Cory Sandhagen provided the type of finish on Saturday night that gives him serious leverage in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s bantamweight division.
The Elevation Fight Team standout dispatched Marlon Moraes in spectacular fashion, knocking out the former 135-pound title challenger with a spinning wheel kick and follow-up punches 63 seconds into Round 2 of their headlining bout at UFC Fight Night 179 in Abu Dhabi.
While it seems inevitable that the Las Vegas-based promotion will eventually book Aljamain Sterling against reigning bantamweight king Petr Yan, there’s always a possibility Sandhagen could skip to the front of the line – even with a first-round submission loss to “The Funkmaster” on his resume. It wouldn’t be the first time merit took a backseat in a sport that places a premium on entertainment.
“I would feel really bad if they did me and Yan, and they did that to Sterling,” Sandhagen said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “That being said, it’s a dog-eat-dog sport, you know? So if they give me that shot, I’m taking that shot. But I think it should be Sterling and Yan.”
However, if the UFC does as expected, Sandhagen will continue to do what he’s done in recent years: Stay ready in case a short-notice opportunity arises.
“Honestly, I’ve been doing that for a year or two now where it’s like, ‘OK, there’s a big fight coming up. I don’t have a fight coming up. I’m going to keep my weight low, and I’m going to stay ready,'” Sandhagen said. “I’ve been doing that in camp. I’ve been doing that almost the whole time I’ve been in the UFC. But, yeah, I’m definitely going to do that now because I think I’m probably the No. 1 guy if one of those guys gets hurt.
The Colorado native has been victorious in six of his seven UFC appearances, with notable names such as Moraes, Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker on his resume. If a title shot isn’t on the horizon, Sandhagen only sees a couple other opponents that would make sense for his next bout. He believes his latest effort has earned him a marquee name.
“The only other two other guys that have an argument are Frankie [Edgar] and T.J. [Dillashaw]. [Maybe I fight] one of those guys before they end up fighting each other,” Sandhagen said. “Hopefully I’m not this little name after this. Hopefully I have some pull in the sport because that’s kind of where I feel like I’ve been. They’re giving me really good fights, but I never felt like if I called someone out it was going to get a lot of juice. But I think I got some juice tonight.”
Dillashaw will be eligible to return at the beginning of next year after serving a two-year suspension for a failed drug test in 2019, while Edgar scored a win over Pedro Munhoz in his bantamweight debut earlier this year. When it comes to picking between former champions, Sandhagen doesn’t have a preference.
“Whichever one’s going to get me closer,” Sandhagen said. “I don’t really know how the mind of the UFC matchmakers works 100 percent. I just know win fights, get good finishes and they’ll give you good fights.”