Petr Yan was eager to move on from his disqualification loss to Aljamain Sterling earlier this year and reclaim a slice of his 135-pound belt when he hooked ‘em up with short-notice replacement, Cory Sandhagen, in the co-main event of UFC 267, which took place inside Etihad Arena on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
With Sterling on the shelf (or hiding) with a neck injury (details here), Yan and Sandhagen were competing for the interim Bantamweight belt. And it was widely believed that the winner of this showdown could make a serious case for being the “true,” undisputed champion.
And after what just went down, it would be hard to argue otherwise. Yan and Sandhagen went toe-to-toe for 25 incredible minutes, with “No Mercy” ultimately getting the nod from the judges sitting ringside.
Both fighters raced to the center of the Octagon looking to get down to business early. Sandhagen scored first with a low kick, then switched stances and landed one from the other side. Yan got on the board with a low kick of his own, but it was Sandhagen who was dictating the pace in the early going. Yan tried to corner Sandhagen along the fence, landing a soft left hand, but he was having a hard time getting his hands on Sandhagen. Yan landed a body kick, then chased with a one-two combination upstairs. Yan missed on a hook and Sandhagen ducked under, bear hugging him into the fence and then releasing him. Hard left hook from Sandhagen scored, with Yan countering with a pair of hard inside leg kicks. Front kick from Sandhagen, then a hard straight left as he circles away from Yan. He landed another low kick, but it was clearly a very strong round for Sandhagen.
Sandhagen started to dart in and out again, circling, but Yan stopped his momentum with a hard kick to the stomach. Yan began to press, jumping in with hard shots, but Sandhagen countered with a nice shot upstairs. Yan with a hard shot to the body, with Sandhagen responding with a combination that backed him into the cage. Sandhagen now going to the body with hard punches, followed by a low kick that knocked Yan off balance. Sandhagen caught a kick then drilled him with a hard shot when he let it go. Yan responded with a hard left hook, his most effective shot of the fight this far. Straight left from Yan is finding a permanent home, but Sandhagen is unbothered. Yan landed a sick spinning backfist, but Sandhagen appeared unbothered once again. With one minute in the round, Sandhagen attempted a takedown, but Yan threatened with a guillotine and he aborted the mission. Sandhagen scored late with some nice shots, including a low kick, but Yan made some nice adjustments between rounds and did much better in the second stanza.
Sandhagen came out aggressive for the third round, knocking him off balance with more low kicks. Yan still struggled to get in close — Sandhagen was really doing a fantastic job of using his length and elusiveness to frustrate him. Yan went in hard to the body again, with Sandhagen’s stomach bright red from all the work. Yan landed a sweet shovel uppercut, which only seemed to anger Sandhagen, who fired back with a flurry. Yan started to open up with two minutes remaining, landing lefts, rights and spinning attacks. He dropped Sandhagen with a spinning backfist off his forehead, then a follow up punch that had “Sandman” in serious trouble. Yan dove in looking for a choke, but Sandhagen scrambled like a madman and was somehow able to get back to his feet. He landed a hard left hand to a dazed Sandhagen at the bell. What a round.
Sandhagen’s corner urged him to have a short memory between rounds, but a case could be made that he probably won’t remember that round anyway. Nevertheless, it was a barnburner heading into the championship rounds. Yan continued to pump that hard left hand, with Sandhagen keeping busy with relentless jabs. Yan landed another big overhand left, as Sandhagen just kept pot-shotting away looking for an opening. Yan trapped Sandhagen along the cage, drilling him with a combination upstairs and ending it with a hard low kick. Sandhagen scored a takedown midway through the round and they both immediately went for ankle locks before abandoning and racing back to their feet. Yan backed up Sandhagen along the cage and began to put in work — head shots, body work, low kicks ... everything but the kitchen sink. Sandhagen landed a nice counter elbow off a failed spinning attack, but moments later, Yan landed another bog shot that looked like it hurt “Sandman.” Sandhagen struggled to get the fight to the floor, but Yan defended and drilled him with short shots as they both began to stand up. It was another big round for the former champion.
Sandhagen got off early in the fifth round, but that straight left hand from Yan continued to land deep into the fight. Yan continued to chase him around the Octagon, with Sandhagen content to flick jabs and circle the cage. Yan went in for a takedown, perhaps to put a ribbon on the fight, but Sandhagen squirmed out and continued to circle. Yan timed it right this time, though, and drilled him clean with a head kick. Sandhagen was unfazed, so Yan followed up with another hard, straight left hand. Sandhagen continued to box and circle until the bell, never really concerned with going for a finish. He landed a nice flying knee, but Yan one-upped him again with another spinning backfist.
Yan was the better man tonight, but there is absolutely no doubt about it, these two will fight again. Sterling has “got next,” so all Sandhagen needs to do is snag a win or two moving forward and he will be right back in the title chase.
What a fight!
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