UFC on ESPN: Vera vs. Sandhagen staff picks
See who we are picking for this weekend's UFC card.
The UFC is in Texas this week with a fight card that has a great main event. Live on ESPN Marlon Vera and Cory Sandhagen will go at it hoping to get their name into the UFC bantamweight title picture.
The remainder of the card is mostly Contender Series groomed talent. There is Holly Holm versus Yana Santos in the co-main, but sadly the UFC is really going to make the fans in San Antonio wait through a lot of fights with people their not familiar with before the main event begins.
As always, our staff has gone over the bouts and picked who they think will win. In what feels like a close fight, we are surprisingly leaning heavily in one direction. Most our staff if picking ‘Chito’ Vera to get through Sandhagen and set up a clash with another elite of the division.
In the co-main we’re largely siding with ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’. While all of us respect Holm’s accomplishments and skills, there is a minority who thinks that, with Father Time being undefeated, the 41-year-old might struggle here.
You can see who else we picked below.
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Marlon Vera vs. Cory Sandhagen
Anton Tabuena: Sandhagen should be the more technical fighter from range, and he also has far better volume and output that will likely make him take at least a couple of rounds on the scorecards. The biggest issue he will have to deal with here, is that he will really need to get Vera to respect his power strikes. If he does, he will get his feints and set ups going and likely cruise to victory, but if not, it’ll be a much tougher fight with Vera trying to walk him down and land fewer but bigger shots. I’m going with Sandhagen, because even in that latter scenario where he fights Vera’s type of fight, I still think he’s good enough to find a way to win. Cory Sandhagen via decision.
Tim Bissell: On paper we see that Vera is six percent more accurate with his striking and Sandhagen is five percent better with his striking defense. Sandhagen has landed a little more than Vera, but I’m more swayed by what we see in their grappling numbers. Sandhagen has just a 20% success rate on his takedowns. Vera has more than twice that. Vera also has marginally better takedown defense. So I think this will be a very close fight with neither fighter able to get the other one out of there. Over five rounds, I like Vera’s ability to force Sandhagen to fight at his pace and then use wrestling as his back-up to control where the fights takes place, and get a breather, between flashy flurries. I think this will lead to a close decision on the cards. Marlon Vera via decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Really hate that somebody gotta lose here. Sandhagen will certainly be measured and has his cardio on point, and so does Vera. He’s got an educated jab, and so does Vera. And therein lies the problem, because Vera reminds me a bit of Max Holloway in some of his offensive spurts. Vera creates opportunities behind the jab and works counters with body shots in a way that could give Sandhagen fits. And I have no expectation whatsoever that we’ll see much on the ground as this is going to be a shootout on the feet. Marlon Vera by decision.
Tim Burke: The odds are a little wider on this than I thought, with Sandhagen in the -175 range. I see it as a lot closer to that, and Vera has the power to finish it plus the volume to win rounds - and he likely won’t get taken down. Marlon Vera by decision.
Zane Simon: There is a very good chance that Marlon Vera can hurt Sandhagen badly enough in enough rounds to steal the whole thing, but given how insanely durable both of both men and how good Sandhagen is at staying rangy and creative, and how willing Vera is to sit and wait for singular moments of dynamic offense, I feel like the most likely outcome here is we get something like the Rob Font fight but without so many big notable moments of Vera offense. Essentially, the kind of fight Sandhagen wins. Cory Sandhagen by decision.
Stephie Haynes: Sandhagen has a sensational kicking game and does great work at range when he’s not trying spinning shit and has outstanding body work, especially working the right side with shots to the ribs and liver. Problem is, Vera is crafty and insanely durable. He’s also got a gnarly kicking game and is a crafty opportunist who makes the most of every opening. I’m not supremely confident in this pick, but I’m swayed enough by Chito’s latest performances to give him the nod. Vera by decision.
Staff picking Vera: Chris, Kristen,Lucas, Eddie, Victor, Bissell, Tim, Dayne, Stephie
Staff picking Sandhagen: Anton, Zane
Holly Holm vs. Yana Santos
Anton Tabuena: I’m really glad this is not a five round fight, as it has the potential to be very ugly. I’m going with the upset. I’m not too high on Santos, but Holm’s style hasn’t been terribly effective nor has she shown much changes and improvements in recent years. If anything, things are likely to worsen when it comes to physicality and reaction time, as Holm is already 41. Yana Santos via decision.
Victor Rodriguez: Age notwithstanding, I don’t believe Yana has the output nor technical skill to overcome this. Holm is still strong, effective, and patient enough to outwork Santos. Plus, she’s got technique and defense on a level that I don’t see Santos on. I don’t like dumping on her like this, but there’s levels. And with that, Yana just isn’t there. Holly Holm by decision.
Tim Bissell: Not looking forward to this one. It feels like this will be a very tepid kickboxing fight with little landing. If that’s what happens, I favour Santos’ ability to change the dynamic of the fight by holding Holm against the fence of on the mat for long, and boring, periods of the fight. I don’t know if Holm still has it in her to pepper foes at distance for 15 minutes without getting trapped. At 41 that’s a tough ask for anyone in the UFC. Yana Santos via decision
Tim Burke: I doubt either fighter does much of anything. Holly Holm by decision
Zane Simon: Santos has never been a very comfortable range striker. The commentary booth was pumping up her improvements there last time out, and while she looked okay for a moment when she and Aldana were both figuring things out, the moment she started getting cracked she immediately fell into the clinch. Holm may be older, slower, and less dynamic than ever, but she still has the strength to wall-n-stall like a champ. Holly Holm by decision.
Stephie Haynes: I’m with Tim Burke. This is gonna be an ugly fight to watch. I’m calling it early, beer run fight of the night. Holm by decision.
Staff picking Holm: Kristen, Lucas, Eddie, Victor, Zane, Dayne, Tim, Stephie
Staff picking Santos: Chris, Anton, Bissell
Nate Landwehr vs. Austin Lingo
Victor Rodriguez: Nah, man. Lingo’s tough, but Nate is a different kind of tough and doesn’t stop moving forward once he senses an opportunity. Nate Landwehr by TKO.
Zane Simon: This actually feels like a pretty bad fight for Landwehr to take. Not that he’s not faster and stronger than Lingo, or just a more well-rounded fighter, but Landwehr loves to brawl and Lingo’s nothing if not a single-minded puncher with heavy hands. The kind of fight Landwehr should win every time but might just lose 25% of the time. I’ll pick Landwehr to take it, just because I think Lingo operates best when he can pressure and Landwehr should push forward and meet him in the clinch to slow him down. But a Lingo upset KO wouldn’t shock. Nate Landwehr by decision.
Staff picking Landwehr: Chris, Kristen, Eddie, Anton, Victor, Tim, Zane, Dayne, Stephie
Staff picking Lingo: Lucas, Bissell
Andrea Lee vs. Maycee Barber
Victor Rodriguez: Maycee’s only losses have been to Roxy Modafferi, who had a massive experience edge over her, and Alexa Grasso, the current champ. Those are good losses to have. She may have actually made improvements to her game to transcend to a higher level, and this is a good test for that. On the other hand, Lee might have peaked and presents a different set of problems with her range game and leg kicks. Barber should be the favorite as long as she doesn’t get sloppy, and I expect her to have some moments where she does. As long as she stays disciplined and doesn’t have too many brain farts, she should be able to overpower and overwhelm Lee in some spots to earn a victory. Maycee Barber by decision.
Tim Bissell: Andrea Lee has been far too inconsistent both in her UFC and Invicta careers to pick her against someone who has been pretty reliably good so far in the Octagon. Her losses are to Roxanne Modafferi (largely due to injury) and Alexa Grasso. So I think she’s a cut above Lee in the division, who has struggled against aggressive fighters like Barber in the past. Maycee Barber via decision.
Zane Simon: Watching tape for this fight, it feels like there’s no reason Lee can’t take this wherever it goes. She’s a much cleaner striker, a much more accurate clinch striker, and a more technical grappler. She can even hit some pretty good takedowns. But, she does not respond well to pressure and never has. To the point that pretty much any opponent that comes forward and gets physical with her finds her making bigger and bigger mistakes and as the fight goes on. Barber is nothing if not relentless. Maycee Barber by TKO, round 3.
Staff picking Lee: Tim, Dayne
Staff picking Barber: Chris, Kristen, Lucas, Eddie, Anton, Bissell, Victor, Zane, Stephie
Alex Perez vs. Manel Kape
Victor Rodriguez: Kape had some adjustments to make after his UFC arrival, and it seems like he’s locked in to where he was back in his RIZIN days. Alex is tough, well-rounded, and very good. Kape is just more dynamic and packs crazy power with his shots to change the tune of any fight he’s in. Manel Kape by decision.
Tim Bissell: It finally seems to be happening for Kape, but I still have doubts we are going to ever see him reach the heights in the UFC that he did over in RIZIN. Against Perez, I fear he’s going to get exposed as one-dimensional. Perez has great defense on the feet, so I think he’ll be able to make the fight go the distance. Over the long haul, I think Perez is going to figure out Kape and take him down off his striking attacks. On the ground he might catch a sub, but even without that, I think he’ll be good for a decision win here. Alex Perez via decision
Zane Simon: At the highest levels of the sport, Alex Perez has a problem. His high pressure, active wrestle-boxing style seems tailor made for success at any level, but he’s so insistent with it, that he freely walks himself into heavy offense from the jump in fights. Not only that, but when things start to go a little wrong for Perez, they tend to spiral out of control in a hurry. Essentially, he’s a front runner. When he can be the bully and stay the bully, he’ll run through even very good opponents. But top-level athletes who don’t break easily will always get big chances to hurt him. And when those have come up, he gets finished. Kape doesn’t always throw enough, and doesn’t always make the best technical defensive reads. But he’s durable as hell and is an amazing opportunist—and a physical phenom to boot. Manel Kape via KO, round 1.
Staff picking Perez: Chris, Bissell
Staff picking Kape: Kristen, Lucas, Eddie, Anton, Victor, Tim, Zane, Dayne, Stephie
Chidi Njokuani vs. Albert Duraev
Victor Rodriguez: Duraev can take it and is so uncomfortable to face with his wrestling and clinches, but I can’t pick against Chidi here, man. Just operating off vibes. Chidi Njokuani by TKO.
Tim Bissell: Njokuani’s not bad at avoiding the takedown and at this level of competition, I think that’s enough to stifle his opponent long enough to land something big. Chidi Njokuani via KO
Zane Simon: The style clash here should absolutely favor Duraev. Njokuani’s never been impossible to take down, and has a bad habit of trying to grapple from guard that means dedicated wrestlers can rack up control time. But Duraev’s striking is so fully disconnected from his grappling game that it often takes him whole rounds to set up a takedown entry. And once he shoots, it’s usually so telegraphed that any opponent with power can crack him shockingly hard on the way in. Njokuani has that power. Chidi Njokuani via KO, round 2.
Staff picking Njokuani: Kristen, Lucas, Eddie, Anton, Bissell, Victor, Zane, Dayne, Stephie
Staff picking Duraev: Chris, Tim