Sandhagen (14-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) faces former champion Yan (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) for the interim bantamweight title in the co-main event of UFC 267, which takes place Oct. 30 at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi.
Sandhagen will replace UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, who was forced to withdraw from his rematch against Yan. But considering how Sterling dethroned Yan by disqualification due to an illegal knee in a fight where he was down on two of the judges’ scorecards, Sandhagen is happy to consider himself the undisputed champion if he can get past Yan.
“Maybe in this circumstance I think it might,” Sandhagen said Monday on “The MMA Hour.” “I think everyone sees Yan as the champ of the division, the best in the division, so I think in this case it will.”
He continued, “I think it will mean a lot. It never feels real until it actually is real, and now that I’m fighting for a UFC belt, even though it’s an interim one, it would feel like I was the champ. I would definitely know that I have some quieting of the voices maybe about the Sterling loss I’ve had and then the T.J. (Dillashaw) loss that I had, but those will be very exciting rematches in the division. I’m excited, and it would feel like I was the champ if I do win against Yan.”
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With Sterling initially wanting more time to recover from neck surgery, Sandhagen had an inkling that he might not make it to the fight. Although he’s coming off a five-round war in a close split decision loss to T.J. Dillashaw in late July, Sandhagen thought it would be wise to stay ready in case his hunch came true.
“I didn’t want that opportunity to pass if that was going to be the case,” Sandhagen said. “I sat long and hard with it because I was feeling like I needed a little bit of a rest after the last one. It was kind of a tough one to take a little bit, so I kind of wanted to rest my mind a little bit and then I got to thinking as the fight got closer and closer.
“About nine, eight weeks away, I was like I’m just gonna train hard for this one because if something does go wrong and they ask me to do it, I don’t want to be caught with my pants down. I don’t really want to be the guy that has to say no because he can’t make weight or miss out on a huge opportunity like that. So I had been planning on getting ready for this for about eight or nine weeks now.”
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