Cory Sandhagen understands how rare it is to receive a call from the UFC offering a title shot even if the opportunity comes under bad circumstances.
With only three weeks to prepare, Sandhagen accepted a chance to compete for the interim bantamweight title in a fight against Petr Yan at UFC 267 this past October after reigning 135-pound champion Aljamain Sterling was unable to compete while still recovering from neck surgery. Despite little time to get ready and flying halfway around the world to Abu Dhabi for the fight, Sandhagen put up a valiant effort but ultimately came up short in a decision.
Now as he makes his return 11 months later, the Colorado native admits that nothing was ideal about that fight but he still has no regrets about the decision to accept the UFC’s offer even if the consequences in losing were somewhat severe to his future prospects.
“I’m glad I took the opportunity,” Sandhagen told The Fighter vs. The Writer. “You definitely say yes to a title fight almost always, nine times out of 10. So I don’t regret taking the opportunity. I guess it kind of put me at the end of the line with all these matches that have been made recently, like the fights that are happening now.
“A couple months ago, I felt it put me at the bottom of the line as far as choice for the fight. I thought I was going to get [Jose] Aldo, Merab [Dvalishvili], ‘Chito’ [Marlon Vera] or [Dominick] Cruz and I didn’t get any of those guys, which is what I wanted.”
While the result definitely wasn’t what he wanted, Sandhagen is still proud of his performance against Yan but he can easily pinpoint when the fight got away from him.
“I thought I was doing really awesome,” Sandhagen said. “It was just getting dropped late in that third round that messed up my fourth round. Because honestly I was on wobbly legs for the entire fourth. Once my heart rate came down going into the fifth round, I was able to fight a little bit more like myself but I had to fight a little bit more reserved because I knew I couldn’t take the damage I was taking in the fourth round.
“Strategically, I had to make some changes, which led to me not being able to completely open up and to completely focus on winning. It became a little bit more about not taking too much damage.”
Sandhagen knew losing to Yan would put him further back from another potential title shot but he also felt like his standing in the division should still allow him to get another top ranked opponent.
That’s a high risk, low reward situation by any standard, which is why Sandhagen was originally hoping for a different opponent when the UFC came back to him with a new fight offer.
“First of all when I got the name, I was very surprised,” Sandhagen said. “I was like that’s super left field but yes, we’ll take that because it’s better than just sitting on the bench and waiting for these guys to fight. I don’t know what was going on in the whole matchmaking process. I don’t know if it was a matter of they said they weren’t going to fight me or I don’t hold enough clout like some of the other guys.
“Like I look back to the Chito-Cruz fight that just happened and I mean why did Chito fight down in the rankings? I thought for sure I was going to get Chito and then he ended up fighting Cruz down in the rankings when he was calling out people in the top five. That didn’t make any sense to me. None of it really made any sense to me but I just kind of figured something else was going on.”
Rather than complaining about what he didn’t get, Sandhagen prefers to just stay focused on the task at hand with another main event opportunity this Saturday.
He also knows Song is gunning for his spot near the top of the division, which immediately makes this an even more dangerous fight than usual. Add to that, Sandhagen never wants to lose three fights in a row but after falling in a highly controversial split decision to T.J. Dillashaw and then suffering defeat against Yan, that’s exactly where he finds himself.
“I’m not really one to play victim,” Sandhagen said. “It is what it is. I know how the sport works. You win, you get what you want. You lose, you don’t get what you want.”