It’s hard to imagine bouncing back from a loss in better fashion than Cory Sandhagen has managed in his past two fights and now he’s hoping that success will translate into a title opportunity.
After falling to Aljamain Sterling by first-round submission this past June, the Colorado native returned to the win column with a spectacular spinning heel-kick knockout against former title challenger Marlon Moraes. He then followed that up by finishing former UFC champion Frankie Edgar with a jaw dropping flying knee.
The more recent win earned Sandhagen a lot of respect within his division, except it seems like reigning champion Petr Yan seems to be discounting his performance when looking at potential opponents for the future.
“Edgar, older. It’s not big,” Yan said about Sandhagen’s win back in January. “Fan base is not good. Sandhagen, he lose to Sterling. I think maybe Dillashaw. T.J. Dillashaw is back after doping tests. I want a fight with him.”
Former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw was just cleared to return to action following a two-year suspension after he tested positive for EPO following a knockout loss to Henry Cejudo in 2019.
Dillashaw has already said he would like to compete for the title immediately and there’s little doubt he remains one of the biggest names in the division.
That said, Sandhagen can’t help but feel like Yan is trying to play god over the bantamweight division when he really hasn’t faced the best of the best just yet — even as champion.
“It’s kind of frustrating that Yan was a little bit served the belt on a silver platter,” Sandhagen told MMA Fighting. “The guy’s calling all the shots and talking like a big guy when it’s like you beat [Urijah] Faber to get a title shot and you beat [Jose] Aldo to win the belt.
“My two wins ago now was a guy [Marlon Moraes] that beat Aldo and I knocked him out. That rubs me the wrong way, too, that Yan gets to call all of these shots when really he hasn’t had a rough go at it.”
If there’s been one criticism of Yan since he became champion it’s that he didn’t exactly walk a murderer’s row to receive that opportunity but then again he’s defeated anyone and everyone the UFC has put on front of him thus far.
If Yan can get past Sterling on March 6 that will go a long way to proving his legitimacy as champion but Sandhagen still believes his knockout wins over Moraes and Edgar should be more than enough to prove he’s a serious threat to the 135-pound title.
“I think since the loss to Aljamain, I’ve shown that was a flat night,” Sandhagen said. “I think I’ve come back. I’ve fixed some things that were going on in my game and I’m ready to get that one back. I really, really want to get that one back on Sterling.
“I like both of those fights. I think I knock both of those guys out, especially with the way that I’ve been performing and the way that I’ve been walking into those fights is just different than before. I go in and I try, as mean as this might sound and this is fighter Cory talking not human Cory talking, I try to make those people leave on a stretcher. That’s what I’m going in there to do and that’s going to be no different when I fight one of those guys for the title either.”
Things may be getting a little more personal with Yan considering he’s already targeting Dillashaw next before he even defends his title at UFC 259 but then again Sandhagen also has plenty of motivation to get a win back against Sterling should he become champion.
While there’s no bad blood, Sandhagen admits avenging a past loss to Sterling and also becoming UFC champion sounds like the perfect combination.
It would also potentially set up a trilogy between them and Sandhagen has no qualms about that scenario either.
“It would be a little bit of both against Aljamain. It would be about the title and it would be about revenge,” Sandhagen explained. “Also, I don’t think that we have too many more exciting trilogies. Like ones for the ages. Those UFC trilogies for the ages. I think right now’s a really good time for the bantamweight division to have one and I think it would be really cool. Like Sterling beats Yan, we go at it again, I beat Sterling and then we have a trilogy fight. I think that would do good for both of us.
“That would be one of those legendary trilogies. One of those old school cool UFC trilogies that people like to watch. I think that would be super exciting if that could be the case for me and him with me coming out, of course, being 2 to 3.”