Cory Sandhagen is still struggling to understand how he has a loss on his record to T.J. Dillashaw, but he also takes full responsibility for his shortcomings in the UFC Vegas 32 main event.
In a highly anticipated battle at bantamweight, the third-ranked Sandhagen was welcoming a former champion back to the octagon after a two-year doping suspension kept him out of competition. Upon his return, Dillashaw showed incredible durability over all five rounds while surviving an early knee injury suffered in the first round not to mention a gruesome cut that had blood pouring into his eyes.
When the fight was over, Sandhagen was definitely impressed by Dillashaw but he still believed he had done more than enough to win. That was until two of the judges handed 48-47 scores to Dillashaw as he walked away with the split decision victory.
Now just a couple of days removed from the fight, Sandhagen obviously doesn’t agree with the result but he also refuses to make excuses for allowing the scores to end up so close after five rounds.
“The way I feel about the fight overall is that I won the fight more by my standard,” Sandhagen explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “But as a third person party and kind of the aesthetic of the fight, I can see how a judge would give T.J. the nod because of aggression and him moving forward.”
The scoring criteria in mixed martial arts rates effective striking and grappling as the two most important factors for judging a fight. Judges are only supposed to consider aggression and cage control for scoring if both the striking and grappling are dead even at the end of a round.
When he looks back at the fight, Sandhagen is willing to concede that a couple of the rounds were close based mostly upon Dillashaw’s control time against the cage but he also argues that there wasn’t much damage being inflicted during any of those exchanges.
“Round 1, there was a good amount of grappling involved. I think I was maybe chasing submissions a little bit too much and spent a little bit too much time on the ground,” Sandhagen said. “But I was able to get a heel hook and pop his knee. It wasn’t what he was saying ‘oh I tweaked my knee because I got lazy.’ I pulled you into 50/50 and then heel hooked you and popped your knee. So Round 1 with so much time spent on my back even though I was protecting myself really well and was able to pop his knee, I would give T.J. round 1.
“Round 2, obviously I beat him up pretty good, I knocked him down a couple of times, I landed some really good shots or I guess just once I knocked him down. Maybe should have gone for the finish, maybe not. I kind of had it in my head that T.J.’s a really tough guy and there’s still three more rounds after this so maybe it wouldn’t be the best idea to empty the gas tank so early.”
Sandhagen believes rounds 3 and 4 were the toughest to score, although he still feels like he was landing the more effective strikes throughout while Dillashaw was largely just marching forward into his combinations.
“I still think I was landing the cleaner shots and doing more damage than he was,” Sandhagen said. “While he was being aggressive and outscoring me, I think even on the scoresheets we were hitting each other about equal and I think mine were still a lot cleaner.
“Round 5, I think I won and there’s kind of this topic well T.J. was controlling me against the cage. That to me is very strange to kind of add as an argument of him winning because he wasn’t able to do any damage and he wasn’t able to take me down.”
Overall, Sandhagen stuffed 17 out of 19 takedown attempts from Dillashaw and the two times he ended up on his back were the result of his own offensive moves — a flying knee and a spinning heel kick — that put him into those positions.
Dillashaw was able to maintain a total of 8:22 of control time, which was mostly spent in a body lock against the cage but Sandhagen disputes that really played any factor in the actual fight itself.
“Winning a fight isn’t pinning someone against the cage,” Sandhagen said. “If you can take someone down, it’s a little bit of a different story but T.J. was unable to take me down.”
There were several moments in the fight where Sandhagen landed a major blow or tagged Dillashaw with a series of shots in succession but the former bantamweight champion was somehow able to absorb the punishment.
As impressive as his durability was over 25 minutes, Sandhagen refuses to believe that should count for Dillashaw when it comes to the judges’ scorecards.
“I think we’re past the point of being durable and being tough and being aggressive wins you the fight,” Sandhagen said. “I don’t think that’s what does it. I also don’t think having control and not doing damage should win you a fight. Like I said, 19 shots he took on me, he didn’t take me down once except for the time I threw the flying knee and the time I threw the spinning heel kick. His shots, I shut every single one down.
“So it’s really frustrating for me to feel like T.J. earned that win because he was being really aggressive but nothing that he was doing was working, which is frustrating.”
While Dillashaw is now headed to surgery for the knee injury he suffered in the fight not to mention the numerous stitches required to close the head wound over his eye, Sandhagen is actually walking away from the fight pretty much unscathed.
He was sporting a black eye after the fight but Sandhagen later revealed that was likely the result of an inadvertent eye poke that he didn’t call out to the referee.
“I actually scratched my cornea really bad because one time his thumb went into my eye,” Sandhagen said. “But I didn’t want to say anything to the ref and give him any opportunity to rush forward while I was doing that and I didn’t want to show any weakness in there.
“But I scratched my cornea, that hurt pretty bad later that night but that’s probably what the black eye is from. Nothing [he was throwing] was really scoring.”
For all the ways Sandhagen feels he should be celebrating a win right now rather than lamenting a loss, he still refuses to make excuses for the way things played out.
A huge part of his own growth and evolution in the sport has come from lessons learned from past mistakes and that’s the way Sandhagen is choosing to soothe the sting from this particular setback.
“I think I need to take responsibility,” Sandhagen said. “I need to let myself feel that it’s my fault that I lost because there are things that I could have done differently and they’re just really tiny, tiny little things, which is why I’m not beating myself up too much about this one. Because I think on most people’s scorecards, I win. Just because of the two judges in there that thought that I lost, I’m not going to feel like I got beat in a fight because I don’t feel like I got beat in a fight.
“But I do think it’s really important for me to acknowledge that if I would have done a couple things different, although they’re very minor, that’s kind of the realm of competition that I’m in where I don’t get to make a lot of really minor mistakes anymore. “f I don’t take responsibility, who’s supposed to? I definitely want to b*tch about it. I have b*tched about it and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with b*tching about something like this, in this instance and I think it was my fault that I didn’t win still at the end of the day.”
Sandhagen’s biggest issues coming out of the fight really deal with scoring and the judging that took place at UFC Vegas 32 but he holds no ill will whatsoever towards Dillashaw.
That said, he certainly hopes to cross paths with Dillashaw again because in his mind there’s definitely some unfinished business that he’d like the resolve in a rematch somewhere down the road.
“I really hope that I do [fight Dillashaw again],” Sandhagen said. “I don’t like the taste in my mouth of feeling again, like I said, if I would have just fixed a couple things then I definitely get the nod from the judges because I think I already won the actual fight part of the thing. I think that next time T.J. and I face each other, he’s not going to have anything to lean back on. Going into this one, I know in his head, he was really reliant on taking me down and winning that way and he wasn’t able to do that. I think I showed that I have really good wrestling and I have really good takedown defense and you’re not going to be able to do that at will when you’re fighting me. Because that’s one of the area’s that T.J.’s really good at is being able to take people down and I shut down 17 of his shots.
“I think going into another fight with T.J. he’s going to know that I understand the mistakes that I made and when we fight again, the mistakes won’t be there anymore and he’ll probably get finished.”