In this Saturday’s feature fight at UFC 250, #4 bantamweight Cory “The Sandman” Sandhagen enters the octagon to take on the “Funk Master” #2 Aljamain Sterling.
This fight will likely determine who will go on to face the winner of the vacant title fight between #3 Petr Yan versus #6 Jose Aldo.
The Elevation Fight Team product has soared like a rocketship up the UFC rankings since joining the promotion back in 2018. To illustrate how game Sandhagen is, he took his UFC debut fight on January 28 after an impressive first round TKO under the LFA banner on January 19 — just eight days before. Sandhagen was victorious with a TKO via body shot in the second round.
He entered the UFC as a featherweight, and made the move to bantamweight in August of 2018. Sandhagen is riding a seven-fight winning streak heading into Saturday’s contest, sporting a 12-1 professional record. His only loss came in a featherweight fight against fellow UFC fighter Jamall Emmers during his LFA days.
Since moving to 135 lbs., he has rattled off big win after big win including the #1 submission of 2019 according to Tapology and an impressive decision win over Raphael Assunção at UFC 241.
His opponent, Sterling, is recovering from a hand injury that has seen him sidelined since almost exactly a year ago to the date. The “Funk Master” is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt under UFC Hall of Famer Matt Serra, and has seven submissions on his resume including a rare, but impressive kneebar against Cody Stamann.
Yes, Sterling edges out Sandhagen in the experience department, but Sandhagen brings much more of the pure violence element to the octagon than Sterling does. The WKA kickboxing world champion, Sandhagen, is also a brown belt, so it will not be a cakewalk for Sterling should the action leave the feet.
If we take a brief look at the MMA math, there is a common opponent in Assunção. As mentioned, Sandhagen won the decision in that matchup, however, Sterling dropped a Split Decision.
What analysis can be drawn from this? Well, not much. One judge saw it in favor of Sterling, and since the fight, he has won six of seven while beating former title holders and challengers in the process.
I believe Sandhagen’s success will be found on the feet where he is at his most dangerous. Keep in mind that he has been going through this camp with other Elevation teammates who have recently found tremendous success in the octagon, including Justin Gaethje and Drew Dober.
The UFC bantamweight division is oozing with talent, and this contest is one of three fights scheduled at 135 lbs. on the five fight main card of UFC 250. A fourth pairing of bantamweights will be fighting at 145 lbs. due to the short notice and COVID-19 circumstances on the prelims.
The hunt for the vacant bantamweight title after Henry Cejudo retired has basically become a four man race between Aldo, Yan, Sandhagen, and Sterling. Cejudo’s last two opponents, Dominick Cruz and Marlon Moraes, are by all indications the odd men out.
Check out the UFC 250 main card on Saturday night starting at 8 p.m. MT on ESPN+ PPV.
-Jordan Kurtz is a founding member of Comments From The Peanut Gallery and The MMA Plug and can be followed on Instagram at @CommentsFromThePeanutGallery and @TheMMAPlug303