After rattling off five straight wins to kick off his UFC career, Cory Sandhagen found himself in the thick of things at 135lbs. In under two years into his stay with the organization, he landed himself a UFC 250 bout with divisional mainstay Aljamain Sterling, seemingly with a title shot on the line. However, just eighty-eight seconds into the pay-per-view bout, Sandhagen found his back taken and a rear naked choke sunk in.
Like most fighters experiencing their first UFC loss, Sandhagen searched for answers. However, unlike a lot of fighters, Sandhagen had a tough time locating something tangible in his game.
“Losing is always a big bummer, especially when it hasn’t happened in a long time,” Sandhagen stated. “I wanted to be more upset about the loss and have something more concrete.”
As he pondered what went wrong in the fight, Sandhagen noted that it didn’t seem to be his skills that showed a deficit. In fact, he felt like it wasn’t his physical skills at all that let him down.
“When you lose that bad, it kind of shakes you a bit. You’re kind of like ‘well, I know I’m not that bad,” he said. “Then when I went back to the drawing board and thought about everything and how I was before the fight, I kind of chalked it up to a big mistake in where my headspace was before the fight.”
That headspace that he speaks of is not an unusual problem for Sandhagen, who notes that he often works on where he is at mentally before strolling out to the cage. However, this time it was a new dynamic to that same routine, and that change caught the Colorado native off guard.
“I was very calm before that fight. I’m usually someone that’s a lot more intense before I walk into the cage and usually I have to bring myself down in order to perform better, but in this circumstance I needed to get myself up,” he recalled. “I didn’t really realize that where I was was a really bad thing, just because I hadn’t had enough experience with it. It’s kind of one of those things where now I know where I performed best, and it’s definitely not being as low on that arousal continuum as I was that night.”
After realizing this through practice, Sandhagen has been able to accept the loss and learn from the moment. Certainly it doesn’t hurt that he was quickly booked in a headliner spot for this weekend’s UFC Fight Island 5. When the time comes to walk to the cage for his first headliner, he’ll have the right headspace to work at his absolute best.
“Losing – that does definitely suck, but when you know the reason that it happened, it makes it a lot easier to move on,” he said. “Since then I have been, before every sparring session, trying to find myself at a place that I think I do really well at, which is intense, but not too intense.”
You can see Sandhagen’s bout with Marlon Moraes as the headliner of UFC Fight Island 5 on ESPN+ this Saturday. To hear the entire audio from this interview with Sandhagen, click here.