What were the biggest moments of the first UFC event in San Antonio since 2019? Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim offer their final thoughts after Saturday’s 10-fight card at the AT&T Center.
A few years ago, it was all the rage to name Cory Sandhagen a future UFC Bantamweight Champion. After back-to-back stunning knockouts from Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar in 2020 and 2021, it seemed only a matter of time before Sandhagen would break into a title shot and win that gold belt.
Since then, it hasn’t been the best track for The Sandman. But those title talks will come back after Saturday night.
Sandhagen dominated Marlon “Chito” Vera’s incredible play for a split decision win in UFC San Antonio’s main event. Don’t be fooled by the fact that a judge gave Vera the fight. It was all Sandhagen from start to finish. Sandhagen is back in the cover picture with back-to-back wins after losing back-to-back fights to former champions TJ Dillashaw and Petr Yan.
That’s because Sandhagen and his team at High Altitude Martial Arts in Colorado looked closely at these losses and made the necessary adjustments. The fight against Dillashaw was very close and many thought Sandhagen should have won a split decision. But where he lost the fight was clear in the eyes of at least two judges: Dillashaw could muscle him in the clinch and the wrestling aspects of MMA. Sandhagen did more foot damage in this fight – he usually does it as an elite forward – but Dillashaw was more resilient. That night the judges obviously preferred it.
So what did Sandhagen and his coaches do? They expanded his game. We saw it in September against Song Yadong, a fourth-round TKO win. But it was evident on Saturday. It was assumed that Vera would certainly be the physically stronger fighter while Sandhagen would have the speed advantages. That wasn’t necessarily the case. Sandhagen was undoubtedly faster. But he was also the aggressor in clinchwork and wrestling.
Sandhagen was able to come out and immediately put Vera on the backfoot – not only with his flashy shots and angles, but also with changing levels, shooting for takedowns and muscle building from Vera against the cage. Sandhagen’s pressure made a big difference in the fight. And even when he didn’t land those takedowns, Vera had to be wary of them, allowing Sandhagen to gain more openings on his feet. He never really hurt Vera but landed well with jabs, hooks, uppercuts and kicks.
“Chito” didn’t seem ready for this version of Sandhagen, who earlier in his career could have been called a finesse fighter. He wasn’t on Saturday – and that development has allowed him to climb that divisional minefield once again. At only 30 years old, Sandhagen is only now in its heyday. Maybe it’s time to bring back that pandemic-era empty Apex talk about “The Sandman” as championship material. – Raimondi
Task of the night: Daniel Pineda’s guillotine on Tucker Lutz
Daniel Pineda uses Guillotine Choke to get the Submission win
Daniel Pineda taps Tucker Lutz to take home a second-round win.
Pineda got back on his winning ways with a nasty guillotine choke on Lutz. In the first round, Pineda used aggressive low kicks to shake Lutz’s foundation while blocking his opponent’s punches. Eventually, Pineda pushed Lutz against the fence, and “The Pit” staggered against his neck, blocking the guillotine for the submission win.
Pineda earned his third UFC win by submission as he now has the second-most submission wins of all time at featherweight.
Holm shows off new tricks while still chasing UFC gold
Holly Holm wins by unanimous decision in dominant effort
Holly Holm defeated Yana Santos via unanimous decision in an impressive win.
Even at 41, Holly Holm says she still has work to do. We learned earlier in the week that was contractually the case when she re-signed with the UFC for six fights. But we learned on Saturday that Holm’s staying power is real.
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She dominated Yana Santos in all three rounds and did so in a new way. Best known for her boxing skills — she was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2022 — Holm hit four takedowns, her most in a three-round bout to date. Controlling her former practice partner on the canvas, she threatened before settling for a lopsided, unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27) to end what was the first submission win in her 21- fighting career would have been .
Holm, a former UFC bantamweight champion, said after the fight that she’s staying in contention for a title. To do this, she must remain healthy and active. Lately she has been competing about once a year. At this rate, her new contract would take her to 46. Only Randy Couture has won a belt after 45. So that’s not possible.
If we’re ever going to see a shiny belt wrapped around Holm’s waist again, we’re going to have to see her back in the cage soon. She doesn’t have time to sit back and wait for the right opportunity. Holm must continue to move upwards and build upon a return to the glorious heights she once saw. -Wagenheim
Knockout of the Night: CJ Vergara comes back to take down Daniel Lacerda
CJ Vergara secures 2nd round TKO with a series of punches
CJ Vergara defeats Daniel Lacerda via TKO in the second round.
It was almost over for Vergara after the first lap.
Lacerda came out and fired at his opponent as he landed several punches and repeatedly broke up against Vergara with little reaction. The question of whether the fight would end was in play, but Vergara managed to survive for round 2.
In the second lap, Vergara found his mind and established ground position on Lacerda. Eventually, Lacerda curled up as Vergara rained ground and pound punches, forcing referee Jason Herzog to stop the fight, giving the Laredo, Texas native his second win in the UFC.
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