During his Ultimate Fighting Championship tenure, Cory Sandhagen has developed a killer instinct that belies his outward appearance.
When the Elevation Fight Team product made Frankie Edgar faceplant with a spectacular flying knee 28 seconds into their co-main event encounter at UFC Fight Night 184 on Saturday night, he briefly felt a twinge of regret for doing that kind of damage to such a beloved figure in the sport.
“It feels good to add that to my resume. I’m even more happy it went the way that it did. That’ll be one that gets replayed for a long time—highlights last forever,” Sandhagen said. “Afterwards, it was a little bit emotional. I don’t want to see someone crawling up off the canvas. That was a little sad, but that’s the game we’re in. Better him than me.”
Sandhagen has found the proper mentality that allows him to author the type of finishes that end up on yearly award lists. He’s done it in back to back fights, too: His spinning wheel kick finish of Marlon Moraes in October was nearly as spectacular as what he did to Edgar.
“I know how to put myself in a place for war,” Sandhagen said. “Before it was about being artistic—go be technical, beautiful and make fighting look cool—but it’s not that anymore.
“It’s hurt the person in a really smart way and make sure I’m going home safe.”
Sandhagen has been victorious in seven of his eight Octagon appearances thus far. His lone loss — a first-round submission defeat to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 250 in June — still stings, but it went a long way toward building Sandhagen into who he is now.
Sterling is scheduled to face reigning 135-pound champion Petr Yan at UFC 259, and Sandhagen would seemingly be well positioned to face the winner. However, with the return of ex-title holder T.J. Dillashaw looming, nothing is a given. Matchmaking has been known to take a curious turn within the Las Vegas-based promotion, and title shots are often handed out on reputation alone.
“I’m a different monster than before I fought Aljamain Sterling,” Sandhagen said on Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 184 post-fight show on ESPN+. “He taught me some lessons. I know [Petr] Yan has been talking about fighting T.J. [Dillashaw] after [he fights Aljamain Sterling at UFC 259], and that’s if he even wins that fight. That’s garbage to me.
“Fight me, I’m the toughest guy next to Aljamain. If Aljamain wins, I owe him a nap. He’s gonna get that nap. The winner of those two gets knocked out by me in July.”
Sandhagen’s growth has been a sight to behold within the UFC’s bantamweight division. No one in the weight class has the highlight reel he does right now, and he attributes that in large part to his new mindset. It’s a scary thought for future opponents.
“I’m not an arrogant guy, but if there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I can adapt. I can change my mind,” he said. “Whatever I need to do in order to survive, I’ll do. I take that with me everywhere in life. In this sport, I need to be nasty. I wasn’t that before. Now I am that and I’m knocking people out.”