Song Yadong vs. Casey Kenney is a not only a quintessential PPV opener, but a testament to the depth at 135lbs. Despite the elite level of MMA fans are guaranteed to see between the two, neither man currently has a ranking. In this preview, we’ll take a look at where each fighter stands and how their clash at UFC 265 might go.
Song “The Kung Fu Monkey” Yadong
Song Yadong may be the best hope that China currently has for a male UFC champion. Dropped in as a late notice replacement at the first UFC Shanghai event, Song smashed his way into the scene with a “Performance of the Night” worthy first round finish of Bharat Khandare. He was only nineteen at the time, and since then has proven his worth at bantamweight with an exemplary run of 6-1-1.
“The Kung Fu Monkey” is a special athlete that was born to fight. At the time of his UFC signing, his record stood at 11-4 over mediocre regional competition. As soon as he plugged into Team Alpha Male and decent oversight, he shot up like a rocket. His hands are fast, his reflexes nearly instantaneous and he closes distance quickly.
That kind of athletic ability is hard to teach, but it can be honed and built on, which is what we’ve seen Song do with Team Alpha Male and Urijah Faber‘s Ultimate Fitness. He’s struggled a bit with over-extending and wearing down at the end of fights, but with each outing he becomes a notch more efficient and conditioned. Expect Song to be in the best condition thus far on Saturday.
Song has trained Kung Fu since he was nine years old. Some of his greatness strengths connect to his reflexes, which include counters. Opponents rarely get into the pocket to trade punches without eating something in return, which Song times beautifully, and at odd angles. He hits hard, moves his head out of danger well, and uses feints to set up traps. Song has one of the best fight IQs in the division, and holds an advantage on the feet in terms of power and versatility compared to Casey Kenney.
Like his opponent, Kenney is a lifelong martial artist. He’s been running in the judo world since he was five, and is a second-degree black belt. Casey also won multiple championships in both freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling in college. In other words, do NOT clinch with Kenney unless you love being on your back.
Despite his clear advantage in grappling, Kenney has been working on the feet in his recent fights without much attempt to get it to the floor. His striking is somewhat one-dimensional but also effective, utilizing a fast jab-cross combo. Kenney is aggressive in his footwork and applies a good deal of pressure, at times falling into chasing his opponents around the cage.
Kenney is also an exceptional athlete, able to keep throwing high volume with takedowns mixed in for a full fifteen minutes. He can sometimes slow down a beat before the end of the fight, but still impressive considering his foot is to the gas the entire fight. Even if he doesn’t have a ton of tools on his feet, he throws at such a high rate that he doesn’t need to land of lot of different strikes to win, just an avalanche of the same. Song Yadong will need an answer to the high pressure of Kenney.
The Breakdown- Song Yadong vs. Casey Kenney
One element that Song Yadong vs. Casey Kenney could come down to is conditioning. The fight will likely start fast and furious, so look to see which guy starts to slow first if at all. The first round could be close, but the one who wears down more will start to leave openings for the other exploit as the fight wears on.
For Kenney, he’s going to want to pressure Song into clinching, and from there, go for the takedown. Takedowns at range are likely going to find the sprawl of Song, unless he can drive through to the cage wall. The blueprint is already there from Cody Stamann and Kyler Phillips to beat Song Yadong, and while they couldn’t land much damage on the ground, they at least racked up enough control time to earn a decision or draw.
Again, Kenney should avoid shooting at distance because of the possibility of getting countered with a knee or an uppercut from Song. He can try to tire him out with pressure and jab-cross combinations, and use that to make Song walk back against the cage.
For Song, he can try and get the rhythm of Kenney’s striking and make him miss. Song can blast him with counter hooks to Kenney’s punches and try to beat him down gradually that way. Kenney has never won a fight by stoppage due to strikes, and Song definitely holds the power advantage.
At all costs, Song needs to avoid moving straight backwards and sprawl, sprawl, sprawl all night. If Kenney does try to shoot for the takedown, Song can blast him with an uppercut or sprawl and take the back. This fight will likely make it to the judges, and judges in Texas don’t exactly have the most glowing reputation. Even if he is landing the harder shots, Song cannot get outlanded by Kenney over fifteen minutes, which may call for him to match Kenney’s high pace and volume.
This is likely to be one of those fights that has a little bit of everything and seems like an hour long with how quickly it’s bound to move. Kenney and Song are destined for great things in the UFC. Kenney has less time to make it to the top than Song, who’s seven years younger than Kenney, but Saturday night should give us an idea of who’s more capable of running the race to the top of the UFC’s steepest mountain, the thrilling domain of bantamweight.
How to Watch
Song Yadong vs. Casey Kenney is the first fight of the UFC 265 pay-per-view main card, which airs at 10pm EST/7pm PST. UFC 265 can be purchased exclusively in the US through the ESPN+ app or website.