Cory Sandhagen believes without a doubt that he should have won his fight against T.J. Dillashaw in the UFC Vegas 32 main event but in the end the judges disagreed.
When the final scores were tallied, two judges gave Dillashaw the fight with 48-47 scores while the third official had the same 48-47 card for Sandhagen. The bantamweights went to war over the course of five rounds but Sandhagen is confident he did enough to earn the victory.
That said, Sandhagen won’t make excuses much less pass the blame onto anybody else for the result.
“It’s hard to remember [what rounds I won],” Sandhagen said during the UFC post-fight show. “I think those early rounds, I was trying to Granby [roll] a little bit too much to break his grip and put myself on bottom, which probably lost me a couple of those [rounds].
“I know I had him hurt more times than me. I think I was landing the way cleaner shots. I was picking him apart but I guess I should have done more. That’s on me.”
The general consensus among fighters and media on Twitter had the fight tied at two rounds each going into the fifth round. If that was the case, Sandhagen felt like he pulled away in those final five minutes but judge Sal D’Amato disagreed and gave that round to Dillashaw, which was ultimately the difference in the decision.
“I told myself I was winning the fifth round. I thought that I did,” Sandhagen said. “I don’t know. What can you do? I thought I made really good adjustments as the fight was going on. What can you do? I guess I’ll learn from it and I’ll still be world champ. I’ll still do all the things I said I was going to do, I’ve just got to learn and get better I guess.”
Following a back-and-forth battle in the opening round, Dillashaw actually limped back to his corner while complaining about a possible injury to his left knee. Replays seemed to show Sandhagen briefly grabbing onto a heel hook with his legs still pulling on Dillashaw when he tried to escape.
That exchange appeared to do the damage to Dillshaw’s knee, although he was still able to continue for the rest of the fight and Sandhagen doesn’t believe it really made much of a difference.
“I rolled on his knee a little bit, I didn’t hear it pop or anything like that,” Sandhagen said. “I don’t know. What’s the point of saying something like that? He said he was going to try to take my back from that but we were ready for that, too. Whatever man, the guy won the fight on the record and that’s what it is. It sucks.”
After Dillashaw was away from the sport for more than two years due to a suspension handed down for a doping violation, Sandhagen wasn’t exactly sure what kind of strategy the former bantamweight champion would use against him.
Regardless, Sandhagen was confident afterwards that he figured out the puzzle while delivering far more punishment to Dillashaw over the course of the fight than what he received in return.
“It was pretty clear that he was going to try to take me down right off of the bat,” Sandhagen said about Dillashaw’s strategy. “Then it was just stuff the shots and pick him apart. I was picking him apart. I was landing some hard shots. I had him wobbled a number of times. I didn’t feel hurt at all, even the leg kicks. My leg is completely fine. There’s nothing wrong with my leg. I shut down most of his shots. I got off the cage. He grips hard and I was wearing on his grip and eventually it broke and I was getting off. So I don’t know.
“I don’t think you get to be a zombie, march forward, eat a bunch of shots and then still win in MMA. I think that we’re past that. But like I said, I don’t want to be a little whiny baby. I’m going to take it. I’m going get better from it. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m still going to win the world championship. Hopefully still next year.”
In a perfect world, Sandhagen would have just kept the fight going until there was a definitive winner but since that option isn’t available, he’d welcome a rematch with Dillashaw down the road.
“I could have done five more rounds,” Sandhagen said. “That’s really how I felt. I could have done five more rounds. If it was me, that’s how the rules would be.
“It’s like hey, let’s do another one if it’s that close. But that ain’t the game that we’re in. Like I said, it is what it is.”
As much as the decision disappointed him, Sandhagen promises that he’s not veering off course with plans to become UFC bantamweight champion sooner rather than later.
He even had a chance to speak to one of the matchmakers backstage, who Sandhagen says assured him that this split decision loss won’t set him back very far in his pursuit of UFC gold.
“Sean Shelby just talked to me in the back. I made him pinky promise me that I’m still one fight away from winning the title,” Sandhagen said. “He came back, he said ‘there’s nothing I can do about that but I promise you you’re still one fight away from the title.’
“I said I’m going to make you pinky promise me and he did so that’s still what we’re looking at.”