On paper after demolishing former bantamweight title contender Marlon Moraes and ex-UFC champ Frankie Edgar with a pair of viral knockouts, the 29-year-old Colorado native should probably already consider himself the de facto No. 1 contender at 135 pounds.
He only further solidifies himself as next in line with a win over Dillashaw, who has been regarded as one of the best bantamweight champions in the history of the UFC.
The only problem is current bantamweight king Aljamain Sterling is still recovering from neck surgery and a planned rematch against former champion Petr Yan probably won’t take place until the end of the year. That means if Sandhagen beats Dillashaw on Saturday night, he could be looking at a lengthy layoff in order to wait for winner of Sterling vs. Yan.
So what will Sandhagen do if he’s put into the position to fight or wait for the title shot?
“I guess the answer to your question is I don’t really know,” Sandhagen said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “Because, the only other name out there is Rob Font. Rob Font just had a really good against [Cody] Garbrandt. To be honest with you, I’m not really sure. I’m going to kind of see how it goes.
“Because now I’m in camp, I’m a little bit like ‘yeah, I’ll fight tomorrow, I’ll fight every day of my life.’ That’s how I am right now. I’m sure I’ll be for the 48 hours after I fight, too, but I don’t want to make an emotional decision about it.”
If not for Yan being disqualified in his previous fight against Sterling due to an illegal knee that ultimately left the New York native unable to continue, Sandhagen would probably be competing for the title right now.
That’s not the case, however, which is why Sandhagen isn’t spending too much time worrying about things that are completely out of his control.
Add to that, Sandhagen likes the idea of running through the best fighters in the world at bantamweight regardless of a championship being on the line or not.
“I beat T.J., I’ve done more than enough to earn that, which I can kind of say confidently but I also at this moment don’t really mind fighting another person,” Sandhagen said. “I enjoy that I’m going through murderer’s row.
“I’m grateful that I get to have such a hard trail to the title so that when it is title fight time, I know that I’ve had a hard path and I know that I’m 100 percent ready. I think fighting someone like Rob Font would do a lot for me getting better as well.”
The biggest potential obstacle standing in his way of a title shot is the rematch between Yan and Sterling because the fight hasn’t even been booked yet and the UFC has already starting scheduling cards in October, which means there’s a limited amount of time left for the bantamweight championship to be decided.
If Yan vs. Sterling 2 gets pushed back as far as December, the winner could potentially not compete again until sometime deep into 2022 and that would mean Sandhagen sitting inactive for quite some time.
Those kinds of unknowns are why Sandhagen can’t get lost in what comes next for him because he already allowed himself to have that kind of reaction following the bizarre conclusion to the first fight between Yan and Sterling.
“You should have seen me when I was watching that title fight,” Sandhagen said. “Immediately after I was just like what are we serious? So that threw a wrench in things so who knows. Something weird might happen again.”
If Sandhagen decides not to wait for the winner of Sterling vs. Yan 2 and instead opts to clash with somebody like Font, that would mean a very busy schedule for him for the past year and a half.
That might make a certain somebody at home less than happy with him but then again Sandhagen knows he’s in the prime of his career right now and he needs to always strike while the iron is hot.
“I guess the answer to your question is I don’t know [what I’ll do] and probably won’t know until like a week after my fight when everything settles down,” Sandhagen said. “I will say I think my girlfriend is in dire need of me wanting to take a break.
“Cause I feel like it’s just been camp to camp to camp. I fought in October, I fought in February, I was supposed to fight in May and now I’m fighting in July. The house hasn’t been the most fun place to live in as you can imagine. I don’t know, we’ll see.”