Cory Sandhagen and Song Yadong are set to do their part in tidying up the bantamweight pecking order when they meet this weekend in Las Vegas. The division continues to prove itself as the deepest and most competitive in the sport with showcase fights scattered across the second half of 2022. Nestled underneath Saturday’s bantamweight main event are fighters buzzing to make a statement.
The event swaps out star power for a number of interesting prospects bubbling outside of the UFC rankings. Chidi Njokuani has terrorized opponents with vicious knockouts since making his long overdue UFC debut in February. Damon Jackson and Pat Sabatini compete to determine which featherweight grappler is ready to make a run up the food chain.
Take a look below at three fights worth watching beyond the main event.
Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.
Chidi Njokuani vs. Gregory Rodrigues
Njokuani has more than delivered since entering the UFC sphere on “Dana White’s Contender Series” last September. The younger brother of UFC veteran Anthony Njokuani has finished all four of his opponents with strikes after making his Bellator exit in 2019. Njokuani looks to go three-for-three with performance bonuses against game opposition. Rodrigues has found comfort with his power over the last few years. He knocked out opponents in five of his last six wins, including fellow UFC fighters Julian Marquez and Jun Yong Park. Neither guy has an impervious chin so expect to keep the judges out of this one.
Damon Jackson vs. Pat Sabatini
Jackson and Sabatini are puzzling their opponents under the UFC banner. Two of MMA’s purer submission specialists in the modern era, Jackson and Sabatini have a combined 25 submissions in 38 total victories. Jackson immediately established himself as a fighter to be cautious of by tapping out Mirsad Bektic in his UFC debut. To date, Jackson has only been turned back inside the Octagon by top 15 featherweight Ilia Topuria. Sabatini has been flawless inside the Octagon and made an emphatic debut last year by tapping Jamall Emmers with a heel hook in less than two minutes. Look out for exquisite grappling.
Aspen Ladd vs. Sara McMann
The Ladd project has been shaky. She appeared to be one of the more promising fresh faces in the women’s bantamweight division upon her debut in 2017. Stoppages against Lina Lansberg and Tonya Evinger kicked off her UFC run. Her step up in competition has yielded poor results: a come-from-behind win over Yana Kunitskaya is sandwiched between losses to Raquel Pennington, Norma Dumont and Germaine de Randamie. Making weight at 135 pounds has also been challenging for her. A fight against McMann, 41, is a reasonable step in gauging what potential Ladd, 27, has left. The Olympic silver medalist — who once fought Ronda Rousey for UFC gold — has alternated wins and losses in her last four fights and is very much on the tail end of her career. The fight likely won’t produce fireworks but has interesting implications and is the only fight outside of the main event with ranked fighters.
Honorable mention: Anthony Hernandez vs. Marc-Andre Barriault