There’s a philosophy in some sections of the sports universe that suggests a loss can be the best thing that happens to you. Football teams who win a championship will often point to their one or two regular season losses as the galvanizing moment that propelled them towards greatness. It forces evaluation, reduces complacency, and brings everything into focus. In going completely undefeated, one runs the risk of thinking they’re indestructible.
Song Yadong is undefeated in the UFC, and at age 23, is arguably at the peak age for believing in your own invincibility. But not this guy. Although his last two fights didn’t result in losses, they came close enough to instill a sober wisdom into the Heilongjiang, China native.
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It started with the majority draw vs Cody Stamann in December 2019. An illegal knee to a downed Stamann resulted in a point deduction, a crucial point that would have otherwise given Song the win. Next came a unanimous decision victory over Marlon Vera in May of 2020. It was a back-and-forth battle that earned Fight of the Night honors, but the 29-28 scores on all three cards for Song perplexed a great many who watched the fight. Vera, who had already started celebrating before the winner was announced, was apoplectic.
“When they called his name, he didn’t even believe he won the fight," Vera would later protest.
“I learned that I had some mistakes that I should never make in the Octagon,” Song says of the two fights via interpreter, “and I learned that I need to be more patient.”
Patience is arguably the most difficult weapon to learn, but it has been the thrust of Song’s training since the Vera bout, along with “a lot more time spent on grappling and jiu-jitsu.” Grappling is arguably the factor that that had him dangling on the edge of a loss, and he knows that adding it to his arsenal will edge him to being one of the most well-rounded fighters in the division.
Drawing the dangerous Kyler Phillips for Saturday’s UFC 259 prelims, Song refuses to predict if we’ll get a sneak peek at how the grappling is going. He has made his name with his lightning-quick fists, and if that ain’t broke, he’s not going to fix it.
“I’m just looking forward to a good performance. That’s all I want,” he insists.
“It gives me a lot of confidence that I haven’t lost any fights, and it motivates me to keep going like that. I could be champion if I give it my full effort.”
There no reason to doubt this when you do the math. Four active years in the UFC without a loss is exemplary for any level of fighter at any stage of their career, but it’s near mind-boggling that Song made his successful short notice debut against Bharat Khandare at the tender age of 19.
“About two years,” he says when asked when he expects to be fighting for the same honor that Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling will decide later Saturday evening on the main card (“Sterling has the advantage,” he adds with a smile). It’s a modest and realistic timeline that seems to square with Song as a whole, and he is well aware of his opportunity to continue to shine the light on Chinese MMA and share the glory of compatriots like Zhang Weili.
“It feels very special. I have a huge number of people backing me, and I feel I have to give a great performance for them.”