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Cory Sandhagen targets T.J. Dillashaw for No. 1 contender fight, no issues following ex-champ’s USADA suspension

UFC Fight Night: Moraes v Sandhagen Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Cory Sandhagen wasn’t going to turn down a title shot following his knockout over Marlon Moraes, but he’s not exactly shocked he didn’t get one.

After ending his fight against Moraes with a highlight-reel spinning heel kick, Sandhagen immediately rocketed to the top of the bantamweight rankings. But ultimately, the next title shot went to Aljamain Sterling, who faces champion Petr Yan in December.

Sandhagen fell to Sterling back in June, so he didn’t have any issue with the way the title fight played out, though he certainly wouldn’t have complained if he had been granted the opportunity.

“Like I said, it’s a dog eat dog sport,” Sandhagen explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “If they were like, ‘You looked amazing, here’s your title shot,’ I obviously would have taken it no problem. Wouldn’t have lost any sleep over that. I think it’s more fair that Aljamain fights for the belt than I do right now.”

With Yan vs. Sterling now scheduled for UFC 256, Sandhagen only sees one particular opponent that makes the most sense for him logically as he seeks to earn the next shot at bantamweight gold.

“I think that I’m maybe one fight away from being that No. 1 guy,” Sandhagen said. “When you kind of look at the division, [Cody] Garbradnt is hurt and he’s at 125 [pounds] now so that’s not really a possibility. Then you have Frankie [Edgar], who came off of a win against [Pedro] Munhoz, which isn’t like as good a competitor as Marlon. Then you have T.J. [Dillashaw] that’s coming back in January, who is known as one of the best bantamweights in history.

“I definitely think my No. 1 contender fight should be against T.J. just because it makes the most sense. I think that I have a pretty strong case now, and when T.J. comes back, he’s going to have a pretty strong case. I’d love to fight him and then right after that when the winner of Yan and Sterling are ready to go, fight one of those guys in the spring or sometime.”

Dillashaw was forced to surrender his bantamweight title back in 2019 after he tested positive for recombinant human erythropoietin (better known as EPO) following a flyweight title fight against Henry Cejudo. He gave up the belt before facing a two-year suspension from the sport.

With Dillashaw’s sanction set to expire in January, Sandhagen sees him as the best possible opponent and the clearest path to a bantamweight title shot.

That said, Dillashaw will be returning to action following a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs, which will undoubtedly earn him scrutiny from other fighters who don’t believe he should be granted a title shot or a No. 1 contender’s bout.

While Sandhagen certainly doesn’t agree with cheating, he can’t deny the body of work Dillashaw has put together and he has no issue facing him just after his suspension ends.

“I’m almost positive I’ve fought some guys on steroids,” Sandhagen explained. “Doing this for like 11 years now, doing kickboxing tournaments and stuff internationally, I know for sure I’ve fought guys on steroids. But I’ve always dealt with that because I knew it was part of the sport. I didn’t let it intimidate me. I just honestly in my head, I just assumed everyone was on steroids, and if they wanted to do that, I was still going to beat them up.

“It’s kind of easier for me to deal with the challenge. If you go into a fight thinking a guy is on steroids, that’s going to mess with you. You’re going to be like, ‘Oh he’s going to be really strong,’ and I always dealt with that because I just knew I was fighting some guys on steroids. I always dealt with that like this guy is probably on steroids and I’m still gonna whoop him up. That’s how I always handled it. That’s where I had to put my head space in order to deal with it. It’s either that or get really upset about it but being really upset about it isn’t going to change the fact that I was still having to fight those guys.”

Sandhagen won’t try to walk in Dillashaw’s shoes to explain why the ex-champ opted to use illegal substances, but that’s not going to stop him from asking for the fight because he knows what a win over a former champion would do for him.

“I don’t have any feelings about him being on steroids or whatever. He made that decision himself,” Sandhagen said. “Do I think it’s ethically wrong? Of course, I think it’s ethically wrong but that was his decision that he made. He paid his consequence and he’s going to have to live with that. I don’t really care what other people do.

“This guy can be whatever juice he wants to be on or he can be training with the best guys in the world, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m still going to have confidence in myself and that’s where I always put myself before a fight.”

With Dillashaw expected to be cleared to fight in January, Sandhagen would gladly welcome him back as soon as he’s ready.

“That sounds good to me,” Sandhagen said. “January, February sounds good to me.”

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