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T.J. Dillashaw returns with split decision win over Cory Sandhagen in instant classic at UFC Vegas 32

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More than two years away didn’t stop T.J. Dillashaw from delivering in an instant classic with Cory Sandhagen before winning a razor-close split decision in the UFC Vegas 32 main event.

The former bantamweight champion was forced to fight through a gruesome cut and an injured knee suffered during the fight but he kept every round close, which ultimately paid off when the judges’ scorecards were tallied. In the end, two judges gave Dillashaw the fight with 48-47 scores while Sandhagen also received the same 48-47 score from the third official.

“I love Cory Sandhagen. I believed in that guy before he even believed in himself,” Dillashaw said after celebrating his first win since 2018. “Great opponent, great fight. A little sloppy on my end but I pushed the pace, got the win.”

It was not an easy fight to score by any means as both Dillashaw and Sandhagen put forth maximum effort over 25 minutes in order to earn the victory.

Following back-to-back highlight reel finishes, Sandhagen nearly delivered another in the first round after exploding forward with another flying knee strike as Dillashaw was ducking his head down. While the knee didn’t land, Sandhagen immediately transitioned to a reverse triangle choke that appeared to have Dillashaw in trouble momentarily.

The fighters scrambled back to the feet with Dillashaw then looking to close the distance, grabbing onto the body lock multiple times in order to drag Sandhagen down to the mat. Sandhagen avoided taking too many shots until just before the horn sounded when a leg lock attempt allowed Dillashaw to rain down some heavy punches.

As he returned to the corner, Dillashaw was favoring his left leg and the replay appeared to show the brief heel hook attempt from Sandhagen possibly did more damage than it originally appeared.

When the second round got started, Sandhagen did a better job using his reach while fighting at a distance, which allowed him to catch Dillashaw multiple times as the former champion was aggressively coming after him. Sandhagen was deadly accurate with his hands while opening a nasty cut over Dillashaw’s eye that had blood just pouring down into his face.

With the fight moving into the third round, Sandhagen was just picking and choosing his shots while Dillashaw was struggling to see straight thanks to the blood in his eyes. Despite the problems he was facing from the cut, Dillashaw was still able to blast away at Sandhagen’s legs with a series of kicks not to mention several takedown attempts that allowed him to do more damage from the clinch.

Thanks to so much experience in championship fights, Dillashaw was still surging late in the fight but whenever Sandhagen was able to operate from the outside, he was landing with the better combinations. That said, Dillashaw was constantly finding a way to swoop inside to grab onto the body lock, which prevented Sandhagen from really gaining momentum.

Just before the fourth round ended, Sandhagen clubbed Dillashaw with a huge spinning back fist as the horn sounded.

With five minutes remaining, Dillashaw and Sandhagen left everything in the cage as they were jockeying for position with each man trying to outwork the other on the feet, from the clinch and during every exchange. While it appeared that Sandhagen was connecting with the cleaner punches, Dillashaw’s relentless pressure never slowed down as he sought to close the fight strong and obviously the judges were paying attention.

A disappointed Sandhagen felt like he did enough to deserve the decision but he’s instead he’s leaving with a loss on his record.

“I knew I made mistakes early. I adjusted,” Sandhagen said. “I didn’t take any serious damage the whole time. I don’t know. I didn’t think he’d be able to take a shot the way he was able to take a shot. I should have done better. I should have won.”

As for Dillashaw, the win puts him right back at the top of the 135-pound division after he relinquished his title back in 2019 after testing positive for a banned substance. His goal remains reclaiming that title, although it appears he’s not interested in sitting on the sidelines for very long.

“Daddy’s getting that belt,” Dillashaw said. “Easy money for that belt right now. Title fight. As long as [Petr] Yan and [Aljamain] Sterling get their fight on pretty quick, I want to fight. Otherwise, I’ll take someone else in the top five. I’m here to fight.”