The crowd may not have liked it, but Cory Sandhagen remained undefeated on Saturday night with a win over one of the bantamweight division’s most feared fighters.
With a pair of 29-28 scores in his favor, Sandhagen (11-1) won a split decision against John Lineker (31-9) on the main card of UFC Fort Lauderdale at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida. The other judge scored the fight 29-28 for Lineker, who clearly had many supporters in attendance as the verdict was lustily booed.
“That was nuts. I thought he tired a little bit, but all the respect in the world to John,” Sandhagen said post-fight. “He’s a warrior. I know everyone’s booing, very close fight. That doesn’t feel very good, but okay.”
Sandhagen showed zero hesitation in standing and striking with the respected Lineker, using his length advantage as expected to try and stay at the edge of Lineker’s power punches. He was able to consistently land straight punches and leg kicks, but Lineker kept Sandhagen on his toes with his trademark hooks, many of which connected solidly on Sandhagen’s torso.
A close first round gave way to a more definitive second as Sandhagen cranked up the volume striking and Lineker had trouble matching his output. Lineker’s headhunting was foiled by Sandhagen’s ability to deftly dodge in and out while consistently scoring points. He continued to use leg strikes well, landing kicks to the body and throwing the occasional jumping knee up the middle. In round three, he maintained the same strategy and though Lineker was able find a home for his hooks, Sandhagen’s chin held up.
It wasn’t until the closing seconds that a Lineker fury threatened to put Sandhagen down and Sandhagen responded with a reactive takedown. Lineker immediately went for a guillotine that looked tight, but Sandhagen was able to withstand it until the bell sounded.
Sandhagen is now 4-0 inside the Octagon, though this is the first time he’s gone the distance since making his UFC debut last January. Post-fight, he declined to make a specific callout, instead choosing to put the rest of the bantamweight contenders on notice.
“Listen, I’m a really respectful guy, a lot of the 135 division is tied up, everyone that’s ranked higher than me. I don’t want to call one person out, I’d like to call everybody out,” Sandhagen said. “I’m here to raise the bar, I’m here to get better. The better guys I fight, the better I get, so anyone that’s ranked above me I’ll fight. I want that belt.
“2020’s my goal, but it’s looking like it might happen a little bit earlier.”
Lineker saw a two-fight win streak snapped and he is now 6-2 competing at 135 pounds in the UFC.