The UFC returns to San Antonio, Texas after a trip to London last weekend for a major bantamweight bout between Marlon Vera and Cory Sandhagen.
Both fighters are right in the mix when it comes to title contention at 135-pounds, and know that a victory could potentially set them up for a title fight in a stacked division.
Last time out at UFC 286 we went 9/14 with four perfect picks (draws don’t count) to move to 858/1327 (64.66%) with 352 perfect picks (41.03). We also correctly predicted the main event of UFC Las Vegas prior to that perfectly. You can see our full pick history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here with this main event fight.
Recent fight history
Marlon Vera has been on a collision course for the title in recent years, and he’s finally edging towards getting that shot.
‘Chito’ has won five of his last six, including a TKO win over number one contender Sean O’Malley, and stoppage wins against Frankie Edgar and Dominick Cruz. He also beat Davey Grant and Rob Font, with his only loss in that time coming on the scorecards against Jose Aldo.
Sandhagen’s form hasn’t been nearly as good coming into this, but circumstances have hurt him a lot.
‘Sandman’ is 3-3 in his last six, but those defeats have come to current champion Aljamain Sterling, controversially to TJ Dillashaw in a split decision and then in a super-competitive outing with Petr Yan for the interim title by decision again.
His wins in that time however have been spectacular, claiming stoppages against Marlon Moraes, Frankie Edgar and most recently Song Yadong.
Vera is a stud, with a finger in the pie of every discipline seemingly because he’s so good everywhere.
The Ecuadorian fighter has got sensational low kicks to go with an all-round excellent kicking game, while he also carries good power in his hands and has solid footwork and cage control.
When it comes to grappling he’s no slouch either, claiming eight submission wins in his career although the last of those came way back in 2019.
Sandhagen on the other hand is strictly a striker, with sensational range and size for this division.
His hands are lightning quick and accurate too, while he also poses a threat with his kickboxing, spinning techniques and flying knees because of his size.
His takedown defence has improved tremendously over the years since that defeat to Sterling, as he showed against Yan, but the grappling department is still a weakness for him if his opponent is able to hold him down.
This fight is most likely to take place on the feet for the majority of the 25 minutes it’s scheduled for, and with the way he uses his reach that bodes well for Sandhagen.
These are two of my favourite fighters to watch in the bantamweight division and there is simply no way this is going to be a bad fight.
Both guys will be aggressive and look for finishes, but they will be calculated and not take unnecessary risks so it may be a case of who blinks first in the striking realm.
Vera has the edge with his grappling and if he chooses to use that a lot in this fight the Sandhagen may have a problem despite his qualities in the scramble.
This is as close to a 50/50 fight as I can remember in this division, moreso than Yan vs Merab a few weeks ago because of Merab’s crazy grappling skills.
My gut tells me that Sandhagen gets it done, however. He’s been in this position before at the top of the division and the performances he turned in didn’t deserve defeats in all honesty.
Vera though is flowing with confidence and ability and it does feel like destiny has it in his favour. It’s a really hard one to call.
I won’t be surprised either way, but I think the explosiveness of Sandhagen plus the way he uses his reach gets him a razor close decision victory in a barn-burner of a fight.
PICK – Cory Sandhagen via Decision