UFC Vegas 32: A Story of Resolve in Sandhagen vs. Dillashaw

Cory Sandhagen and TJ Dillashaw, UFC Vegas 32
Cory Sandhagen and T.J. Dillashaw, UFC Vegas 32 Credit: Alex Behunin/Cageside Press

Cory Sandhagen is looking to put the finishing touches on a title run while former champion TJ Dillashaw seeks redemption at UFC Vegas 32.

Very few fighters have ever experienced the kind of abrupt turnaround that Cory Sandhagen has enjoyed over the past twelve months.  Considering that the momentum of his seven fight win-streak as brought to a halt by a quick submission loss to Aljamain Sterling, the fact that he is only now being regarded as one of the most dynamic fighters in the lighter weight-classes is a testament to the nature of his victories.  Now involved in one of the most anticipated non-title bouts on the entire MMA calendar, Sandhagen seems to be hitting his stride at the perfect time.

Though now overshadowed by several more high profile finishes in key bouts, his flying knee knockout of Frankie Edgar was a frontrunner for Knockout of the Year.  That is adding on to his finish of former title challenger and perennial contender Marlon Moraes last October.  He has stoked the promotional flames leading up to his bout as well.  In an interview with MMAFighting, Sandhagen said:

“If it’s not the title shot, it should be me and T.J. next. This thing is just about war. If it means I have to fight in order for them to not get an easy win over someone or whatever, absolutely I would do that. I would love to take out as many people as I need to before I even fight for the title if I need to do that, then I’ll do that, too.”

There is little to say about TJ Dillashaw that has not already been said since he tested positive for EPO and was stripped of the UFC title over two years ago.  It was one of the most unceremonious endings to a title reign that had ever been seen.  Dillashaw, on the back of victories against then-dominant champion Renan Barao, Raphael Assuncao, and back-to-back victories against Cody Garbrandt was arguably the best talent ever seen at 135 pounds.  Upon news of his positive test, and subsequent admission that he had knowingly cheated, his reputation and legacy was immediately torn to shreds.  Not only was he judged for the seriousness of the substance, but all of his previous victories were called into question by the public due to the fact that EPO is a substance that is not consistently sought out by USADA during testing.

It is natural that a cloud of suspicion will hang over him going forward.  That said, he has served his suspension and now moves on into a drastically different bantamweight division.  His former title has changed hands three times since he was gone and a new cast of characters now comprises the title picture.  His level of name recognition, resume, and now infamy puts him in an interesting position.  With Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling already locked into a late 2021 clash, Dillashaw could vault himself back into a title fight should he look impressive against his surging opponent.

Stylistically, Sandhagen’s height and reach are likely to be the biggest factors going into the fight.  “The Sandman” is one of the most technically proficient strikers in the division with an unorthodox attack and he can pose serious problems if Dillashaw can’t close the distance.  Dillashaw’s footwork and movement will be key as he must avoid being a stationary target in the cage. To cut off the distance, Dillashaw must use a multi-faceted attack to hide his takedown attempts and get in close range where Sandhagen’s reach becomes a disadvantage.

Both men could leap into a title fight with a victory.  Sandhagen likely only needs to win, as even a close fight could still see him earn either a rematch with Sterling or a fresh fight with Yan on the back of his last twelve months.  Dillashaw, due to the nature of his absence and the layoff he is likely to face waiting for the champion, could still need a victory over another contender such as Rob Font before the company commits to having him in a title fight.


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