When 2020 began, Cory Sandhagen wrote down that he would become UFC bantamweight champion before the end of the year and he’s doing his best to stick to that goal.
Sadly, his next fight remains up in the air after Sandhagen had initially accepted a fight against Aljamain Sterling on May 16 just as the coronavirus pandemic was sweeping across the United States. Both fighters later expressed a desire to get a proper training camp before actually facing off inside the Octagon in a pivotal matchup for the 135 pound division.
Make no mistake, Sandhagen is definitely on board for the Sterling fight, especially now with Dominick Cruz expected to battle Henry Cejudo for the bantamweight title on May 8 while Petr Yan is preparing for a showdown against Marlon Moraes in June.
Considering the landscape in the division, Sandhagen sees a fight with Sterling opposite a matchup like Yan vs. Moraes as a de facto tournament of sorts to determine the next No. 1 contender at bantamweight. If that’s how things play out, Sandhagen definitely likes his chances to stay on that timeline to fight for the belt in 2020.
“Me and Aljamain fight, I obviously believe in myself enough to think that I can win that fight,” Sandhagen explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “The other question is Yan and Moraes. I think that Yan … I know that he has a lot of hype behind him. In my opinion, he hasn’t beat a high level opponent decisively enough to make me believe in the hype.
“He beat Urijah Faber but Urijah Faber is not the same Urijah Faber as 10 years ago. He’s not that same Urijah Faber and his other two wins came from John Dodson and Jimmie Rivera, who both are really good but if you watch those fights, it’s not like he was dominating either of those fights.”
Yan has received a lot of attention as he started his climb up the bantamweight ranks but Sandhagen doesn’t seem him as the biggest threat in the division by any means.
With a fight booked against Moraes in June, Sandhagen expects the hype surrounding Yan to come crashing down around him.
“To me, I’m not on the Yan hype train,” Sandhagen said. “And Moraes is a monster. He’s smart and he gets better every single time. I think Moraes wins that fight against Yan, shuts down that hype train and then me beating Aljamain leaves me at the top of the list.”
If that scenario plays out, Sandhagen would love the opportunity to then move onto fight for the title later this year.
Assuming Cejudo can get past Cruz in May to defend his belt, Sandhagen welcomes that fight before 2020 is finished.
“I love the fight,” Sandhagen said about facing Cejudo. “I think that I go in with a lot of advantages that Henry has never had to deal with. I mean who’s as tall and who’s as fast and who’s as agile as I am in the division? There’s no one else that brings that to the table. I think Henry does really well against shorter guys, guys he can reach their face. Guys he can wrestle because he can get close enough because he’s not tall enough to stay long. And he’s got a really good chin so he’s able to take a shot and keep moving forward.
“When he goes against someone like me, who can keep the distance and then be extremely dangerous at that distance, it’s going to be a really, really challenging thing for Henry.”
Nothing is guaranteed, especially with the ever changing dynamic of the UFC’s schedule during a global pandemic. But if Sandhagen gets the opportunity to fight Cejudo with the bantamweight title on the line, he’s confident in his chances to become champion.
“I’m going to be the champion if it’s me and Cejudo at the end of this year,” Sandhagen said. “I’m really, really, really excited about that. I really believe that’s how 2020 is going to work out.
“It’s going to flip the division on its head, having me be the champ at the end of the year. I’m really excited about that.”