In the UFC at 135 there is a long list of talented fighters all battling their way for a shot at the belt. From a wild Russian who is out for revenge to a colourful striker literally and figuratively speaking. Mix in the likes of the former double champ with a relentless Georgian who seems intent on not fighting his teammate and you have quite the competition at Bantamweight.
One man who often gets overlooked is the sandman Corey Sandhagen. Sandhagen is currently building up quite a resume at 135 with his last fight resulting in a victory over number 7 ranked Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera.
Sandhagen’s last two losses come to champion Aljamain Sterling and former champ Petr Yan. Against Sterling, Sandhagen was submitted with relative ease within a minute. The Sandman’s battle against Yan was a 5 round war with Yan winning a decision.
135 is a division full of talent but yet when it comes to the title picture Corey Sandhagen is almost an afterthought. Sandhagen is a tall rangy striker who utilises all weapons on the feet. The sandman has nasty knee’s up the middle, he constantly attacks the lead leg with kicks and has sharp hands.
In his last fight against Chito Vera, the sandman showed that he has been working on his wrestling and was able to land 3 out of 12 takedowns. Whilst this may not be a great takedown average for a man who is predominantly a striker it shows that Sandhagen is willing to expand his arsenal.
In every era of MMA, there is traditionally one fighter who is seen as the unlucky one. Alexander Gustafsson, Tony Ferguson, Frankie Edgar and Max Holloway. All are fighters who have had fantastic careers but were unable to get past the finish line.
Gustafsson beat everyone in his division barring Jon Jones and Danie Cormier. Ferguson was on a 12-fight win streak but was unable to get the big fights against Khabib or Mcgregor. Whilst Holloway was a champion in 3 fights he was unable to get a win against current featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski. Frankie Edgar was at one point the UFC lightweight champion but has been unable to beat the likes of Jose Aldo and Max Holloway. to capture the featherweight title.
There is an argument that if these fighters were in different eras then they would be champions as they have all beaten every fighter in front of them barring the champion. UFC middleweight Robert Whittaker was in a similar scenario where everyone who came before him fell barring Isreal Adesanya and recently Dricius Du Plessis.
Corey Sandhagen may find himself in that position in comparison to other bantamweights. If we look at how he matches up against other Bantamweights the sandman may find himself in the same position.
We already saw how the fight went against Aljo the first time around now admittedly this was 3 years ago and Sandhagen is a better fighter now. However, stylistically Aljo is still a much better grappler than the sandman. Could Sandhagen beat the champ of course this is MMA we are talking about. That said not many would pick Corey Sandhagen in a rematch.
Against Yan, Sandhagen got edged out with Yan landing the cleaner shots. As we saw in his last fight Petr Yan struggles with fighters who are willing to push the pace against him. In their fight, Sandhagen fought Yan’s fight and kept the fight at a slow pace. If Sandhagen is to beat the former champ there must be a change of approach where he fights at a higher pace. Whether he can does this is another question altogether.
After beating Chito Vera Sandhagen did call out Merab Dvalishvili who is essentially acting as a bodyguard until Aljo moves up to featherweight. In order to give Merab a challenge it would seem that someone would need to match his pace. Sandhagen isn’t a point fighter but he isn’t someone who will sprint at an opponent. A fight between Sandhagen and Merab could go a number of ways but it remains to be seen how Sandhagen does against a pressure fighter like Dvalishvili. Considering the last real pressure fighter Sandhagen fought was the champion it potentially could give us a clue to how a fight with Merab could go.
A fight between Sean O’Malley and Corey Sandhagen would be intriguing from a striking point of view. Both are tall rangy fighters who have the ability to finish their opponent. The difference between the two is however the power that both possess. O’Malley has knockout power with his hands and feet. Whereas Sandhagen certainly can knock you but it is with technique and timing. There is no clear winner between these two but with O’Malley set to fight for the belt next, there could be a scenario where Sandhagen may be forced to wait for a shot at the belt.
There is a world where Corey Sandhagen could be champion but in a division that is as stacked as 135, he is going to have to make some real noise. The sandman can be a fun fighter to watch but it remains to be seen whether his style can turn him into a champion. Sandhagen is set to fight Rob Font in Nashville where a win could see him fight the winner of Sterling and O’Malley.