While we are all still recovering from one of the most exciting cards of the year, the promotion returns to the Apex for UFC Fight Night: Sandhagen vs. Song. The bantamweight contenders headline a competitive 14-fight card featuring plenty of the small favorites with reasonable moneyline odds.
Only four favorites are currently priced above -200, giving bettors plenty of options to get down on the action. Let's start with the main event.
I could honestly watch Cory Sandhagen fight 365 days a year. "The Sandman" is a pure striker whose dynamic creativity inside the Octagon leaves his audience waiting for each round to end so they can blink without recourse. However, despite being one of the most talented fighters in the division, Sandhagen needs an emphatic win over the surging Song to avoid getting pigeon-holed into gatekeeper status.
The No. 4 bantamweight has lost two straight and three of his last five, all against the top three fighters in the division. Sandhagen took almost a year in hopes of making a few subtle changes that would push him over the top. You will often hear bettors speak of layoffs negatively, but I don't see it that way in this instance. Instead, Sandhagen's willingness to step away for self-improvement has me expecting to see the best version of "The Sandman" Saturday night.
Yadong Song is a refined boxer who can systematically work his opponent over with a solid jab and punishing combinations. He can win at range and does an excellent job timing his entries to get inside. Sandhagen's uptempo attacks will put his technical skill set to the test. This is a matchup of structure versus chaos, and I'm willing to push my money in on chaos. While the 24-year-old Song has a bright future, Sandhagen has the valuable experience of competing with Petr Yan, T.J. Dillashaw and Aljamain Sterling. I am confident Sandhagen's footwork will keep him out of danger. But more importantly, he has a few significant paths to take Song out of his game.
Song finished his last two fights early, but went the full three rounds the previous four. He went 2-1-1 in those four fights and relinquished 11 takedowns. I'm not suggesting Sandhagen will implement a grapple-heavy game plan, but it's a way for him to change the momentum if Song starts to rally. That's really the key to the fight for me. The combination of Sandhagen's unpredictability, and his extensive arsenal of kicks and knees, will be a constant disruption to Song's methodical offensive approach. In Song's first five-round fight, I think we see him get frustrated by Sandhagen's versatility and overwhelmed with the pace "The Sandman" puts on his opponents.
Sandhagen by decision (+120) is a solid bet if you want to get off the big number. But Song is a question mark in Rounds 4 and 5, so my best bet is to take Sandhagen on the moneyline.
Aspen Ladd (-145) vs. Sara McMann (+120)
This bet is more of a fade on Ladd than support for McMann, but I do think McMann getting her hand raised is the more likely outcome. Ladd, a once-promising prospect, has put in two bizarre performances that resulted in uninspiring losses. Ladd mustered up a meager 33 strikes over three rounds in her lopsided loss to Norma DuMont after closing as a -135 favorite. Then, the betting market turned on in her next fight as money poured in on her opponent, Raquel Pennington. Ladd closed as a +155 underdog and rewarded Pennington bettors by getting outstruck 114-65 in an even more decisive decision loss. Now, she is getting support as a favorite, but I am going to play the other side.
I know what I am getting in Sara McMann. A gritty wrestler who averages 4.38 takedowns per 15 minutes. She is coming off a win against Karol Rosa, where she successfully got Rosa to the mat four times. I can see McMann relentlessly chasing the takedown in this one, and the lack of urgency shown from Ladd recently leads me to believe she will be successful. In McMann's last loss in early 2021, she secured three takedowns against former-champion Julianna Pena, before succumbing to a rear-naked choke in the third round. Ladd is not historically good off her back, and McMann's sole mission will be to put there. I will take my chances on the underdog with a clear path to victory.
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