Sandhagen defeated Rob Font in a one-sided contest in Saturday’s main event, outclassing Font in a wrestling-heavy decision that moved his current win streak to three straight. The performance drew plenty of boos from the Nashville crowd, and the two bantamweights combined to land the fourth-fewest significant strikes over a 25-minute fight in the modern UFC era. Sandhagen, however, had a pretty decent excuse: He suffered a fully torn tricep early in the opening round and is already scheduled for surgery on Thursday.
Sandhagen reflected on the tough situation on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour.
“There’s two pieces there,” he acknowledged. “There’s the one piece where it’s like, OK, I understand that sports and entertainment collide when we’re talking about the UFC, and in MMA in general. It’s not just, like, who can play the best basketball? It’s like, who can play the best basketball and kind of be flashy while doing it? That’s what it is, so I understand that. I feel like if I could have been more entertaining, I definitely would’ve shot for more entertaining. At the time though, I just wasn’t prepared to make a ton of risk just feeling like I was compromised.
“And then on top of that, I feel like I would’ve just been handing over a giant advantage over to Rob had I just kept it standing, because the gap of me and Rob Font’s grappling is so wide that it would’ve been — just as a martial artist, it would’ve been so dumb to allow Rob to have any advantage when I’m that much better in one of the areas. That would almost be like if I was playing basketball and Shaquille O’Neal is guarding me, and like, I tried to post up on him or I’m trying to play in the paint with him. I’m not going to do that.
“I’m going to run around the perimeter and shoot threes if Shaq is the guy that’s guarding me, because he has an advantage there, especially when I’m compromised. So no, man, that was kind of the way that I had to handle it in order to walk out with the win.”
Sandhagen, 31, was originally set to face Umar Nurmagomedov at UFC Nashville, however the undefeated rising contender withdrew in mid-July due to a shoulder injury, which led to Font stepping in on short notice. Sandhagen said he contemplated pulling out as well because of complications with his elbow that hampered him throughout his camp, but ultimately he wanted to stay true to his word and do what he signed a contract to do.
With the win, Sandhagen remains one of the top contenders in the UFC bantamweight division. He’s hopeful his performance won’t impact his standing in the title chase.
“I actually already talked to Dana [White] about it,” Sandhagen said. “I was like, ‘Hey man, this happened, this happened, I really would’ve wanted to open up a lot more but didn’t feel comfortable.’ And he was real cool with it. He was fine with it. He just told me to heal up and he was real nice about it.”
“There was just no weirdness [from White],” Sandhagen added. “And in my last three opponents, I stopped Song Yadong, who’s a very, very good fighter and is going to continue to prove that he’s really good fighter. I know that he’s going to be one of the best in the division one day. I beat ‘Chito’ [Marlon Vera] by a mile and I beat Rob by two miles. You can’t really make too much of an argument that I don’t deserve the title shot next.
“I know that the last fight took out maybe a little bit of momentum, but you factor in all of the other things outside of the fight — and even inside the fight with the injury — and you can’t hate me too much for for the way that the fight played out. I still 50-45’d one of the best guys in the world on a bum arm.”
Sandhagen also dismissed reports about White leaving his seat midway through the fourth round of the fight as much ado about nothing.
“I don’t know, I think it’s probably true if people were saying that, but that could be for a number of reasons,” Sandhagen said. “That just doesn’t have to [be because of the fight]. He’s a busy dude and all of that. But yeah, when I talked to him, he was real friendly, real nice, was super understanding, and there was no, ‘Hey, motherf*****, you should’ve done this.’ There was none of that. It was all understanding.”
Sandhagen said he expects to be sidelined for at least six months after surgery. By the time he comes back, however, the UFC bantamweight division could look very, very different.
UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling is set to defend his title against Sean O’Malley next Saturday at UFC 292. Sterling has teased that a move up to 145 pounds could be next in order to clear the way for his friend and teammate Merab Dvalishvili to challenge for the belt, which would leave a cluster of contenders to vie for their chances to compete for a vacant title. With that in mind, Henry Cejudo was one of several top bantamweights to publicly thank Sandhagen after UFC Nashville for the unexciting performance.
Cejudo claimed that UFC Nashville all but ensured he’d be the one fighting Dvalishvili for the next shot at the bantamweight strap. Unsurprisingly, Sandhagen disagrees.
“I don’t know, man. I kind of figured all of everyone else who has to make their arguments for fighting for the belt next, I kind of figured that they’d attack the situation,” Sandhagen said. “But the situation is what it is, I did my best. Like I said, I 50-45’d one of the best guys in the world who, on two and a half weeks’ notice, I had to change an entire strategy. Not a guy at all that I was getting ready for.
“And Henry can say what he wants, but he was granted a golden gift by even getting the title shot initially anyways, and he lost. So you’re one or two fights behind now. I’m out for a little bit, so lucky for those guys, but I anticipate when I come back, I’ll be the next guy to fight for the title.”