Rivalries: Cory Sandhagen

By Brian Knapp Jul 22, 2021

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Cory Sandhagen could not have taken a more difficult road to contention in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s bantamweight division.

Perhaps one more win away from securing an elusive title shot, Sandhagen will confront former champion T.J. Dillashaw in the UFC on ESPN 27 main event this Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The “Sandman” enters the cage on the strength of back-to-back to victories, both of the highlight-reel variety. Sandhagen last appeared at UFC Fight Night 184, where he flattened onetime lightweight champion Frankie Edgar with a flying knee just 28 seconds into their Feb. 6 encounter.

As Sandhagen takes aim at the returning Dillashaw, a look at a few of the rivalries that have helped shape his career:

Jamall Emmers

Emmers handed the Elevation Fight Team standout his first professional defeat, as he laid claim to a unanimous decision in the Legacy Fighting Alliance 5 co-headliner on Feb. 24, 2017 at 1stBank Center in Broomfield, Colorado. All three cageside judges struck 29-28 scorecards. Sandhagen was the superior fighter during their early exchanges, but his counterpart’s experience and persistence paid. He pressured the Aurora, Colorado, native across the second and third rounds, pairing volume punching with relentless forward movement. Emmers punctuated his performance with a takedown in the waning moments of Round 3. Sandhagen, meanwhile, rebounded from the setback with seven consecutive victories.

Raphael Assuncao

Sandhagen hastened his upward trajectory at 135 pounds, as he took a unanimous decision from Assuncao in a UFC 241 showcase on Aug. 17, 2019 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. “Sandman” carried all three scorecards: 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28. Often a litmus test in the UFC’s bantamweight division, Assuncao had his moments but too often played into his opponent’s hands. Sandhagen threw more punches, incorporated kicks and landed with more regularity, all while holding his own in the grappling exchanges with a seasoned Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Assuncao made a final push at turning the tide late in Round 3 but failed to consolidate a slam takedown with anything of consequence.

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Aljamain Sterling

In what could only be described as a virtuoso performance, the ascendant Sterling submitted Sandhagen with a rear-naked choke in the first round of their UFC 250 bantamweight feature on June 6, 2020 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Sandhagen conceded defeat 1:28 into Round 1, briefly lost consciousness and awakened to find the “Funk Master” in full-throated celebration as the clear No. 1 contender at 135 pounds. Sterling pressured the Elevation Fight Team representative to the fence, forced a tie-up and maneuvered to the back while still upright. He secured his position with an airtight body triangle, went to work on the choke and eventually snaked his arms in place for the finish.

Marlon Moraes

Sandhagen shed the dark horse label once and for all, moved one step closer to a shot at the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight crown and away Moraes with a spinning wheel kick and follow-up punches in the second round of their UFC Fight Night 179 headliner on Oct. 10, 2020 at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Moraes bowed out 63 seconds into Round 2. Sandhagen used his height and length to his advantage throughout the first round, where he chopped away at the Brazilian’s legs and body with kicks. His fluid stance switches paid dividends, as well, allowing him to connect with jabs from both hands that led to significant damage near Moraes’ right eye. Sandhagen moved forward roughly a minute into the second round, planted and fired the kick off the side of the former World Series of Fighting champion’s head. Moraes somersaulted backward, at which point he was met with a volley of punches that closed the door. Advertisement
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