Some consider the UFC’s bantamweight division to be the most talent-rich in the promotion. Top contender Cory Sandhagen has once again emerged as a potential title challenger. After tough losses to former champions TJ Dillashaw and Petr Yan, Sandhagen has retooled his game.
Sandhagen v Yan; image – MMA Fighting
Since his return to action, Cory’s offensive wrestling has taken him to the next level. He carried his momentum from his win against Song Yadong into his fight with the surging “Chito” Vera. Sandhagen put on a masterclass, outstriking Vera on the feet and scoring opportunistic takedowns. He succeeded where many others had failed in neutralizing Vera’s knockout power for five full rounds. Cory could earn a title shot with one more win.
Of course, getting even one win in this division is no easy task. Every fighter in the top five has world class skills. With Sean O’Malley getting the next title shot and Henry Cejudo back in the mix, the options are slim for Cory. Although he is close to another shot, the road back to gold is far from clear.
If Cejudo fights against top contender Merab Dvalishvili, Cory will likely have to take a lower ranked opponent, since he already lost to the fifth-ranked Petr Yan. Rob Font hovers at number 7 and himself is coming off a flashy win. That fight would seem to favor Cory stylistically due to his striking pedigree, but is nonetheless dangerous. Conversely, while both Merab and Cejudo carry more name value, their wrestling acumen will prove difficult for Sandhagen to stop. His most favorable stylistic matchup would likely be against O’Malley, though that fight may not happen in the near future.
Cory has skills on the feet and the ground, is a dynamic finisher, and fights at a high pace. In most divisions, such a fighter would almost surely capture the belt. But with Merab’s domination over Yan and Sterling’s impressive win, capturing the bantamweight belt requires even more than that. It remains to be seen whether Cory can reach even higher heights.