Cory Sandhagen obviously noticed the massive gash over Song Yadong’s eye after he landed a slicing elbow early in their fight at UFC Vegas 60, but it didn’t lead him to change his strategy to target the open wound.
In fact, Sandhagen could have started playing into Song’s hands if he became fixated on the cut, especially after he saw his opponent’s reaction to the blood pouring down his face throughout the majority of the fight.
“I honestly didn’t think about the cut,” Sandhagen said at his post-fight press conference. “I could see the blood going into his mouth. He’s kind of a freaky dude. He’s smiling and enjoying it, getting the blood in his mouth. He’s kind of one of those guys.
“I noticed that, but outside of that, it was stick to the game plan and make sure I don’t get my ass knocked out by him.”
Sandhagen did confess that a blow landed by Song in the opening round had him severely rocked, but he was able to recover and continue without allowing the shot to alter his performance afterward.
As time ticked away into the third round and eventually the fourth, Sandhagen’s confidence surged as he figured out Song’s tendencies and patterns, which gave him the openings he needed to mount more damage.
Unfortunately for Song, he was not allowed to continue into the fifth round due to the cut growing worse with each exchange.
“Song is a hell of a fighter,” Sandhagen said. “I knew that he was going to be super tough. The guy hits really hard and he defended the takedowns really well. I think I was starting to figure him out as the fight was going on, so I was really looking forward to a fifth round.
“I felt good, I felt fresh. I felt like my eyes were still working and my fifth round was going to be good, but I wanted to know that. That was kind of a bummer.”
To be fair, Sandhagen admitted that he’s usually his own worst critic, so he’s not exactly surprised that he felt disappointment, especially after the way this particular fight ended.
Still, the one-time interim title challenger is satisfied enough with his victory that he’s not rushing back into a rematch with Song.
“I didn’t win good enough,” Sandhagen said. “But that’s typically how I feel after every win. I TKO’d him so no [I’m not interested in a rematch], not really. I kind of want to fight up in the rankings now.”
The bantamweight division has been incredibly busy lately as numerous top 10 ranked fighters have faced off, with hopes that a new No. 1 contender could emerge as reigning champion Aljamain Sterling prepares for his showdown with T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 280 in October.
While he rarely calls out anybody by name, Sandhagen only sees a couple of viable options given the current lay of the land at 135 pounds.
“Chito [Vera] or Merab [Dvalishvili] are the obvious names,” Sandhagen said. “Both of them pose very different challenges. Two completely opposite fighters almost. I don’t really care. Give me one of them for Christmas.”