Cory Sandhagen passed the most difficult test of his MMA career to date at UFC 241.
The Elevation Fight Team representative captured a unanimous decision triumph against Raphael Assuncao in a preliminary bantamweight bout in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday, outlanding the Brazilian veteran on the feet and holding his own in grappling exchanges with the jiu-jitsu black belt.
It’s never easy to look good against Assuncao, who has hovered on the fringes of title contention at 135 pounds for the past few years. Sandhagen finished his first three UFC opponents but admits to utilizing a measured, intelligent fighting style against Assuncao.
“I knew I was going to come in hungrier than him, but I always have to fight very intelligently,” Sandhagen said. “There’s a part of me that’s very animalistic that just wants to go in and beat someone up really badly and then the other part of me knows that style isn’t my art, it’s something that very efficient and deliberate, so it’s always a balance.
“I want this so bad, I want the championship belt really, really badly, so I played a smart game like I always do. He came in knowing exactly what I was going to do and couldn’t do anything about it, so that says something right there.”
Sandhagen now owns a four-fight winning streak at bantamweight, tying him for the second-longest active winning streak in the division. Overall, he has won seven bouts in a row dating back to his Legacy Fighting Alliance tenure.
Sandhagen believes he has the necessary tools to defeat reigning 135-pound king Henry Cejudo, although he isn’t sure if his resume - which includes wins over Assuncao and John Lineker — warrants a title shot at this point in time.
“There needs to be new faces in this division. I don’t know if I deserve a title shot yet if I’m honest with myself, but I know no one in the division is going to be able to beat Cejudo except for me,” Sandhagen said. “It’s going to take someone different, someone who brings a different type of style and game, everyone in the top 10 is pretty much the same, I’m very, very different and I’m telling you I’m the only guy that can do it.
“I let my agent work and see if he can get me a title shot, there’s too many factors in MMA to bank on. I’m not going to wait a year to fight, so whatever is next, I’m ready.”