Cory Sandhagen gave Marlon Vera more than he could handle in the main event of UFC Fight Night in San Antonio. Sandhagen presented a puzzle that Vera simply couldn't solve in the 25 minutes allotted to them in the Lone Star State.
Vera often falls behind in early rounds while making assessments on the best way to break through his opponent's defenses. Sandhagen blended head movement, lateral movement, feints, diverse strikes and takedown attempts to prevent Vera from making clear reads. Sandhagen found a surprising amount of success with his wrestling in the first two rounds. It was a wise strategy against a traditionally slow starter. The amount of time both fighters spent on the feet in the early portions of the fight stripped Vera of the opportunity to gather crucial intel for the later rounds.
Talk about a complete performance for @CorySandhagen 🙌 #UFCSanAntonio pic.twitter.com/VKoNHJIyG2— UFC (@ufc) March 26, 2023
"That's how you beat Chito," Sandhagen said during his post-fight interview with UFC commentator Michael Bisping.
Vera was audibly and visibly irritated by Sandhagen's elusiveness in the closing moments of Round 4. "Chito" unleashed a late flurry in Round 5, but it wasn't enough to stop Sandhagen from winning a head-scratching split decision. One judge scored all five rounds in favor of Sandhagen, yet one judge favored Vera three-to-two. A reasonable 49-46 scorecard for Sandhagen avoided travesty.
Sandhagen will likely usurp Vera's No. 3 spot in the UFC's bantamweight rankings. With UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling fighting Henry Cejudo and Sean O'Malley waiting in the wings, Sandhagen called for a title eliminator against Merab Dvalishvili.
Cory Sandhagen has a message for Merab Dvalishvili 🗣 #UFCSanAntonio pic.twitter.com/AUuZ60Lnbz— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 26, 2023
"I would feel so slimy if I asked for a title shot before Merab. Merab is an absolute animal and I respect him a ton. I want that number one spot. I have a line that's a little embarrassing." Sandhagen said post-fight. "Merab, you're hungry. Well, I've got something for you to eat and it don't taste good!"