Sandhagen changes tune ahead of Moraes clash
UFC 250 was set to be a coming out party of sorts for Cory Sandhagen. He was riding a seven-fight winning streak heading into a bout in the co-main event against Aljamain Sterling and the winner appeared almost certain to get a title shot next.
It turned out to be nothing less than a disaster. Sterling submitted Sandhagen at Apex in Las Vegas and will challenge new champion Petr Yan for the title in his next outing.
Sandhagen was left to pick up the pieces and wonder why things went so wrong on a night he was so confident he would perform in what clearly was the biggest fight of his life.
Normally, the days and hours before a fight, Sandhagen has to work to calm himself down. He’s fired up emotionally and eager to get at it. But for the Sterling fight, it was strangely the opposite.
Even as the seconds ticked down until he was supposed to make the walk to the Octagon, he was unusually placid.
“In my head, I didn’t make that the biggest fight of my life,” Sandhagen told Yahoo Sports in a telephone interview. “Honestly, I was a little bit overconfident and I think that’s the worst place you can be going into a fight. I’d rather be way nervous than way overconfident. It’s just one of those things that at the time, I thought it was a good thing [to be calm].
“I had had so many fights and was doing so well that I thought being calm came with the new territory. That’s why my thinking wasn’t in changing that state. I thought, ‘I got this. I’m good at being down, and being in the present and all that jazz.’ But it was a bit too much being on the left side of the scale. I needed to be more on the right side of the intensity part.”
He’ll need every bit of his intensity when he takes on Marlon Moraes on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) in Abu Dhabi at UFC Fight Island 5.
Moraes is one of the most aggressive fighters in the bantamweight division, particularly early. History has shown that if one can survive Moraes’ opening onslaught, chances of victory will go up.
This is a situation where Sandhagen can’t sit back and wait a while to get into the fight. He has to be ready from the first bell.
It’s another critical bout for him and he said working with a sports psychologist has made a significant difference.
Sandhagen is good enough that he could overcome the problems he experienced against Sterling and win anyway. But at the top of the division against the elite fighters in the world, it’s a different story.
“I give [Sterling] credit for recognizing I wasn’t [ready] and not allowing me to ease my way into the fight,” Sandhagen said. “I’ve learned a lot since then and it’s been interesting. I’ve learned to be able to wake my body up and wake my mind up with different types of exercises like breathing and admonitions and certain things like that. So I feel really comfortable and confident now in my ability to address that issue.”
Sandhagen is currently a -140 favorite on BetMGM with Moraes at +120.
Rothwell’s heartfelt words for Kenosha
UFC heavyweight Ben Rothwell, who fights Marcin Tybura in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, is from Kenosha, Wisconsin. In August, like in many American cities, there were protests against police brutality.
But things spiraled out of control as a result of protests of the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old, is accused of shooting a protester dead. He was arrested and charged with first-degree intentional homicide.
Rothwell was outspoken on social media and said he was taking heat for it. But he said things have gotten better in Kenosha as citizens realized that most of those who caused the issues were from elsewhere.
“I don’t want to break it off and say the community’s shattered, because that’s how it felt at first,” Rothwell said. “People really got together to help each other and people started to realize that most of the damage and carnage was created by outsiders. The police were able to release a lot of the people who were arrested, and they came from out of state and the came from different cities. So people started to put the pieces together that, ‘This whole situation was pretty messed up.’
“Anybody who looked at my social media, I was kind of right in the middle getting ripped to shreds from both sides. I love people on both sides and we need to come together, not point fingers. That’s what Kenosha’s more about. We have a lot of people who do things for each other. People who lost their businesses, the community came together to help. It was really cool to see and I feel like we’re getting through.”
On BetMGM, Rothwell is -150 to win with Tybura at +125.
Page: My opposition is better than it looks
British welterweight Michael “Venom” Page will headline Bellator 248 on Saturday (11:30 a.m. ET, CBS Sports Network/DAZN) from Paris when he meets Ross Houston.
Page is 17-1 but said that he doesn’t believe he gets enough credit for the quality of opposition he’s faced.
“Because of my style, I make really good opponents look very mediocre, which is great entertainment-wise but there is a side effect to that where people don't believe in the quality of opponents I face,” Page said. “I might go in there against Ross and it be one of the toughest fights I’ve ever had. Or I might go in there and it will be a typical day in the park with MVP. He’s definitely a credible opponent, having achieved something I haven’t, a world title in MMA. He's also undefeated and I have to change that. It can be a hard thing to change when somebody is used to winning.”
Barboza needs to turn things around
Edson Barboza enters Saturday’s bout in Abu Dhabi against Mawkwan Amirkhani on a three-fight losing skid, though the last two were excruciatingly close decision losses to Paul Felder and Dan Ige.
He was supposed to fight Sodiq Yusuff, but Yusuff pulled out and Amirkhani was the late replacement. Not only is Amirkhani on something of a roll, but he’s a totally different style from Yusuff.
“I came to supposedly fight a guy who was an orthodox striker and now I’m fighting a southpaw grappler,” Barboza said. “The most important thing is, I’m ready. I trained so hard for this fight. I gave my best in the gym. I’m more motivated than ever. I’m ready. I really don’t worry who’s in front of me.”
Barboza is a -265 favorite over Amirkhani, who comes back at +215, per BetMGM.
Odds courtesy BetMGM.
Ben Rothwell -150 to win over Marcin Tybura.
Impa Kasanganay -250 to win over Joaquin Buckley; also like Kasanganay to win by finish.
Cory Sandhagen to win by decision over Marlon Moraes.
Best bet: Tracy Cortez -200 to win over Stephanie Egger.
More from Yahoo Sports: