UFC Fight Night: Sandhagen vs. Dillashaw

Former bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw returns to action for the first time in over two years. He takes on number two ranked Cory Sandhagen in the main event of in what I’m sure is going to be an action packed card. UFC Vegas 32 takes place in the UFC APEX, Las Vegas, Nevada.

This will be TJ Dillashaw’s first fight since serving a two-year USADA suspension after testing positive for EPO prior to the Henry Cejudo bout. The former champion comes in to take on the best of the best for his comeback fight against Sandhagen, you have to give him credit for that. Dillashaw was stripped of his title after the positive test and rightly so. He let himself down, his fans down, there’ll be question marks over his career forever. All that must go into the back of the former champion’s mind as he steps into the octagon on Saturday night to take on Cory Sandhagen. 

Sandhagen has been on a wicked tear in the 135-pound division since entering the UFC in 2018. The Colorado native picked up three finishes to kick off his UFC career in impressive fashion. Sandhagen was matched with two of Brazil’s best next when he faced-off against John Lineker and Raphael Assunção. He beat them both by decision with two very impressive performances. 

A small bump in the road came for Sandhagen when he went up against Aljamain Sterling in a title eliminator fight at UFC 250. Sterling took the back of Sandhagen early in round one, Sterling forced the tap in just under 90-seconds. Sandhagen was bitterly disappointed with the loss but boy-oh-boy did he bounce back in style. “The Sandman”, obliterated Marlon Moraes on his return, finishing the fight with a sensational wheel kick knockout. He followed that finish with another tremendous flying-knee knockout of Frankie Edgar in his last outing. He is knocking on the door of a title shot and a win over the former champ would make him undeniable. 

TJ Dillashaw can snatch all those opportunities that Sandhagen has worked so hard for in the two plus years of his absence with a win on Saturday night. How will Dillashaw look fighting clean will be the biggest question coming into this fight. I wouldn’t expect to see too much of a difference, perhaps a bit of nerves or ring rust but that not be the case either. Dillashaw has been constantly in the gym sharpening his tools so we may see a better fighter than what we saw against Cody Garbrandt in August, 2018. 

At 35-years old Dillashaw is by no means finished as a fighter. Rose Namajunas and Brandon Moreno are the only two UFC champions in their 20’s, all other champions are in their 30’s so there is still time for TJ Dillashaw. He does have a much smaller window now that being said, that’s why he isn’t taking any warm-up fights. I’m super excited to watch this fight and I feel it is going to be a fantastic tactical battle. 

Sandhagen has used his footwork excellently throughout his UFC career. TJ Dillashaw will have to figure out that puzzle. With Dillashaw being out of competition for so long that may be easier said than done. Some fighters suffer from ring rust, and some fighters don’t, we will find out how the former champion deals with a long lay-off in just a day or two. Sandhagen would be wise to come out of the gates quick and try to not let his opponent settle into this fight. Dillashaw will be happy to stay somewhat on the backfoot, he might want to take Cory into the championship rounds. Sandhagen is a vicious counter puncher and has killer instinct when he hurts his rivals. We could see both guys step into the octagon and throw caution to the wind and if that was to happen it would be best to buckle up because that would be a hell of a wild fight. Really excited to see how this battle unfolds. It’s the kind of fight that could end many number of ways.

The co-main event was scheduled to take place in the women’s bantamweight division. Aspen Ladd is without an opponent as Macy Chiasson was forced to pull out of the scheduled co-main event fight with a last minute injury. Ladd is likely off this card as of the writing of this preview.

Kyler Phillips is undefeated at 3-0 since he joined the UFC’s bantamweight rankings. Phillips looked great when he beat Yadong Song to a unanimous decision the last time he was under the UFC lights. He takes on experienced Brazilian Raulian Paiva who lost his opening UFC bouts but has since gone on a two-fight win streak which will give him massive confidence coming into this encounter. I expect this will be a lively back-and-forth fight and both athletes like to entertain.

Two veterans go toe-to-toe in the featherweight division, Darren Elkins takes on Darrick Minner. Elkins snapped a four-fight losing streak when he submitted Eduardo Garagorri the last time he stepped foot inside the octagon. Minner in riding a two-fight win-streak with recent victories over T.J. Laramie and Charles Rosa.

Miranda Maverick and Macy Barber, two top prospects in the women’s 125-pound division, should be a very interesting fight. Maverick is 24-years old and Barber is a year younger at 23. Both are very young in their mixed martial arts careers and have bright futures ahead. Maverick will fancy herself to be the better grappler of the two, Barber will enter the cage thinking she holds the power advantage. She will want to keep this fight standing and needs to keep her back off the mat if she has any chance of winning this contest.

Randy Costa and Adrian Yanez were supposed to fight on the undercard of this event. A lot of social media hype, and a lot of general fan interest in this fight saw it moved up to the main card which I was delighted to see. This fight will produce fireworks, both guys move forward and throw kill shots. Yanez has produced two stunning knockouts since his UFC debut, he has big power matched with fantastic boxing. Those skills complemented by fantastic footwork and the American is dangerous on the front and on the back foot make Yanez a very dangerous fighter. His opponent, “Randy Costa is equally as dangerous on the feet and has massive power in his right hand, he won his last fight via vicious head-kick knockout. You don’t mess with “The Zohan”.

The undercard has a very good lineup too, Brendan Allen locks horns with undefeated middleweight Punahele Soriano. After losing to Kelvin Gastelum, Ian Heinish will be desperate to get back into the win column. He takes on the “Russian Sniper”, Nassourdine Imavov in the middleweight division. Mickey Galls returns to take on Jordan Williams at welterweight. Sijara Eubanks will take on undefeated UFC debutant Elise Reed in the women’s flyweight division. Check out the official fight card and start times below.

Main card (BT Sports / ESPN+, 7pm ET)

Bantamweight: Cory Sandhagen (14-2) vs. T.J. Dillashaw (16-4)
Bantamweight: Kyler Phillips (9-1) vs. Raulian Paiva (20-3)
Featherweight: Darren Elkins (25-9) vs. Darrick Minner (26-11)
Women’s Flyweight: Miranda Maverick (8-2) vs. Maycee Barber (8-2)
Bantamweight: Randy Costa (6-1) vs. Adrian Yanez (13-3)

Preliminary card (BT Sports / ESPN+, 4pm ET)

Middleweight: Punahele Soriano (8-0) vs. Brendan Allen (16-4)
Middleweight: Nassourdine Imavov (9-3) vs. Ian Heinisch (14-4)
Welterweight: Mickey Gall (6-3) vs. Jordan Williams (9-4)
Bantamweight: Julio Arce (16-4) vs. Andre Ewell (17-7)
Women’s Flyweight: Sijara Eubanks (6-6) vs. Elise Reed (4-0)
Women’s Strawweight: Diana Belbita (13-6) vs. Hannah Goldy (5-1)

Ian O'Neill is the host of the SevereMMA UFC Preview show and one of the co-hosts of The Auld Triangle - Irish MMA podcast. You can find more of Ian's work on the SevereMMA Patreon where he co-hosts The Chasing Pack and The Contender. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram @ioneillmma

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