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Cory Sandhagen wants Merab Dvalishvili next because he’s not interested in ‘the easiest path’ to UFC title

Cory Sandhagen knew a win over Marlon Vera at UFC San Antonio would put him in an advantageous position when it came to the bantamweight title picture.

The only problem is even after a convincing win over Vera on Saturday night, Sandhagen is still left to wait for the upcoming championship fight between reigning bantamweight king Aljamain Sterling and Henry Cejudo at UFC 288, with Sean O’Malley already currently waiting in the wings as the likely next No. 1 contender.

Prior to his fight, Sandhagen actually intended to call out O’Malley because he believed the former Contender Series winner still had more to prove before fighting for UFC gold. That all changed in the aftermath of his win, though, when Sandhagen instead turned his attention to Dvalishvili, who was fresh off a five-round thumping of Petr Yan.

“I’m not letting other people’s values be my values in martial arts,” Sandhagen explained when addressing the callout on The MMA Hour. “My values in martial arts is me being the best martial artist that I can. If that means having a longer path and a tougher path to being a world champion, then that’s the consequence that I’m prepared to deal with.

“I’m not doing this whole ‘let me try to find out the easiest path to the top of the mountain’ thing. I’m going to try to climb straight up this thing and make it as tough as possible, so that way when I get to the top, it feels that much better.”

O’Malley appeared to have cemented himself as next in line for the title shot after he eked out a split decision win over Yan this past October, which doubled as the biggest win of his career.

Dvalishvili then trumped that performance with a lopsided win over Yan, however the Georgian bantamweight has stated rather emphatically that he will not fight Sterling, who is a longtime friend and training partner.

That once again puts O’Malley in the driver’s seat for the next title shot, which is why Sandhagen believes a future showdown with Dvalishvili just feels inevitable.

“I don’t really know why it wouldn’t [happen],” Sandhagen said. “I don’t know who else Merab really has to fight. Because both Cejudo and Sterling seem to be chomping at the bit to fight O’Malley versus definitely me or definitely Merab. They seem super into the O’Malley fight.

“I don’t know why those two wouldn’t go with O’Malley unless the UFC doesn’t want O’Malley to fight for the belt, which, I think that they do. I don’t think that they’re going to try and spoil O’Malley’s chance at winning the title. I do think Merab’s the better opponent.”

As far as timing goes, Sandhagen reiterated that he wants to fight again before September, which is when his wedding is scheduled.

While his fiancée is always understanding about his sporadic fight schedule, the 30-year-old fighter from Colorado would like to give her a reprieve to only worry about their nuptials and not deal with him preparing to take their vows as he simultaneously thinks about his next bout.

“It’s going to have to happen before the wedding if I’m going to fight,” Sandhagen said. “Erica made that very clear. Erica made it very clear, and of course she said she would understand because she’s the best in the world, but I’m going to really try to do her a favor and make it before the wedding so she doesn’t have to stress out about me having a fight. Like I said, I can be a bit of a different person in training camp.

“[I can fight] all the way up to the date [in September]. It would be better than having me be in a training camp for the wedding.”

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