Through several previous encounters, Cory Sandhagen has learned to never write Aljamain Sterling off.
In addition to his prior encounter with the current UFC bantamweight champion in 2020, Sandhagen felt as though he was going to witness Sterling's demise when he fought Petr Yan again after their initial encounter resulted in a disqualification. Instead, Sterling pulled off the incredible upset by defeating Yan on a razor-thin margin of victory to retain the championship and establish himself as the world's finest 135-pound fighter.
“I was actually surprised,” Sandhagen told The Fighter vs. The Writer when reacting to Sterling’s win. “When people were asking me, I was saying Yan was going to win. Good for Sterling. There’re so many different types of fighters in the sport and there are so many different paths to victory. I think Sterling has just done such a good job of finding his path to victory and it’s pretty great.
“Honestly, it’s mildly inspiring just to see a person who has figured it out, even though he might not be the most technical, he might not be the most this, the most that, the guy has figured out a way to make himself win over and over again against the best guys in the world.”
Sandhagen has started to have even more trust in his old opponent after Sterling stunned the world by defeating Yan in a battle that many expected him to lose.
Even though Sandhagen is known for not enjoying making fight predictions, he has enough faith in Sterling to think that when he defends his championship next against T.J. Dillashaw in the UFC 280 co-main event, he will once again disprove the naysayers.
“I definitely would not count out Aljamain at all,” Sandhagen said. “Honestly, I have Aljamain kind of picked in this one. Not a prediction guy but most of the time it’s because I don’t think about the fights but this one I actually spent some time thinking about because I have to see Duane [Ludwig] around at local fights, we’re both in Colorado, so I’ve kind of been like ‘how’s that fight going to go?’ I have a lot of respect for Duane. On some level, I still respect T.J. He was kind of my friend for a couple of years.
“I’ve given it some thought and actually think that Sterling is just going to be able to do what he does. I think that he’ll be able to take T.J. down and I think that he’ll probably be able to submit him if he can get on his back.”
In the grappling game, Sterling has repeatedly shown that he is a monster, taking down opponents and moving on to his preferred position when he transforms into a self-described "human bag."
Additionally, Sandhagen fought Dillashaw for five rounds a little over a year ago; he ultimately lost by a controversial split decision, but that experience gave him insight into what to anticipate from Sterling's battle in October.
“I don’t think T.J. has the amount of punching power that he may be used to have to be able to stop Sterling or hurt him really bad,” Sandhagen said. “I don’t think he contains that much power. Just from feeling the both of them, too, I don’t really think that T.J. packs the same punch and I don’t think he’s going to be as strong as Sterling.
“I think Sterling’s wrestling is really discredited and I think that he’s an amazing wrestler and I think he’s very strong and I think he’s going to be able to outpower T.J.”
With a victory in his upcoming bout against Song Yadong on Saturday, Sandhagen aims to re-enter the championship picture. He would also dearly love to one day face either Dillashaw or Sterling across the cage.