Cory Sandhagen considers himself one of the most ultra-competitive fighters on the entire UFC roster so he understands the willingness to do anything in order to win.
That said, he never wants to break the rules but he knows that’s not necessarily the case for everybody else including his opponents both in the past and in the future.
A perfect example is his upcoming fight against former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, who is returning to action for the first time in over two years following a lengthy suspension after he tested positive for recombinant human erythropoietin — better known as EPO — following a loss back in 2019. While Dillashaw owned up to his misdeeds, it doesn’t discount that he tried to take a shortcut by using performance enhancing drugs.
More recently, there had been rumors that surfaced about Dillashaw allegedly sending spies into Sandhagen’s camp to keep an eye on him as he prepared for their upcoming fight. One of Sandhagen’s teammates Justin Wetzell told MMA journalist James Lynch back in May about some fighters who apparently came into the gym and began recording a sparring session involving the No. 3 bantamweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings.
Wetzell added that the fighters allegedly began “bragging” about the incident on social media but that appeared to be the only known time where this alleged spying took place.
“Honestly, I don’t know too much just because it would be a lot of speculating on my part to be honest,” Sandhagen told MMA Fighting in response to the spying rumors. “I think a couple of guys that came out to train at Duane [Ludwig’s] gym, just came out and I don’t think Duane has a ton of sparring sessions maybe. Sometimes Duane will send some of his guys down to the team to train with us, which is in any other scenario 100 percent OK thing to do.
“But just in this scenario, we just found out they were from Duane’s and then maybe one of them made some like weird post on social media is what one of my teammates was telling me that was like just alluding to the idea that he was there watching me instead of training, which like I said I just all kinds of speculation. I don’t spend a lot of energy speculating on things.”
While it might seem like Sandhagen’s natural reaction would be anger towards Dillashaw or his team if anybody was actually sent into his gym to specifically spy on his sparring sessions, that actually couldn’t be further from the truth.
In fact thanks to his own desire to win at all costs, Sandhagen can almost understand why a person would go to such lengths in order to gain a competitive edge even if that’s something he would never do.
“To be honest with you, it honestly wouldn’t even bother me really,” Sandhagen said candidly. “It’s like good on you for doing everything you can to win, even if it is kind of borderline unethical in some people’s terms. But this is the art of war and fighting is real. You want to do every single thing you can so that you don’t get beat up and so that you can beat up the other person. I don’t hate on guys for having that in them.
“Having a borderline unethical willingness to win is something that I can understand. It’s not something that I would condone but I understand the level of things we’re doing things at and how dangerous this sport is. It’s something that I can understand. So I don’t really get too angry about those types of things.”
When it comes to Dillashaw’s return to action after sitting out for more than two years following a violation of the UFC’s anti-doping policy, Sandhagen isn’t spending every waking moment thinking about whether or not his upcoming opponent is still cheating or not.
Instead of focusing on Dillashaw’s past drug use, Sandhagen prefers to think about all the ways he could take advantage of the situation when they clash on Saturday night at UFC Vegas 32.
“You kind of have to live in two different worlds when you’re fighting,” Sandhagen explained. “You have to live in the real world but you also have to live in the very hyper-competitive world where you don’t want to give any excuse for having an advantage in a fight. In the real world, I have a lot of advantages. I have a lot of advantages going into the fight, especially with him coming off a two and a half year layoff and also him hopefully getting tested a little bit more so that he’s not on whatever type of enhancement stuff that he was on before.
“I understand that he’s a little bit older now. He hasn’t fought in a long time now. Those are all things to sort of consider but then on the other end, I have to live in the world where I understand that T.J. is another opponent that’s in front of me regardless of whatever advantages I have or don’t have, what wins you a fight is going in and beating a guy up and having more of a will to win than the other person. I understand. There’s a lot of arguments in my favor but there’s also nothing wins fights other than going out and performing and having the will to win and beating the guy up. That’s the world I need to live in.”
Prior to his move to California, Dillashaw actually trained primarily in Colorado where he counted Sandhagen as one of his many teammates and sparring partners.
It’s been a few years since they were training together regularly but Sandhagen definitely remembers those sessions spent alongside Dillashaw, which is just more knowledge for him to bank ahead of their main event fight this weekend.
While that also means Dillashaw has his own insights into clashing with a former sparring partner, Sandhagen promises he’s learned a lot since those days and he’s always got a few surprises in store as well.
“There’s always tricks up the sleeve,” Sandhagen said. “I’m one of the guys that is at the gym all of the time. I know there’s a lot of fighters out there that do their camps and then chill between fights. That’s not me. I really love this sport. I really love learning a lot of things about this sport. I really love learning new techniques. There’s definitely a lot of things that I didn’t even get to show in the Frankie fight because it happened so quickly.
“If the fight goes for a while, you guys will see a lot of new things from me and I was excited honestly to show them in the Frankie fight but also happy that the way that it went. I really take a decent amount of pride in my work ethic and me being able to get really good between fights as well.”