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For Cory Sandhagen, His Style Is His Baby

Elevation MMA Contender Returns With A Clear Eye Towards The Title

When Henry Cejudo retired last month and left the bantamweight title up for grabs, a familiar foursome rushed to fill the void. But if it was Petr Yan and Jose Aldo that made it through the door first, it created a near certainty that the winner of Saturday’s UFC 250 bout between Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen is the man who’s got next.

“That’s what we’re planning on here,” agrees Sandhagen’s Elevation MMA coach Sean Madden. “Cory is looking to put on a dominant performance Saturday, and I think the quality of his win will cement his place as the number one contender. We anticipate fighting for the belt at the end of this year.”

"It feels like the title’s right within my grasp,” Sandhagen confirms. “I’ve just got to reach my hand out and grab it.”

Rise of Cory Sandhagen
Rise of Cory Sandhagen

It wouldn’t be a surprise. Sandhagen has patiently and purposefully constructed one of the most bulletproof resumés the division has seen, going 5-0 since his UFC debut with notable wins over perennial gamers like Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker. To anyone paying attention, a crack at the crown continues to appear inevitable.

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"It’s been crazy,” Madden continues, discussing Sandhagen’s run. “I’ve been with Cory for over a decade now, and I feel like he just continues to reinvent himself. I feel like he’s gone through six or seven transformations as a fighter--the tools he either adds or takes away in his game, the mentality through his fights - it’s been a very fun evolution to watch. This week he’s going to bring another evolution of himself to the cage. His last fight was eight months ago. That’s a lot of time to really work on yourself. We’re going to see a new Cory Sandhagen Saturday.”

Eight months can indeed feel like an eternity in MMA, but add to it the precarious COVID-19 circumstances of the last couple months, and Sandhagen has had to deal with a lot more than the threat of ring rust.

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“He’s done a really good job at being as safe as possible,” Madden assures. He’s limited his training to about three training partners and three coaches, and that’s who has been in the room for him. When we have a team of 40 people, we’re talking about a lot of people not being there to help Cory out. We found a way to adapt and improvise and get through it. And honestly, when you talk to a lot of these guys—Elevation had those great performances in Jacksonville—a lot of them have enjoyed these smaller group settings. Cory has found it very beneficial for this camp. With the situation and all things considered, I think we ended up doing all right for Cory.”

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“Since August, I’ve really had time to work on a lot of things,” continues Sandhagen. “Because when you’re in camp, you don’t get to work on a ton of stuff. You’re more sharpening tools and you’re adding a couple specific things tailored towards your opponent. But, for me, during this off-time I’ve really been able to use it to improve just myself. And I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of this little un-asked waiting that I’ve had to go though.”

Cory Sandhagen At UFC 250 Virtual Media Day
Cory Sandhagen At UFC 250 Virtual Media Day

In Sterling, he faces someone who has pined for the belt at least as long and at least as hungrily as he has. In a battle where assuredly no man will relent, his team has been preparing for the game of inches it will take to outlast the “Funk Master.”

“The biggest keys are going to be the footwork, which is what Cory is great at,” explains Madden. “I think something that’s interesting here that adds a little bit of a wrench is a 25-foot cage instead of the 30-foot cage. Cory has great cage-awareness, and he’s going to have to make sure he has that on full display Saturday. Another thing is that Sterling is used to being the taller, longer fighter in the majority of his fights, and now he’s facing someone who is taller than him. So we’re going to use that to our advantage as well.”

“I just want to showcase my style,” says Sandhagen. “I give a lot of thoughtfulness and I give a lot of love to my style. I’m not just taking orders by my coaches. This is a lot of my heart in the fighting that I do. That’s what I want to show the people. I think if enough people see it, they’ll get on board with it, because it is really exciting. It’s a fun style to watch. It’s kind of like my baby. My style is my baby, and I think I’ve done a really good job with it, and I want people to appreciate it.”