Cory Sandhagen made a statement Saturday, thoroughly dominating Marlon “Chito” Vera in the UFC on an ESPN headline bout.
The win marks the second in a row for Sandhagen (16–4), as well as the fourth victory over his last six bouts. He immediately blitzed Vera (20-8-1) in the opening two rounds, landing 50 significant strikes to Vera’s 11. The gap was not as wide in the third, fourth and fifth rounds, but Sandhagen still landed more shots and wreaked his brand of havoc by constantly changing his stances.
“Once I got the first two rounds bagged, I had a giant advantage,” says Sandhagen. “I just couldn’t take my foot off the gas. I needed to stay mobile in the later rounds. Chito can do real damage, so I knew he was going to chuck bombs. As long as I didn’t let him get set, I knew I’d win the fight.”
Vera has gained a reputation as a slow starter while he stalks his opponent. He absorbs damage while seeking an opening, but Sandhagen exposed that strategy. The win vaults him to nearly the top of the contender list in the bantamweight division.
“I listened to every word from my coaches,” says Sandhagen. “I count on them a lot to help me win, and they did exactly that—they helped me win.”
Turning 31 next month, Sandhagen aged considerably during the official decision. Despite fully controlling the bout, the first scorecard announced that Joel Ojeda scored the fight 48–47 in Vera’s favor, awarding him the third, fourth, and fifth rounds.
“I didn’t know what to think,” says Sandhagen. “I thought that I’d won most of the rounds, so I crossed my fingers. I thought I kept really good track of the damage and the takedowns.”
The next two judges’ scorecards—a 50–48 from Sal D’Amato and 49–46 from Chris Lee—better captured the fight that had just unfolded.
“I thought maybe that one of the rounds was close,” says Sandhagen. “But no more than that.”
With the victory in hand, Sandhagen delivered a memorable callout in the Octagon. He asked for a bout against Merab Dvalishvili in an endearing manner by shouting, “Merab, you’re hungry? Well, I’ve got something for you to eat—and it don’t taste good,” which was received positively from the crowd and drew an animated response from Dvalishvili.
“It’s a callout that was inspired by a cup of coffee and my drive to the gym,” says Sandhagen.“That’s the kind of stupid s--- I think about in the car when I’m driving to the gym.”
Lighthearted and fun, the callout captured Sandhagen’s personality, as well as highlighted his competitive nature.
“I don’t like disrespecting my opponents,” says Sandhagen. “Most of the people in the UFC inspire me. I don’t want to s--- on these guys. Merab is the best guy in the division, and that’s why I want to fight him before I challenge for the title.”
A win against Dvalishvili would put Sandhagen in the thick of title contention. After handedly defeating Vera, there is reason to believe he could also pull off the victory against Dvalishvili.
“I trust my work ethic,” says Sandhagen. “It’s paying off.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com . Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.