Many in the MMA community would have expected the current discussion to surround the next steps for undisputed titleholder Yan. In the book that Sterling’s detractors had already written, the Russian, who held interim gold heading into the April 9 pay-per-view, was certain to regain a title that they thought he never should have lost.
Instead, Sterling did exactly what he said he would do: prove his doubters wrong. In his first defense, “Funk Master” legitimized his bantamweight reign with victory on the scorecards following five rounds of action.
Had things gone differently at UFC 267 six months prior, Sterling could have been standing toe-to-toe with the #4-ranked Sandhagen in Jacksonville. In a 2021 FOTY contender, “The Sandman” fell short of interim status in his Abu Dhabi-held clash with “No Mercy.”
Instead of securing his own title challenge, the Colorado native watched on as Yan attempted to dethrone Sterling, who Sandhagen also faced and lost to in 2020. With two of his former opponents colliding, it was the underdog whom the 29-year-old had his eye on.
Sandhagen: Sterling Pulled A Bunny Out Of His Hat
During a recent interview with LowKick MMA, Sandhagen gave his thoughts on his division’s most recent championship bout.
After suggesting that he agreed with the judges’ decision, unlike UFC President Dana White, “The Sandman” admitted that he was happy to see Sterling upset the odds against the heavily-favored Yan. By doing so, he believes the champ inspired a lot of people.
“I wasn’t too surprised by the decision. I think Aljo probably won the first round… I thought it was a pretty entertaining fight. I’m kinda happy for Aljamain in a way, that he was able to be that huge of an underdog and then still be able to pull it off,” said Sandhagen. “The guy pulled a bunny out of his hat. Good for him, man. I think that he probably inspired a lot of people out there and I’m happy about that.”
While Sterling turns his attention to his next challenger, expected to be another of Sandhagen’s former opponents in TJ Dillashaw, “The Sandman” will be looking ahead to his own return to the Octagon, which he expects to come at some point in the summer.
While hesitant to call out a specific opponent, the top-five contender did name Dominick Cruz and José Aldo as potential next foes. Should he defeat either of the former champions, Sandhagen would move a sizable step closer to a second Octagon meeting with “Funk Master.”
Do you agree with Cory Sandhagen? Do you think Aljamain Sterling’s UFC 273 victory will have inspired a lot of people?