It seems every time an interim UFC title fight is booked, the spotlight gets put on the participants in regard to whether they will feel like the “true” champion with a victory. In Sandhagen’s case, he will, mainly because of the messy state of the bantamweight division.
Champion Aljamain Sterling was originally booked to rematch Yan (15-2 MMA, 7-1 UFC) in the co-headliner of Saturday’s card, but he was forced out by a neck injury. Sandhagen (14-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) stepped in as a replacement, but not after T.J. Dillashaw and Rob Font had to decline the opportunity.
Given the landscape of the weight class and how many people invalidate Sterling’s reign because he won the title by disqualification, Sandhagen thinks there’s a case here to view himself as the real top dog should he emerge victorious.
“I think Aljamain had to retreat, and T.J.’s village is still on fire from when I set it on it on fire,” Sandhagen told reporters at UFC 267 media day. “So if we’re talking like ancient war type stuff, which is how I like to view this game, I’m the guy that can take the land. Those other two guys can’t right now. I can take the land, so I’ll see myself as champ. I know most of the public sees Yan as champ anyways. I know I’ll definitely have some making up to do. Definitely still need to make up my two losses against Aljamain and T.J. also, but I’ll go home with a smile on my face calling myself the champ.”
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The matchup between Sandhagen and Yan screams “Fight of the Night” on paper, because both men possess devastating striking arsenals. Sandhagen said it’s not guaranteed he’ll try to throw down for all five rounds, though. He sees a big edge for himself on the ground, and if he’s able to get Yan in a compromising position, he intends to capitalize.
“If there is anywhere that’s definitely going to be a huge advantage for me in this fight, it’s definitely going to be a grappling area,” Sandhagen said. “Not having to worry about that as much maybe makes it easier? But nah, I get my ass kicked almost every day in camp, so I wouldn’t call any of them easy.”
For Sandhagen, this situation is nothing short of perfect. If he can beat Yan, he would get a title unification fight with Sterling, who submitted him in 88 seconds when they fought at UFC 250 in June 2020. If he wins then, then a rematch with Dillashaw, who edged him by split decision at UFC on ESPN 27 in July, would be on deck.
“It would be beautiful for it to work out this way,” Sandhagen said. “It just sucks having those two Ls on my record.”
UFC 267 takes place at Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. The entire card streams on ESPN+.
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