The UFC touches down in Music City this weekend with a star-studded event that features two of the planet’s best bantamweights, who both have title aspirations in the near future. Cory Sandhagen made a major statement in his last outing by soundly defeating Marlon “Chito” Vera, and, despite a cringy post-fight interview, he more than earned another main event slot. Originally slated to take on undefeated Umar Nurmagomedov, Sandhagen instead will square off against veteran contender Rob Font. Font got back on track in his last performance, finishing Adrian Yanez in under three minutes. With Nurmagomedov out, Font got the call and will step in on short notice after having previously been scheduled to face Song Yadong later in the month.
The co-main event pits a former champion against her division’s most feared fighter as Jessica Andrade meets Tatiana Suarez. Andrade has bounced back and forth between strawweight and flyweight over recent years but has seemingly made strawweight her home, a division where she once held the title. Suarez got back into action this past February, scoring a submission in the second round of her clash with Montana de la Rosa at flyweight. Prior to that, she had been out of action since 2019, due to a litany of health concerns. Now, fighting for the second time in six months, and back at her more natural weight class, Suarez has the opportunity to make a major statement by defeating the former champion.
UFC Fight Night: Sandhagen vs. Font airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ and ESPNstarting at 6 p.m. ET.
Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font had different results when they fought Marlon Vera, does MMA math hold up and will Sandhagen emerge with a win in the headliner?
Kuhl: I don’t know about MMA math, per se, but with the way things have been going for Cory Sandhagen, I absolutely see him finishing short-notice replacement Rob Font. In Sandhagen’s last outing against “Chito” Vera, the fight wasn’t even close. Regardless of what some clown judge in Texas thought, there was not a soul on this planet that thought that fight was a split decision. The truth is, Sandhagen is a puzzle to deal with. Not only is he a well-rounded athlete who can take the fight wherever it goes, he is constantly leveling up, and the fight against Vera showed a ton of improvement.
None of this is meant as a slight toward Font. The New Englander is the seventh-ranked bantamweight for a reason. He’s been around a long time, and he has some impressive wins over former UFC champion Cody Garbrandt, former WSOF champion Marlon Moraes, and current Bellator bantamweight titleholder Sergio Pettis. Font is solid on his feet, and his grappling game is on point. However, at this stage in their respective careers, anything Font can do, Sandhagen can do better.
Sandhagen is younger and is closing in on the peak of his career, while Font is definitely closer to the tail end. The difference between 31 and 36 years old is big in MMA. In addition, even with all of the different opponents he has faced over the years, Font has never faced anyone like Sandhagen. The Colorado native moves and throws from weird angles when he is on his feet, and he is tall and lanky, which not only helps with his takedown defense, but also with his submission attacks. The only time he was finished in his career was when current champ Aljamain Sterling got his back in their title eliminator bout, and Font will need to be weary about going to the ground with him.
I just don’t see a clear path to victory for Font. Kudos to him for stepping up on short notice, but Sandhagen was preparing for the undefeated Dagestani Umar Nurmagomedov, who is a dangerous wrestler. Sandhagen’s entry into combat sports was in kickboxing, where he has been a longtime student of Christian Allen. In addition, he has trained BJJ under black belts Allen and Eliot Marshall for over a decade, and he also goes out to Virginia to train with Ryan “The Wizard” Hall at Fifty/50 Martial Arts Academy. If Font tries to keep this standing, looking for a knockout, which I assume he will do, Sandhagen will pick him apart by moving in and out the pocket at strange angles, until he catches Font off-guard with a crazy kick or knee, setting up a finish. This one does not go past the second round..
Petela: It is tough to argue with the logic laid out by my colleague, so I won’t. However, I do disagree with his predicted outcome. Rob Font will pick up the biggest win of his career, and he will prove to himself and the fans that he just might have what it takes to become a UFC champion before he hangs up the gloves.
Font has shown that he has incredible boxing skills and that he can win large stretches of fights against elite fighters. He just hasn’t been able to avoid making the one big mistake that costs him. Buoyed by his performance against a very dangerous Adrian Yanez, Font is coming into this bout on a high and knowing that the expectations are low since he took this fight on short notice. That will give him the ability to come in mentally with no pressure and just flow. He will successfully be able to stay in boxing range and outduel Sandhagen with his hands and avoid being taken down where he would have the disadvantage. 25 minutes of a boxing clinic will get Font the win and put his name back in title talks.
Tatiana Suarez looked phenomenal in her return to action against Montana de la Rosa; does she take down former champion Jessica Andrade and possibly earn a title shot?
Petela: As good as Tatiana Suarez looked at flyweight in her last outing, it is a surprise to see her back competing as a strawweight. She has a big frame for the division, so I have to assume the weight cut isn’t pleasant. Regardless, yes, I believe that she will be able to make a major statement by beating Jessica Andrade. If Suarez is committed to strawweight, she could definitely earn her spot as the next challenger for the belt.
The entire time her health issues were keeping her sidelined, there were whispers about Tatiana Suarez being a future champion, and she showed why when she returned to action and just ran through a wily veteran in Montana de la Rosa. Her wrestling and grappling is phenomenal, and, with her size advantage over Andrade, that will be a clear path to victory. I expect Suarez to get this fight to the ground quickly and force Andrade to fight off of her back. This one ends early with a submission win for Suarez and she just might earn a crack at the belt.
Kuhl:.Tatiana Suarez proved in her last outing that she was not just some hype train. We already knew she was a bronze medalist in wrestling and a gold medalist in jiu-jitsu, and she had stopped former and future champions Carla Esparza and Alexa Grasso, seemingly, with ease. However, for her to come back from a nearly four-year layoff to submit Montana de la Rosa in the second round just proved that she is here to stay. She was originally slated to fight Virna Jandiroba, but a knee injury saw the Brazilian getting replaced by one of her countrywomen.
Jessica Andrade is no pushover. She is a BJJ black belt, packs some serious knockout power and has been in three title fights against three of the best female fighters in UFC history. However, Suarez is coming in with a big size advantage and some world-class grappling that Andrade has not yet faced.
I have Suarez coming in somewhat cautious on the feet, keeping her distance, eventually scoring the takedown, and putting this one to rest before the midpoint of Round 2.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Kuhl: Tanner Boser needs a win more than anyone on this card. The 32-year-old Canadian heavyweight is too young to have a 4-5 record in the UFC, and 20-10-1 overall. Don’t get me wrong. He has not fought easy opponents in Andrei Arlovski, Ion Cutelaba and Ovince St-Preux, who he finished, but he is fighting Aleksa Camur, a Contender Series alum who is only 1-2 in the UFC. Boser is 1-4 in his last five fights, and if he can’t get past Camur, his UFC career is likely finished.
Petela: Diego Lopes. I don’t envy the position he is in this weekend. He had the misfortune of making his UFC debut against Movsar Evloev and then takes on a sturdy veteran like Gavin Tucker in his sophomore outing. It’s just not a good look to start 0-2 in the promotion and unlike some other divisions, featherweight is chocked full of talent and the UFC might not hesitate to cut Lopes loose after a rocky start.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Billy Quarantillo vs. Damon Jackson. These guys are both coming into the fight on the heels of a loss and need a win to get back on track. Quarantillo got clobbered with a huge knee by Edson Barboza and Jackson ate a monster left hook from Dan Ige that ended the fight. These guys are two all-action fighters with their backs up against the wall, it is bound to steal the show.
Kuhl: Jake Hadley vs. Cody Durden should be an absolute banger. These two flyweights are exciting to watch, and both of them will welcome the step-up in competition. The 10-1 Englishman Hadley has finished all but two of his wins, and he has never been stopped. The American wrestler Durden drowns his opponents en route to victory. This one should be a great fight.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Kuhl: Dustin Jacoby is going to put an end to the Kennedy Nzechukwu hype train. You heard it first here. Jacoby is on the third leg of a long and storied career, and he still hasn’t gotten to where he wants to be. He started in MMA when he was very young, moved over to GLORY Kickboxing, where he was a dominant force, but back-to-back broken arms got him back into MMA, which is his true passion. After returning to MMA in 2019, he went on a nine-fight unbeaten streak, with eight of those in the Octagon – one Contender Series bout and seven on the official roster. Then, he got completely screwed in a split decision loss to Khalil Rountree last October, followed by a unanimous decision loss to Azamat Murzakanov four months ago. Nzechukwu, on the other hand, finished his last three opponents after losing two in a row. Jacoby has a fire in his belly like he never has before, and I see him coming up with a huge upset to earn a performance bonus on Saturday night.
Petela: Tatiana Suarez. This is going to be the biggest victory of her career and she is going to do it in style. She’s ferocious once she gets into a dominant position and she’s going to spend the bulk of her fight against Jessica Andrade on top before sinking in a submission. Finishing such a dangerous opponent in a relatively high profile situation is going to be enough to earn her a $50K bonus!
Pair this card with…
Petela: Lobster rolls. Rob Font comes away with the biggest win of his career and reinserts himself into the title picture this weekend. The New England Cartel product will shine, so grab a New England staple and sit back and enjoy the fights with a lobster roll, or two.
Kuhl: They may not be seafood, but they are pretty damn good, so you will want to grab yourself some Rocky Mountain oysters. Contrary to my colleague’s ill-forecasted main event prediction, the Coloradan Sandhagen is going to run away with this one. The absolute bullshit of a split decision in his fight with Vera still has him fuming, so he will be looking for a finish. So, fry up some breaded bull’s balls, and enjoy watching him put on a striking display.
Main Card (ESPN+/ESPN, 6 p.m. ET)
CatchW (140 lbs.): Cory Sandhagen vs. Rob Font
Women’s StrawW: Jessica Andrade vs. Tatiana Suarez
LHW: Dustin Jacoby vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu
FW: Gavin Tucker vs. Diego Lopes
LHW: Tanner Boser vs. Aleksa Camur
LW: Ignacio Bahamondes vs. Ludovit Klein
Preliminary Card (ESPN+/ESPN, 9 p.m. ET)
BW: Raoni Barcelos vs. Kyler Phillips
WW: Jeremiah Wells vs. Carlston Harris
FW: Billy Quarantillo vs. Damon Jackson
FlyW: Jake Hadley vs. Cody Durden
FW: Sean Woodson vs. Dennis Buzukja
FlyW: Ode Osbourne vs. Asu Almabaev
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