Cory Sandhagen is on the short list of fighters in the bantamweight title discussion and he believes he can get right to the top of that list Saturday night.
Sandhagen will square off against perennial contender Raphael Assuncao at UFC 241. The event takes place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. with the 135-pound clash taking place during the ESPN prelims.
The 27-year-old Sandhagen is well aware of what Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan have been doing as of late. However, with a six-fight winning streak, four of which took place in the UFC Octagon, Sandhagen believes his entertaining style attached to his list of credentials will be enough to tip the scale in his favor for a shot at UFC gold.
“I think I can (jump those guys),” Sandhagen told BJPENN.com Wednesday night. “I’m not a loud mouth, I respect my peers too much to talk badly about them and it’s just shown how my fight style can take me to the top very, very quick. I know that the UFC likes me, the UFC likes my style, they just like me in general. I hope that they give me a shot at an interim belt with either Sterling or Yan while Cejudo figures out his shoulder injury, or if he’s going back down to 125, or whatever it is he’s doing. That’s my hope. I’m going to push for that as hard as I can but it’s not in my hands. I just focus on getting better every single day.
“Based on the style that I have, and I don’t like to sound arrogant, I’m not going to put on a boring fight. Just by nature, I’m exciting with my style and how dynamic it is, when I do win it’s always going to look pretty impressive. Not to sound arrogant, that’s just the nature of my fight style. I just have to go out, be myself and win. That’s all I need to worry about. I don’t need to worry about putting on great performances. That’s taken care of with what I bring in the cage.”
The 4-0 start to the Octagon career of Cory Sandhagen includes finishes of Austin Arnett, Iuri Alcantara, and Mario Bautista. Most recently, Sandhagen took on the dangerous John Linker at UFC Fort Lauderdale in April and picked up a split decision victory, the biggest of his career to date.
With the challenge Lineker presented in terms of his explosiveness and power, Sandhagen believes Saturday night’s showdown with Assuncao is great timing in terms of his progression in the sport, as well as one of the deepest division’s in the UFC.
“I think that the challenge is coming at the perfect time for me,” Sandhagen explained. “Assuncao is obviously a very, very great fighter so I’m going to have to bring my A-game. The challenge that is going to be Assuncao is really exciting for me. What I’m going to learn in that fight is going to be huge so I think it’s a good time for me to take this fight and it’s a really good step for me to take after the Lineker fight.”
Admittedly, the puzzle that is Assuncao has been a fascinating one for Sandhagen to prepare to solve on Saturday night. Assuncao recently had his four-fight winning streak snapped by Marlon Moraes at February’s UFC on ESPN+ 2 card, suffering a first-round submission loss in the event’s headliner. Over the years, Assuncao has been able to bounce back from losses by putting together long streaks of victories.
All of those intangibles, along with Assuncao’s veteran savvy, have made the preparation for the fight a little bit outside the norm.
“It’s been a little bit different in that it’s been solidifying my fundamentals and working on winning rounds in a fundamental way, as opposed to jumping on a submission, or trying to be a little too flashy with the striking,” Sandhagen said. “It’s kind of taken me back a step and brought me back to my fundamentals where we’re going to practice beating this guy up kind of old school — sticking to the fundamentals, staying on top when I do get on top, when it’s on the bottom, getting back up and then, obviously, being dynamic with my striking like I always am.”
UFC 241 is arguably the biggest card of the year for the organization thus far. With a heavyweight title rematch headlining the event between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic, the long-awaited return of Nate Diaz taking on Anthony Pettis, the middleweight clash between Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa, among others, the fight between Sandhagen and Assuncao seems to be flying under the radar.
Sandhagen understands why people may be looking towards the top of the card over this all-important bantamweight battle.
“This is my fifth fight in the UFC,” Sandhagen said. “I don’t expect to be on the same caliber, or get the same attention as an Anthony Pettis, or Nate Diaz, or Yoel Romero. All of that takes time and those guys have earned all of that notoriety that they have. I’m putting in my time and one day I’ll have my big face on the poster instead of me signing over someone else’s.”
In a closely matched fight such as this one, one mistake, any inch given, could make all of the difference in determining who gets their hand raised. With a big step towards a shot at the UFC bantamweight title potentially at stake, Cory Sandhagen knows what he needs to do on Saturday night to see that gold belt shining a little brighter in his vision.
“I really just have to be myself and maximize my advantages,” Sandhagen stated. “I think that the margins at this level with who is going to be better at what aren’t going to be too crazy different. In jiu-jitsu, I might not be that much better. In wrestling, I might not be that much better. In the striking, I might not be that much better. That’s probably going to be the case for most of the top-10 guys. Yeah, they might have a little bit of an advantage in this area, but I’ll have a little bit of an advantage in this area.
“It’s about the weapons that you’re bringing and being able to use them the best. I’m not a huge gun guy, but I think that as far as bringing the most deadly weapon, I think that’s me. I’m tall, I’m fast, I have great footwork, I’m very well rounded so there’s not a lot of holes in my boat. My style, in general, is very difficult to figure out in 15 minutes. I just have to be myself and maximize my advantages.”
Who do you think wins the bantamweight clash between Cory Sandhagen and Raphael Assuncao at UFC 241?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 8/15/2019.