Best bets for UFC San Antonio: Sandhagen vs. Vera

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UFC London saw Leon Edwards 195 retain his welterweight championship belt against Kamaru Usman. In the co-main event, Justin Gaethje 205 proved to the MMA community that he is still a top challenger to the lightweight title by busting up Rafael Fiziev -220. Oftentimes, I am on the correct side of dynamic dogs, but my release of Fiziev crashed and burned. 2023 stands 4-4 -1.1u.

This week, we amble on down to San Antonio, Texas where the state commission is renowned for its unconventional judging. The Texas state fight commission stands with New York as the two commissions that remain mired in the generational entanglements imposed on it from what’s now called Boxing.

Cory Sandhagen -160 vs. Marlon Vera +130

Bantamweight (135 pounds) main event

Fifth-ranked Sandhagen has been regarded as a top-five talent in this division for some years. Unusually long and rangy for 135 pounds, Sandhagen’s fighting base is grounded in movement-based kickboxing and supplemented by a blue belt in BJJ.

His offensive agility and defensive evasion of strikes enable Sandhagen, who is without profuse power, to confound opponents as they attempt to work their way in on him. Quickness, speed, striking precision and defensive fluidity are his strengths. Sandhagen has competed against an elite diversity of fight styles within in the division.

Sandhagen’s plus two ( 2.0) when monitoring significant strikes per minute, and he’s accomplished this against the best of class of the bantamweight division.

Vera, an Ecuadorian madman, is ranked third in the division, and despite the fact that he arrives to this battle with great momentum, he enters as an underdog. He has earned victories in his last four bouts, albeit to less than elite talent (at the time he competed against them) in the division, so this tussle against Sandhagen in my judgment represents a step up in class for Vera, despite the fact that he has Sean O’Malley’s pelt on his post.

Vera is a black belt in BJJ, and he’s an aggressive violent striker on the feet. While he does connect with a high percentage of strikes, Vera does get hit with more significant strikes per round than he produces, which could pose problems against the volume/precision attack of Sandhagen.

When the bell rings for this bout, Sandhagen will use movement to set up the most effective use of his length/leverage and attempt to accrue points and damage from distance.

It’s my contention that Vera will need to ‘let the dog out’ in this one and do all he can to cut the cage, force the fight and make this an ugly grimy barroom brawl. Vera must rush/smother/barrage Sandhagen with pressure and press him against the cage where he may apply infighting damage where the rangy Sandhagen’s strikes are muted because of the intimate confines.

If these two battle at distance, it’s Sandhagen’s fight, but if Chito can find a way to attack the body of Sandhagen and eventually find a way to slow him down, take his legs away then eventually force him to the floor and gain top position, then Vera could cement his claim for a title shot.

In the end, I believe Sandhagen, the more refined, complete mixed martial artist who’s been in with a higher caliber of competition, owns enough advantage to regard him as a legitimate favorite in this bout.

Total in this fight: 4.5 Rounds Over -125

Chidi Njokuani -170 vs. Albert Duraev +150 

Middleweight (185 pounds)

Styles make fights as my combat sports hero trainer Angelo Dundee used to chime!

We have a destructive forceful striker in Njokuani facing off against a highly touted Russian vice grip grappler that has had two UFC bouts. In one, he looked decent against a tall, slow unskilled power striker, and the other where he sustained eye damage while gassing terribly against a power-striking Joaquin Buckley.

Duraev arrived to the organization with much hype and self-promotion which up until now has materialized in dubious performances from the Russian nicknamed ‘machete.’ This fight will help the organization determine what form of talent this flamboyant personality Duraev is.

Njokuani is already a UFC darling for he arrives to fights with finite focus on sending opponents to the ‘shadow realm’ with obliterating kicks, knees, elbows and fists. His issue is fortitude. If opponents can force a bout with Njokuani into the second round while simultaneously applying unrelenting forceful pressure, they have an excellent chance to catch Njokuani in the position where “fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

As I handicap this fight, questions revolving around Duraev’s wrestling prowess, determination and conditioning arise. In this one, he needs to show up and compete at a world-class wrestling level in order to draw the nasty out of Njokuani.

Can Njokuani, who is four inches taller with a five-inch reach advantage, flush Duraev with a kick, cross or elbow as he tries to work his way inside? Can Duraev make this an ugly mauling on the mat and from top position force Njokuani to expend his energy attempting to free himself instead of fighting freely?  These are the pertinent questions in this excellent battle of fighting styles.

Total in this fight: 1.5 Rounds Pick ’em

Pick: Lean Over

Hailey Cowan -125 vs. Tamires Vidal  +110

Women’s Bantamweight (135 pounds)

Cowan, 7-2 professionally, is a 31-year-old former gymnast who has transitioned into the world of MMA.

She has athleticism and size, but in this, her debut fight in the UFC, she takes on an opponent she was not planning for and does so after preparing for another and on just a couple of weeks’ notice.

Her originally scheduled bout a few weeks ago, against a fighter her opponent has already defeated, was canceled as Cowan came down with an illness on the day of the bout.

Vidal earned victory over a tough, durable Ramona Pasqual in her UFC debut fight. Vidal is the poster child for “don’t judge the book by the cover,” because she’s shaped like a hand grenade and competes with twice the power.

Her attack is violence-based, and she’s multi-talented in MMA as she’s finished bouts via power striking as well via submission.

I believe the more experienced and diversely armed mixed martial artist wins this fight.

Pick: Vidal +110

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Enjoy the bouts and thank you for reading!