Cory Sandhagen may be competing for an interim title at UFC 267, but he believes a win will still make him the real champion in the bantamweight division.
After Aljamain Sterling was knocked out of the event due to lingering issues with his neck following surgery earlier this year, Sandhagen accepted the fight against Yan in Abu Dhabi.
While Sterling is still considered the UFC’s official 135-pound champion, his title win came after Yan was disqualified when an illegal knee strike ended the fight in the fourth round in their initial clash back in March. While Yan was controlling the action up to that point, he still faced the consequences for the foul and Sterling left with the bantamweight title.
Still, Sandhagen knows that Yan is highly revered in the division, and he’ll look at the interim title as the true bantamweight championship when they clash on Oct. 30.
“I think everyone sees Yan as the champ of the division, the best in the division,” Sandhagen said Monday on The MMA Hour. “I think in this case it will [count as a real championship].
“I think it will mean a lot. Because it never feels real until it actually is real, and now that I’m fighting for a UFC belt, even though it’s an interim one, it would feel like I was the champ. It would feel that way. I would definitely know that that I have some quieting of the voices maybe about the Sterling loss that I had and the T.J. [Dillashaw] loss that I had, but those will be very exciting rematches in the division also. I think I’m excited. It would feel like I was the champ if I do win against Yan.”
On paper, Sandhagen accepted the fight against Yan on short notice with only four weeks to prepare for a five-round battle, but it turns out that’s not actually the case.
Sandhagen revealed that because Sterling had previously expressed a desire to compete closer to the end of the year due to his neck surgery, he knew there was a chance Sterling wouldn’t be able to fight as early as October.
That’s exactly what unfolded — and thankfully Sandhagen was already in training camp just in case he was needed.
“I said absolutely I would be that guy, because I was kind of planning on it anyways. It turned out that I became that guy,” Sandhagen said. “I didn’t want that opportunity to pass if that was going to be the case. I sat long and hard with it because I was feeling like I needed a little bit of a rest after the last one. That was kind of a tough one to take a little bit, so I kind of wanted to rest my mind a little bit. I got to thinking as the fight got closer, like eight or nine weeks away, I was like, ‘I’m just going to train hard for this one.’
“Because if something does go wrong and they ask me to do it, I don’t want to be caught with my pants down. I don’t really want to be the guy that says no because he can’t make weight or miss out on a huge opportunity like that. I have been planning on getting ready for this for about eight or nine weeks not.”
Initially, Sandhagen was plotting a return to action potentially in December after he suffered a razor-close split decision loss to Dillashaw back in July.
As time passed, Sandhagen realized that he’d be doing a disservice to himself by not getting back in the gym to at least prepare for the possible title fight in October.
Now that foresight has paid off with Sandhagen getting almost an entire training camp to prepare for what’s being regarded as a short-notice fight.
“I started it maybe like super hard six weeks [ago],” Sandhagen said. “Then I was kind of in the gym helping teammates, not pushing myself to the point of a five-rounder because that would be really heavy to do just in normal life. I’ve been getting ready for it for a little bit. I’ve been thinking about Yan and fighting Yan for a really long time. The pieces are falling together and I’m really grateful for it.
“I’ll get plenty of time. Like I said, it’s never real until it becomes real, but I don’t anticipate that I’m going to be any less of a fighter ... versus if I had 10 weeks for sure notice on it.”