmie Rivera (UFC 238), Urijah Faber (UFC 245), John Dodson (UFC Fight Night 145), Douglas Silva de Andrade (UFC 232)
Key Losses: Aljamain Sterling (UFC 259)
Keys to Victory: Yan is one of the finest pressure fighters in the sport, a heavy hitter from all ranges who forces his foe onto the backfoot then attacks from both stances. As he showed against Sterling, Yan is a really underrated clinch wrestler as well.
This is almost certain to be a kickboxing battle, and realistically, each man can compete with the other at any range. However, Yan likes has more of an advantage in close, where Sandhagen’s lanky build is less useful.
To track down “The Sandman,” Yan’s marching combinations will be really helpful. Dillashaw found some success in shifting into the opposite stance on his cross, but he got a bit predictable with his combination. If Yan can copy that tactic while mixing in more shifting hooks, he may crack Sandhagen a bit harder.
If Sandhagen’s chin proves difficult to touch, digging into the legs at any opportunity would be wise. That’s the default answer to a movement-heavy fighter, and Yan has five rounds for his lower body investment to pay dividends.
Key Wins: Frankie Edgar (UFC Vegas 18), Marlon Moraes (UFC Fight Island 5), Raphael Assuncao (UFC 241), John Lineker (UFC Fight Night 150), Yuri Alcantara (UFC Fight Night 135)
Key Losses: Aljamain Sterling (UFC 250), TJ Dillashaw (UFC Vegas 32), Jammal Emmers (LFA 5)
Keys to Victory: Sandhagen is an excellent kickboxer, capable of taking out foes with jump knees or liver punches alike. He’s also proven to be a rather capable offensive wrestler and quite scrappy in scrambles.
Establishing the jab will be so important for Sandhagen in this match up. At his best, Sandhagen is building brilliant combinations to different levels of the body, pulling when his foe tries to answer, then landing his own counters. That doesn’t happen without a read on Yan’s reactions, however, nor is initiating offense easy if Yan is stalking him.
The jab helps solve both potential issues.
Sandhagen also needs to take advantage of Yan’s high defensive guard. Yan is tight defensively, but his default reaction to offense is to cover up high then fire back. Jose Aldo found great success in raising his guard before ripping the mid-section or legs, and Sandhagen has the tools to do the same.
Finally, Sandhagen has to be careful with his fancier techniques. Dillashaw was willing to wrestle whenever Sandhagen turned his back, but Yan will be trying to kick him in the face.
This still feels like a UFC title fight, interim or no.
If Yan goes out there and destroys another top contender, is anyone besides Aljamain Sterling really going to deny him? Sure, the “Funkmaster” rematch needs to happen, but with Sterling out of commission for an unknown amount of time, Yan returning to his position as champion is far from outrageous. The fans are not likely to argue, and will look forward to his next defense/unification regardless of opponent.
“No Mercy” is simply a must-watch fighter.
Sandhagen’s fairly recent loss to Sterling and very recent (but equally debatable) defeat to Dillashaw would weaken his standing as champion, but does it matter? If he becomes the first fighter to defeat Yan inside the Octagon via combat, that’s a huge accomplishment, and Sandhagen still gets to wrap gold around his waist. A belt would certainly add a lot of intrigue to the potential rematches between Sandhagen and Sterling or Dillashaw.
At UFC 267, Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen will scrap in the co-main event. Which man will leave the cage strapped with gold?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 267 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. ET, before the main card start time at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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