UFC Las Vegas 60 kicks off Saturday at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT, with preliminary action beginning at 4 p.m. ET/1 p.m. PT. Fourteen bouts are scheduled for the APEX center, which uses the smaller 25-foot Octagon.
Finish rates are higher in the smaller Octagon, especially with weight classes above 155 pounds.
Last week, Yohan Lainesse (+ 110) won via a split decision (a poor one) for another winner for this column.
Profitability for 2022: 22-12 (+ 11.42 units)
Cory Sandhagen (-175) vs. Song Yadong (+ 155)
Bantamweight (135 pounds) | Main event
Tenth-ranked Song Yadong from China sports a 10-1 UFC record, which is impressive. Realizing Yadong is only 24 years old makes his success noteworthy in an extremely talented and deep division.
The UFC has been cultivating talent from Asia/Oceania for years and the well-rounded Yadong enters this main event on the heels of China’s original gangster of MMA, Li Jingliang, who competed but lost last week.
Yadong, who trains in California at Team Alpha Male, is lightning fast. He has a granite chin and chooses to back opponents up with forceful forward-pressure striking. Yadong sets up a power right hand from a busy left jab.
His choice of gyms tells us his wrestling is developing daily, so other than elite world-class competition and championship-level five-round main events, Yadong is ready for a title should he pass this test.
In the other corner of the cage stands Sandhagen, who is the fourth-ranked fighter in the division. He’s entering this bout off of two losses, one to Petr Yan (when he was simply bested) and the other to T.J. Dillashaw (when many including myself felt he won).
Sandhagen’s advantages are bountiful. He’s 3 inches taller and will have 2-inch arm/leg edges over his opponent. Sandhagen has fought in marquee main events before and he’s competed against the elite of the division.
Sandhagen’s fluidity of movement, elite competition and five-round main event experience force me to regard this as a sizable step up for Yadong.
Couple those assets with Sandhagen’s physical advantage and, in my judgment, he should be a decent favorite in this fight.
Total in this fight: 4.5 rounds (Over -155)
Chidi Njokuani (-115) vs. Gregory Rodrigues (-105)
Middleweight (185 pounds)
This war is going to be absolute madness.
Neither of these sculpted-from-granite sluggers is ranked as both are just outside of the Top 15, however, sure entry into those rankings will be earned by the victor here.
Njokuani, nicknamed “Chidi Bang Bang,” is an explosive, quick-twitch athlete versed in Muay Thai and kickboxing. He’s a striker who finishes. Of Ugandan heritage, Chidi grew up in Texas and entered MMA when he was a youth, forced to train/compete (be the heavy bag) against his older brother.
The 33-year-old’s path to the UFC has been marked with plenty of bouts against competitive athletes in every organization other than the UFC, so he enters this fight focused, hungry and ready to show the world his talent.
Since his arrival into the UFC, Njokuani has decimated two journeymen in Dusko Todorovic and Marc-Andre Barriault. Now he steps up in class to test his skills against another equally impressive fighter entering the cage with his own momentum and mixed martial arts weaponry.
Brazilian Rodrigues, nicknamed “Robocop,” does not possess the athleticism, quickness or speed of his opponent and that will be apparent early in this battle. What Rodrigues does arrive with is an elite level of combat experience across several mixed martial arts specialties, especially BJJ.
“He was introduced to martial arts since he was five years old,” Rodrigues’ Wikipedia page states, “starting out with capoeira, before migrating to jiu-jitsu at 8 years old and eventually becoming a black belt under Sensei Henrique Machado, who was also Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza’s jiu-jitsu coach. He became an eight-time national jiu-jitsu champion, jiu-jitsu world champion, and professional world champion in Abu Dhabi. He also trained in olympic wrestling with professor Waldeci, joining the Brazilian wrestling cadet team and becoming the runner-up at Pan American wrestling championships in Nicaragua. In 2014, he moved to Rio de Janeiro to start his professional MMA career.”
While Chidi is explosive, Rodrigues is more deliberate. And while Chidi’s power is based in speed and quickness, Rodrigues relies on more deliberate, grinding forward pressure to eventually usurp the will from his opponent.
The big difference here, and the key to this fight, is Rodrigues’ ground acumen. He’s shown little wrestling/grappling up to now, but the easiest path for him to get his arm raised is to take Njokuani where he is most unskilled: to the mat for a mauling.
In this fight, Chidi will look sensational early, but once Rodrigues forces this bout into the second round and later, Rodrigues will begin to wrest the dominance from the flamboyant, stand-up striker. Rodrigues will take momentum, starting with the clinch then evolving into top position with some damaging ground and pound.
It’s late in this bout where Rodrigues must be able to grind through Chidi’s strikes and transition this fight to the floor. There, any momentum from front-runner Njokuani will be squelched and the potential dominance of Rodrigues can be displayed.
Pick: Rodrigues -105
Total in this fight: 1.5 rounds (Over -135)
Rodrigues was released at -110 last week in “GambLou’s ’Bout Business Podcast,” which drops Friday afternoons.