SAN ANTONIO — For the first time since the pandemic the UFC octagon is back in the Alamo City with a fight card that is sure to excite MMA fans. Saturday, the AT&T Center will play host to UFC Fight Night.
Cory Sandhagen (15-4) and Marlon “Chito” Vera (20-7-1) headline the main event in a high stakes Bantamweight matchup that may lead to title implications down the road in a stacked division. In the co-main event, former Women’s Bantamweight champion Holly Holm (14-6), the third ranked contender, takes on Yana Santos (14-6, 1 no contest), the sixth ranked contender.
Sandhagen, 30, who fights out of Aurora, Colorado is the fifth ranked contender in the Bantamweight division. His last fight was a TKO victory over Song Yadong in September 2022. Sandhagen has a reputation as a striker but says he will need to lean into his full arsenal against the rising Vera. “I think Marlon is a dog,” Sandhagen said. “He presses forward. He's a very rooted fighter. His feet are usually on the floor, so he's able to get shots off really quickly.”
Meanwhile, Vera, 30, is coming off an August 2022 victory over Dominick Cruz and is on a four fight win streak. Vera says his mind has only been on the fight, and nothing more in the days leading up to the matchup. ”Just the fact that he's a guy that is preparing himself to beat me up, I got to be worried about him,” he says, “I wake up every morning thinking, you know, there's a job to get done.”
“I'm excited to fight him,” added Sandhagen. “I mean, what's more exciting than two kick boxers? Some of the best kick boxers in the division going at it?”
In the Women’s Bantamweight matchup, two familiar faces will meet each other in the octagon. Holm and Santos used to be sparring partners years ago when the Russian-born Santos first arrived in the United States. “We don't have anything between us,” says Santos. “I have only respect for her. Before and after the fight, but I don't take this personally and am still going to bring my best.”
As for Holm, she comes into this fight with more name recognition, with a legendary boxing career, and after famously beaten Ronda Rousey for the Women’s Bantamweight title in 2016. Holm says she feels comfortable fighting in Texas and is excited for the matchup. “I've had good fights in Texas so far… I've got a couple of knockouts here. So my plan is to get a good win again, but I'm not saying I'm searching for a knockout because I want to be prepared for three rounds of war just in case,” Holm said.
Meanwhile, one matchup in the prelims is giving San Antonians something extra to cheer for. San Antonio native CJ Vergara will be fighting Brazilian Daniel Lacerda in a Flyweight matchup. “On Saturday, I'm going out there and I'm fighting for my younger self who dreamt this up,” said Vergara. “I can't describe it in words. But I'll tell you this, my first introduction to fighting overall was in high school. I had a backyard fight club, and it was about ten miles down the road… At the time, I was telling everybody that I was going to be in the UFC someday. So here I am in that full circle moment, living out that manifestation and dream that I set out to do, in front of my hometown crowd.”
When they take to the octagon on Saturday, Vergara and the rest of the UFC stars are hoping to put on a performance to remember and to inspire. “If I can like go out, fight in front of a bunch of people in San Antonio, and they can fall in love with the sport the same way that I fell in love with the sport when I went to my first couple of shows,” said Sandhagen, “I'll never know about it, but that will be worth more than millions to me.”
The fights can be streamed on ESPN and ESPN+ starting at 3 p.m.
UFC returns to San Antonio with exciting matchups