Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is just one day away from the upcoming UFC San Antonio mixed martial arts (MMA) event, which is set to go down tomorrow night (Sat., March 25, 2023) on ESPN and ESPN+ from inside AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas, featuring a bantamweight main event between Top 5 title hopefuls Marlon Vera and Cory Sandhagen, a five-round headliner with serious title implications for late 2023 and beyond.
Before we dive into the main and co-main events, which includes the women’s bantamweight showdown between former champion Holly Holm and “Foxy” veteran Yana Santos (Kunitskaya), check out Patrick Stumberg’s UFC San Antonio preliminary card breakdowns (con carne, like any respectable Texan) by clicking here and here. In addition, resident MMA hero Andrew Richardson did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the UFC San Antonio main card right here. For the latest “Vera vs. Sandhagen” odds and betting lines courtesy of our fiscal friends over at Draft Kings go here.
Let’s break it down.
135 lbs.: Marlon Vera vs. Cory Sandhagen
Marlon “Chito” Vera
Record: 20-7-1 | Age: 30 | Betting line: +150
Wins: 8 KO/TKO, 8 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 7 DEC
Height: 5’8“ | Reach: 70” | Stance: Switch
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.28 | Striking accuracy: 50%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 5.01 | Striking Defense: 51%
Takedown Average: 0.68 (42% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 68%
Current Ranking: No. 3 | Last fight: Knockout win over Dominick Cruz
Cory “Sandman” Sandhagen
Record: 15-4 | Age: 30 | Betting line: -175
Wins: 7 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 5 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 5’11“ | Reach: 70” | Stance: Switch
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 6.15 | Striking accuracy: 44%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.21 | Striking Defense: 56%
Takedown Average: 0.71 (20% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 63%
Current Ranking: No. 5 | Last fight: Technical knockout win over Yadong Song
Marlon Vera is just a few months away from his nine-year anniversary with UFC and “Chito” has never looked better. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when a lot of fans (and pundits) would have agreed with this garbage take from former bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo, claiming Vera is nothing more than a journeyman who may get finished for the first time in his MMA career. To be fair, I was leaning more towards “hot streak” and “favorable matchmaking” when Vera started to fire off big-time wins, like his UFC 252 finish over Sean O’Malley. But then came consecutive wins over Rob Font and Dominick Cruz — the latter by way of knockout — and “Chito” now hold victories over three fighters currently ranked in the bantamweight Top 10. No other fighter in the Top 15 can lay claim to that statistic, including opponent Cory Sandhagen. At the same time, his decision losses to Jose Aldo and Yadong Song are not exactly ancient history, so there is some concern that Vera could slide back into old habits and let the fight slip away from him.
Sandhagen finds himself ranked in the Top 5 and continues to be one of the most exciting fighters at 135 pounds. “Sandman” has racked up four performance bonuses in five years with UFC, including two “Fight of the Night” honors. Despite some creative striking, I’m not entirely sold on Sandhagen as an elite fighter, simply because his record doesn’t support it. If you look at his last five wins, four of those fighters are no longer under contract with UFC. In addition, Frankie Edgar, Marlon Moraes, and Raphael Assuncao sport a combined record of 2-13 across their last 15 fights. Sandhagen’s biggest victory to date came over Yadong Song last Sept. and won that fight by way of technical knockout when “Kung Fu Kid” was split open and ruled medically unfit to continue. You can also argue that Sandhagen had three chances to prove he was elite against Aljamain Sterling, TJ Dillashaw, and Petr Yan and came up short in all three fights. If this sounds like a harsh critique of “Sandman;” well, this is the kind of scrutiny you face at this level of competition when headlining a major event.
Fans can moan and groan about the quality of fight cards but if you’re not excited about a five-round war between two of the best bantamweights in the world then maybe it’s time to take a break from MMA and come back when you’re less jaded. Both Vera and Sandhagen are capable of wrestling when they need to be but I don’t think it’s breaking news to reveal both fighters prefer to stand and bang. The question ahead of this bantamweight affair is which style of striking will prevail. Vera is impossible to finish and never stops coming, a style that can exhaust the will of an opponent. Sandhagen, meanwhile, has made a career out of creative, unorthodox attacks, which could frustrate and disrupt the rhythm of Vera, who fights a more traditional kickboxing style. In this case we have to look at what both fighters have done ahead of their San Antonio battle and I give the nod to Vera, who continues to prove himself against the best in the world. Expect a very close fight that is likely to have us arguing about the scorecards when the smoke clears early Sunday morning.
Prediction: Vera def. Sandhagen by unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Holly Holm vs. Yana Santos
Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm
Record: 14-6 | Age: 41 | Betting line: -215
Wins: 8 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 4 DEC
Height: 5’8“ | Reach: 69” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.24 | Striking accuracy: 39%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.86 | Striking Defense: 56%
Takedown Average: 0.72 (26% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 78%
Current Ranking: No. 3 | Last fight: Split decision loss to Ketlen Vieira
Yana “Foxy” Santos
Record: 14-6, 1 NC | Age: 33 | Betting line: +185
Wins: 7 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 3 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 5’6“ | Reach: 68” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.28 | Striking accuracy: 56%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.94 | Striking Defense: 50%
Takedown Average: 1.53 (53% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 50%
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Technical knockout loss to Irene Aldana
Holly Holm will forever be remembered as the fighter who exposed Ronda Rousey, capturing the women’s bantamweight title at UFC 193 in Australia and shipping a teary-eyed “Rowdy” back to the states with a pillow over her face. Unfortunately that will be the only thing in UFC from Holm worth remembering, unless the 41 year-old striker plans to do something spectacular in the twilight of her career. Holm lost three straight fights after toppling Rousey and is just 4-6 since that month-naming win back in late 2015. Equally troubling is that her only finish in the wake of that performance came against the since-retired Bethe Correia more than five years back. Holm enters this fight on a loss to Ketlen Vieira and her last three wins have all been boring decisions. I wish I could say this bout would be different but Holm, a talented striker with surprisingly effective takedowns, seems content to mug-and-slug her way to victory. The good news is, we’re only stuck for three rounds — assuming it lasts that long.
Yana Santos, who you may remember as Yana Kunitskaya before she married former UFC light heavyweight contender Thiago Santos, has a very deceiving record. On paper, having seven knockouts — uncommon for a female athlete — is impressive, but they all came against International fighters you never heard of and don’t care about, like the 0-1 Ekaterina Saraykina and the 0-2 Arune Lauzeckaite. Not exactly the stuff of legend. Under the UFC banner, Santos is 4-3 with all four of her wins coming by way of decision. That said, all three of her losses have come by way of technical knockout, including her first-round defeat at the hands of Irene Aldana back in summer 2021. Santos is a serviceable striker and has shown strong offensive wrestling, scoring five takedowns in her decision win over Lina Lansberg at UFC 229. I would expect that to come into play against Holm, who is the superior striker. Unfortunately for Santos, “The Preacher’s Daughter” is also the superior athlete and will likely defend those takedowns before driving “Foxy” into the fence for some yawn-inducing push-and-mush. Winning ugly is still winning, I suppose, but I don't have high hopes for what should be another U-Holm-inous decision.
Prediction: Holm def. Santos by unanimous decision
Remember, get the rest of the UFC San Antonio main card predictions RIGHT HERE.
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