Stepping in to replace Dominick Cruz to take on John Lineker was an opportunity that Cory Sandhagen wasn’t expecting, but it’s one that he relished. Now that Lineker has withdrawn from the fight and Mario Bautista has stepped in to replace him, Sandhagen feels like he’s back into his comfort zone heading into the fight.
Sandhagen will take on Bautista at UFC Brooklyn on ESPN+ on January 19 at the Barclays Center and in an exclusive interview with BJPenn.com he spoke about going through the opponent change and how he’s preparing for his fight against Bautista.
After Lineker had to withdraw with injury, the UFC still wanted Sandhagen to stay on the card but it was up to him to accept a new opponent.
“They still wanted me on the card I know, and I really wanted to be on it too,” he said. “I was told the only reason I wouldn’t be on the card is if I didn’t take a matchup they sent over.
“I think not getting a fight is worse than losing a fight if you’ve gone through the hassle of going through camp. So, I’m just happy to have a fight.”
Putting the Lineker matchup behind him and directing all his focus to Bautista, Sandhagen says he’s back in his comfort zone facing an opponent who will be making his UFC debut.
“My comfort level is fighting someone who’s at this level of skill I would say,” he said. “He’s an opponent who is very tough, but he is extremely beatable. This is going to bring a lot of pressure on him, but as far as skill level goes, I feel very comfortable facing this guy and dominating pretty dramatically.”
Bautista is undefeated, and Sandhagen acknowledges that his opponent’s 6-0 record will bring a challenge, but he’s confident in his preparation. Knowing that Bautista’s wins have come by his strong suit of grappling, Sandhagen found irony in that he’s spent a lot of this camp focused on his own grappling. For Sandhagen, although it’s only six wins, Mario Bautista and his perfect record will get plenty of respect from him.
Making his third appearance with the UFC, Cory Sandhagen will make a bit of history as he will be in the first UFC fight to be televised on ESPN, and just hearing that small piece of history makes him excited.
“Just hearing that brings a huge smile to my face. the fact that it’s the first ESPN fight ever, in history, I’m just very grateful to be a part of the history,” he said. “It means a lot more to me after the fact. Most of my thoughts and energy are focused on my opponent. As far as Brooklyn goes, I have a lot of family who will get to watch me fight, and I’m really pumped for that.”
Having friends and family has brought some nerves and pressure for Sandhagen but he did admit that those feelings are a little more relaxed as Bautista replaces Lineker. While Bautista doesn’t pose the same threat that Lineker might have in their fight, Sandhagen isn’t going to take his debuting opponent easily.
“John hits hard, let’s not beat around the bush,” he said of Lineker. “If he had hit me hard, I could’ve been knocked out in front of my family and friends. That being said, Mario has hands and if he hits me on the chin hard enough, he can score that shot too. No one gets it taken easy on. Everyone gets the same intensity and same battle-ready me.”
As the opponent changes, the mindset doesn’t for Sandhagen. While a hypothetical win over Lineker would’ve likely cracked him into the Top 10 or Top 15 in the rankings, Sandhagen believes the fight against Bautista gets more eyes on him.
“This fight gets more eyes on me and honestly that’s what I wanted,” he said. “I wanted a high-ranking opponent to get more eyes on me. One way to climb up the rankings and get a title shot is by having more attention.”
“I’m also seeing this as a very opportunistic fight for me to gain a lot of ring time and experience by fighting someone who likes to grapple a little bit more.”
Knowing he has some value to the UFC just based off the fact they offered him the replacement spot for Dominick Cruz to take on Lineker, Cory Sandhagen is eyeing a jump into the bantamweight rankings with a win over Mario Bautista in Brooklyn. There was certainly some disappointment to not getting to fight Lineker, but Sandhagen sees it all as opportunities that will lead to bigger things in his future.
“The way I see the Lineker fight is, I got really lucky to be given that opportunity,” he said. “I think that a lot of it is, you great your own luck obviously. I’m not going to kid myself, it was extremely lucky to get such a high-ranking opponent in my third fight. The fact that it got taken away from me doesn’t really bother me. It was such a huge blessing, how could I get mad if it kind of turned around on me?”
Looking to impress the new wave of ESPN fans who will be tuning in to see him fight for the first time, Cory Sandhagen is ready to show the beauty in mixed martial arts against Mario Bautista. On top of showing that he’s a true martial artist, Sandhagen is looking to make a statement to the UFC and the bantamweight division, and he’ll do so when he faces Bautista in front of friends and family in Brooklyn.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 1/16/2019.