Cory Sandhagen understands how rare it is to receive a call from the UFC offering a title shot even if the opportunity comes under bad circumstances.
With only three weeks to prepare, Sandhagen accepted a chance to compete for the interim bantamweight title in a fight against Petr Yan at UFC 267 this past October after reigning 135-pound champion Aljamain Sterling was unable to compete while still recovering from neck surgery. Sandhagen did a brave job, but was unable to make it to Abu Dhabi in time.
Now as he makes his return 11 months later, the Colorado native admits that nothing was ideal about that fight but he still has no regrets about the decision to accept the UFC’s offer even if the consequences in losing were somewhat severe to his future prospects.
” “I’m glad that I took the chance,” Sandhagen said to The Fighter vs. The writer . “You definitely say yes to a title fight almost always, nine times out of 10. It was an opportunity I didn’t hesitate to take. I guess it kind of put me at the end of the line with all these matches that have been made recently, like the fights that are happening now.
” I was certain that it would put me in the last line for fight choice. I thought I was going to get [Jose] Aldo, Merab [Dvalishvili], ‘Chito’ [Marlon Vera] or [Dominick] Cruz and I didn’t get any of those guys, which is what I wanted.”
Although the outcome was not what Sandhagen wanted, he is proud of the performance against Yan and can pinpoint the moment when it happened.
” I thought that I was doing so well,” Sandhagen stated. “It was just getting dropped late in that third round that messed up my fourth round. Because honestly I was on wobbly legs for the entire fourth. After my heart rate dropped to the fifth round I could fight more like me, but it was more difficult because I knew that I wasn’t able to take the loss I sustained in the fourth round.
“Strategically, I had to make some changes, which led to me not being able to completely open up and to completely focus on winning. It became a little bit more about not taking too much damage.”
Sandhagen was aware that losing to Yan could put him behind for another title chance, but he felt his position in the division should allow him to still get another top-ranked opponent.
Instead of Sandhagen, currently No. 4 at bantamweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings — got matched up with Song Yadong, who is riding a three-fight win streak but sits at No. 13.
This is a high-risk, low-reward situation. That’s why Sandhagen originally hoped for another opponent after the UFC offered him a new fight.
“First of all when I got the name, I was very surprised,” Sandhagen said. I was shocked, but it is true that this decision will be accepted. It’s much better than sitting down and watching these men fight. It’s not clear what went on during the matchmaking. It was either that they didn’t want to fight me, or they thought I wasn’t powerful enough like the others.
“Like I look back to the Chito-Cruz fight that just happened and I mean why did Chito fight down in the rankings? Chito thought I would get him, but he ended up beating Cruz in the rankings after he called out the top five. It didn’t make sense. None of it really made any sense to me but I just kind of figured something else was going on.”
Rather than complaining about what he didn’t get, Sandhagen prefers to just stay focused on the task at hand with another main event opportunity this Saturday.
He also knows Song is gunning for his spot near the top of the division, which immediately makes this an even more dangerous fight than usual. Add to that, Sandhagen never wants to lose three fights in a row but after falling in a highly controversial split decision to T.J. Dillashaw and then suffering defeat against Yan, that’s exactly where he finds himself.
“I’m not really one to play victim,” Sandhagen said. “It is what it is. I know how the sport works. You win, you get what you want. If you lose, it doesn’t matter what you get .”