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Cory Sandhagen reacts to ‘confusing’ UFC San Antonio split decision, explains why he didn’t call out Sean O’Malley

Count Cory Sandhagen among the many who left UFC San Antonio surprised by judge Joel Ojeda’s baffling scorecard in favor of Marlon Vera in the night’s main event.

“I think I do a pretty good job of sometimes keeping real good track of the volume, the damage, and the takedowns — and I thought that I was doing that almost the entire fight,” Sandhagen said Saturday’s at the UFC San Antonio post-fight press conference.

“I thought that I was winning most of those rounds. Maybe the third, I was like, ‘Eh, you know, that was maybe a little bit close,’ but I thought that I was bagging the other ones. Definitely knew that I had the first two. So yeah, [the split decision was] confusing, but that’s the sport of MMA. Until the rules get fixed, it’s just going to keep happening. If they would’ve scored one of those first two [rounds] for him, that would’ve been a real riot.”

Sandhagen, 30, was sensational in victory on Saturday, out-striking Vera by a margin of 128-58 in significant strikes and 187-73 in total strikes while also racking up more than seven minutes of control time off three completed takedowns. Altogether, it was one of the most thorough and well-rounded performances of Sandhagen’s UFC career — one that halted Vera’s four-fight win streak and inched Sandhagen further into the 135-pound title mix.

Veteran judges Chris Lee and Sal D’Amato saw the fight for Sandhagen by 49-46 and 50-45 scores, respectively, while Texas local Ojeda turned in the baffling 48-47 Vera scorecard.

“I think I did exactly what I have to do,” Sandhagen said. “When you fight these tops guys, especially when they’re knockout artists kind of like Marlon is, you just have to fight them in a certain way. Marlon doesn’t close distance very well, so I knew as long as I wasn’t closing the distance for him, he was going to have a really hard time hitting me. And I think that I fought almost a perfect fight for fighting that type of opponent.”

Sandhagen already has his next opponent in mind, too.

After the bout, the 30-year-old bantamweight contender turned his sights to Merab Dvalishvili, who happened to be sitting cageside for the action.

Dvalishvili recently staked his claim as one of the top 135-pound fighters in the world with a dominant decision win over Petr Yan at UFC Vegas 71. Now Sandhagen wants him next.

“I think Merab is the best guy in the division right now outside of who’s fighting for the title,” Sandhagen said. “I don’t want to shy away from challenges. I don’t want to be that guy. I want to inspire people. I don’t want to cherry-pick my fights all the way to the top. I want to fight the best guys, so that when I do get the title, I can defend it because I’m experienced. And I think Merab is a perfect challenge for my type of style, for my type of fighting.

“He’s going to make me train really hard because of how good he is, and those are the types of guys that I want to fight. And if I can get past him, then I 100 percent deserve a title shot. Like I said, I don’t want to just be like the cherry-pick guy. The guy’s on like a nine-fight win streak — who am I to ask for a title before him? I’m not going to set that standard in MMA. People should be more real about it.”

Sandhagen noted that he may need elbow surgery but is getting married in September, so he hopes to fight again before then. Dvalishvili, for his part, seemed fired up by the callout.

Sandhagen also explained why he changed his mind and shifted to Dvalishvili rather than sticking with his original plan of calling out Sean O’Malley.

“There was [consideration] until I watched Merab fight last week and beat up Yan the way that he beat up Yan,” Sandhagen said. “And O’Malley and Yan’s fight was really close. Like I said, man, in my opinion Merab’s more deserving of a title shot than O’Malley is, so if the UFC is set on having O’Malley fight for the title, which is what I kind of hear that they’re kind of doing, then I want to fight the next top guy — even though I think he’s the topper guy.”

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