Even though Cory Sandhagen is keeping a level head when it comes to his standing in the UFC bantamweight rankings, he’s not going to shy away from a golden opportunity either.
With the 135-pound title fight at UFC 250 between Henry Cejudo and Jose Aldo a little more than a month away and the COVID-19 pandemic throwing the whole sporting world into disarray, there’s no guarantee that Cejudo and Aldo will meet in Sao Paulo as originally scheduled, or if Brazil’s Aldo will even be able to make it to the fight should it be moved to the United States.
The UFC’s fighters have to be prepared for pretty much anything at this point and that’s why Sandhagen is staying on weight for the May 9 show. If Aldo is out, Sandhagen is willing to replace him with almost zero notice.
“I’m ready for that May 9 fight in case Jose can’t make it back into the states,” Sandhagen said on The A-Side live chat on Friday. “I’ll be ready if they call me on a week’s notice I’m gonna be ready for that fight. It’ll kind of suck not to have any training partners other than my girlfriend, but when they call me I don’t want to be in a position where I’m like, naw I can’t because I was lazy. That’s not happening, that’s not gonna happen for me.”
Sandhagen already has the resume of a future title challenger, with a 12-1 record including wins in all five of his UFC appearances. After finishing his first three opponents inside the octagon, he picked up back-to-back decision wins over veterans Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker.
One could argue that Sandhagen, 27, already has a stronger case for a bantamweight title shot than Aldo. The most decorated featherweight in MMA history, Aldo fell short in his first fight at 135 pounds when he dropped a close split decision to Marlon Moraes last December.
Still, Aldo’s reputation led to him being Cejudo’s preferred target, much to the chagrin of contenders like Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan. Sandhagen thinks it was smart for Aldo to risk the drop down to bantamweight because his name would allow him to close out his career with big fights. He’s not holding any grudges, especially since he doesn’t see himself in that No. 1 contender spot anyway.
“I wasn’t gonna be next, so I could really care less who was gonna get it because I knew that I wasn’t next,” Sandhagen said. “I knew that me shooting for a shot was gonna be a long shot and so I didn’t really care. I know that I’m still probably one or two fights away from him.”
If everything had gone as planned, Sandhagen would already have had the chance to test himself against a former UFC champion. A bantamweight bout between Sandhagen and former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar was booked for UFC Raleigh in January, but Edgar was called upon to save the UFC Busan main event a month earlier after Brian Ortega was forced out of a bout with Chan Sung Jung.
That’s left Sandhagen as the odd man out or as he sees it, a victim of his own success when it comes to getting opponents to sign on the dotted line.
“That fight in January that was supposed to be with Frankie was supposed to be my coming-out party,” Sandhagen said. “It was supposed to be my Urijah Faber-to-Petr Yan’s fight. The stars didn’t line up that way, what am I gonna do, just bitch about it and complain? I’m a really high-risk fight and really low reward.
“Really, there’s nothing to blame that on other than me, myself, not making myself a higher reward fight, which is 1) my own fault and 2) it’s just the nature of the beast. I was supposed to fight Frankie, it didn’t happen. I was supposed to fight in May against Aljamain, that may or may not happen. It’s just how the stars line up. I’m not tripping over it. Every day I just try to get better and I have a lot of faith that if I just keep doing that I’ll be where I’m supposed to be when it’s supposed to happen.”
The stars could align for Sandhagen to face Cejudo sooner rather than later, a situation that he welcomes even if it seems less than ideal at a glance. Sandhagen has seen past UFC champions win their titles in imperfect circumstances and that’s an example that he wants to follow as his career evolves.
“This has been the situation for a lot of the great guys and that’s why I think skill speaks louder than any words and any action,” Sandhagen said. “As long as I’ve got the skills when I need the skills and as long as the opportunities keep coming up and I put myself in the position to take advantage of all of those opportunities, I know that good will come for me.
“I fight and train with a lot of passion, I wake every morning and I tell myself I’m getting better today. I know that if I do that for the rest of my career there will be no doubt that at the end of it I’ll be one of those legendary fighters.”